Utley singles in first rehab appearance
Second baseman hasn't played in 2011 because of tendinitis
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It may have just been in the designated hitter role, but for Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, it was a big first step in his journey to recovery. Utley went 1-for-4 on Tuesday in his first rehab game with Class A Clearwater.
Utley has yet to appear in a Major League game this season due to patellar tendinitis in his right knee, and he didn't appear in a Spring Training game. His outing on Tuesday opened a 20-day window for him to appear in Minor League games as he prepares to return to the big leagues.
"The knee felt great," said Utley, who blooped a single to center in the eighth inning of the Threshers' 5-1 loss to the Palm Beach Cardinals. "I didn't do too much activity on it, but there were a few balls I ran out, then after the single, I had to run to second. It felt good."
Playing in front of a lively crowd at Bright House Field, which is also home to the Phillies during Spring Training, the 32-year-old second baseman didn't have to test his injured knee too much until his fourth at-bat.
Utley, who has a scheduled day off Wednesday, said he will talk to "his people" before making a decision about his next move. That probably includes Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, head trainer Scott Sheridan and team doctor Michael Ciccotti.
"Obviously, getting at-bats is important and obviously, so is testing my limits," Utley said.
Utley made four plate appearances against left-handers and said after the game that he was focused on seeing pitches.
"The whole goal is to feel comfortable in the batter's box," Utley said. "To do that, seeing pitches, having good at-bats and just go from there. I've had a few at-bats where I've felt comfortable, but that's probably pretty standard for this point. I'm happy with the progress so far."
In Utley's first plate appearance against Palm Beach left-hander John Gast, he took the first two pitches for strikes, then the next one for a ball, before grounding out to second.
Utley also took the first two pitches of his second at-bat for a 2-0 count, then fouled off the next two pitches before striking out on a changeup from Gast.
Utley repeated the pattern in his third at-bat against Gast, looking at the first two pitches, this time strikes. Utley took two balls before grounding out to first.
In his final plate appearance, Utley got his first hit with a bloop single on a 2-2 count off Palm Beach left-hander Tyler Lyons. After waiting on first base while Palm Beach made a pitching change, Utley advanced to second on a grounder to short by Darin Ruf, beating the toss from shortstop Ronald Ramirez to second baseman Domnit Bolivar with a feet-first slide.
After the game, Utley admitted that he missed being in a Major League clubhouse. The Phillies were playing simultaneously on Tuesday in Miami, where they lost to the Marlins, 2-1.
"Of course it does," Utley said when asked he was frustrated by being away from the Phillies. "I checked in on the score a few times during the game, see how my boys were doing."
Utley unofficially began his road to recovery over the weekend, when he went 5-for-7 in extended spring games in Dunedin, Fla. He had two solo home runs and an infield single in an extended spring game Saturday and also played four innings in the field, where he caught three routine pop flies.
Amaro said there is no timetable for Utley's return. The club will continue to evaluate his health following every game, but the fact that he is playing in a rehab game indicates the Phillies and Utley believe he is close.
"He feels like he's ready to progress," Amaro said. "This doesn't mean he will play every day, but as long as he's going good, he'll have an opportunity to play, and we'll continue to try to progress him. That's what he wants to do. That's what he's most comfortable doing right now."
If Utley is healthy at the conclusion of his rehab assignment, he could be activated no later than May 30. If he suffers a setback, injures the knee again, or the club simply does not believe he is ready to play, the Phillies can appeal to Major League Baseball to stop the clock.
"He doesn't have to take the full 20 days," Amaro said. "Again, we don't have any timetable for him. If something were to happen, and we had to send him back, that would be unfortunate. Clearly, he feels well enough physically to move forward. As long as he's feeling well enough to do that, it's all positive."
In Utley's absence, Phillies second basemen have hit .235 with no homers, eight RBIs and a .283 on-base percentage. Despite the lack of production at that position, Philadelphia (23-12) has a two-game lead in the NL East after Tuesday's loss to the Marlins.
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.