NEW YORK -- It sounds like Chase Utley will play third base before the end of the season if two things happen:

One, Utley feels comfortable enough to play there.

Two, the Phillies fall from contention in the National League Wild Card race. That could happen quickly. The Phillies entered Monday's series opener against the Mets at Citi Field four games out of the second NL Wild Card spot with just 15 games to play.

"I think I've been out there three or four times," Utley said, referring to his pregame workouts at third base. "Every time, I get a little more comfortable. But I think there's still a lot of work to be done. So far it's going well. I feel like I've progressed a little bit, but there's still more room for improvement."

Utley is taking this potential move seriously. He spoke with Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel in Manuel's office before batting practice. He later spoke with Mets third baseman David Wright behind the batting cage, with Wright even crouching into a defensive position as he offered advice.

"I think he's doing fine," Amaro said.

Fine enough to play third base next season?

"Oh, I don't know about that," Amaro said.

Asked if the Phillies can learn enough about Utley at third base if he plays just a couple of games there before the end of the season, Amaro said, "Realistically, I don't think so. But if he really dedicates himself to doing it, I think the probability of him being able to do it is much higher than it is with other people. I think more than anything else, this is finding out if in fact he feels comfortable enough doing it. Having him play third base just gives us another option. And what's wrong with giving us another option?"

Both Amaro and Manuel agree the Phillies are better defensively in 2013 with Freddy Galvis at second base and Utley at third base, despite the uncertainty of Utley's ability to play there. Certainly if they feel Utley can play third base, it would give the Phillies one less thing to worry about in the offseason, which would be a plus because Amaro said the market for third basemen via trade or free agency is "not very good."

But here's the big question: If Utley only plays a couple of games at third base and Amaro does not think he can truly evaluate Utley's ability to play there based on just a couple of games, how do the Phillies go into the offseason knowing Utley is their 2013 third baseman?

"I don't necessarily," Amaro said. "It becomes riskier. Then you take a risk sometimes. Sometimes it's OK to take a risk."

Offseason will help Howard rebuild strength in leg

NEW YORK -- It has been a strange season for Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

He entered Monday's series opener against the Mets hitting .229 with 10 home runs, 46 RBIs, a .308 on-base percentage and a .413 slugging percentage in 61 games. Howard has had just 253 plate appearances this season after opening the year on the disabled list following left Achilles surgery, but his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage would be career lows.

But his 44 RBIs in 61 games projects to 122 RBIs over a 162-game season.

"To me, this entire year, I didn't really have a lot of expectations for myself," Howard said. "I just wanted to try to come in and just help any way I could. I knew I wasn't going to be 100 percent ... so I just wanted to do what I could by driving in runs.

"My average and all that kind of stuff, it is what it is. I've only had 200 [at-bats]. Not having Spring Training, you don't realize how important that is until you don't have it. You don't really get that opportunity to go out and struggle a little bit and try to find it. Everything counts, and it is what it is."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. met with Howard before Monday's game. Manuel and Amaro agreed that Howard often puts too much pressure on himself to succeed, but they also think a lack of strength in his left leg following his surgery has affected him offensively.

"I don't think he realizes it -- his back leg is bothering him and he has trouble pushing off it," Manuel said. "When he gets stronger and gets more on it, he feels it. He doesn't use his legs right now hitting the ball."

Howard doesn't disagree. He said the offseason should help him rebuild strength in the leg.

"I think everything will be more natural," Howard said about next season. "Obviously, the biggest thing this year was not being able to be on my regimen as far as the training and conditioning and all that kind of stuff. So just being able to get back into the routine of things and start hitting and getting back on my natural, normal regimen [will be good]."