CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The biggest mystery in Clearwater this spring is Chase Utley.

Why isn't he playing?

Why can't a guy that hasn't played a game since October even take fielding practice?

The Phillies said last month they planned to bring along Utley slowly, but they never said he would miss the team's first 13 Grapefruit League games or be unable to run or take grounders. That has raised serious concern that Utley's right knee remains a major issue, which wouldn't be good considering Utley had the worst year of his career last season.

But Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after Wednesday's 6-4 loss to the Twins at Bright House Field that Utley could see his first game action in the near future.

"I'd say it's coming up pretty soon," Manuel said. "It's going to be a few days yet, but then he'll start pushing his workouts up."

Is there a tentative date for Utley to play?

"He's going to get going here pretty soon," Manuel said. "When he starts, he'll start getting some live pitching and we'll see where he's at."

It's unclear if that means Utley will be in a Grapefruit League game next week, or if he will begin full workouts next week. But the Phils have said recently they expect Utley to be their Opening Day second baseman.

Utley has not talked about his chronic right knee condition since the first week of camp, so his thoughts on his health remain a mystery. Maybe more will be revealed in the coming days, like Manuel said,

Doc searching for consistency with arsenal

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Roy Halladay plans to use the entire spring to ready himself for Opening Day.

He certainly has things he can fine-tune.

He allowed seven hits, five runs, one walk and two home runs in just 2 2/3 innings Wednesday in a 6-4 loss to the Twins at Bright House Field. Halladay has a 10.57 ERA after three Spring Training appearances.

"It's still the consistency," Halladay said. "My changeup is a little bit off. I'm kind of stuck with that, and a little bit with the sinker, but the curveball has been real good. The cutter has been improved over the last couple [starts]. I'm going to use the entire Spring Training to get ready. I feel like we're getting closer. Mechanically, things are better. It's just the consistency of executing pitches. It's ultimately what I need to improve on the most."

Halladay had a long third inning, when he ran his pitch count to 70 before being removed from the game.

"I hate innings like that, but they help build stamina," Halladay said. "They humble you and push you to work. You take the good, you take the bad, you evaluate it and move on. I'm looking forward to the next bullpen and the next outing and being able to make some adjustments and work on that consistency."

Said pitching coach Rich Dubee: "He didn't have a whole lot of feeling. I don't know if it's the weather or where we're at but he doesn't have a feel for his changeup yet. It's Spring Training. That's where I'm at with him."

Veteran righty Bush among nine cuts

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies sent nine players to Minor League camp Wednesday morning.

Right-handers Dave Bush, Austin Hyatt and B.J. Rosenberg and left-hander Pat Misch have been reassigned. Infielders Harold Garcia and Cesar Hernandez, outfielder Tyson Gillies, catcher Sebastian Valle and right-hander J.C. Ramirez have been optioned.

The Phillies also outrighted Garcia, who had knee surgery last week, from the 40-man roster, leaving them with 38 players on the 40-man.

Bush, who grew up outside Philadelphia and attended Conestoga High School, allowed four runs and seven hits and struck out four in 5 1/3 innings in three Grapefruit League games. He expressed disappointment he could not stick in big league camp longer, but the Phillies told him they need him to build arm strength to be a starter with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

"I understand," he said. "I feel good. I haven't had too many chances to pitch yet, but I've felt good when I've been out there. I feel healthy and feel strong, so I'll just keep working from there."

Right-hander Scott Elarton, who is trying to make a comeback after not pitching in the big leagues since 2008, has impressed and is sticking in big league camp for now, although he also is expected to open the season in Lehigh Valley.

Worth noting

• Left-hander Dontrelle Willis said he will pitch in Thursday's Grapefruit League game against the Braves at Bright House Field. He has missed a couple of appearances because of soreness in his throwing arm.

• Right-hander Jose Contreras will pitch in a Minor League Spring Training game Thursday at Carpenter Complex.

• Jim Thome will play first base in a Minor League game Friday. He played there for the first time Monday. "He felt a little sore [after Monday]," Manuel said. "He's all right. He just felt a little sore. It was the first time he's been there in five years. He missed that scribbler. Then he caught the next one. He said he's 1-for-2."