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PHILADELPHIA -- Chase Utley will have right hip surgery next week, a procedure that threatens his Opening Day availability and deals a potentially huge blow to the World Series champions' hopes of repeating.
Rehabbing from the procedure is supposed to take four to six months, which would put Utley's return sometime between April and late May. Head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan said the team won't know the extent of the injury until after the surgery, though the team is looking at the same recovery timetable, regardless.
"You don't necessarily replace an Utley," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "At the same time, our feeling is he's going to be fairly close to ready, if not ready, by Opening Day. A lot depends on how the surgery goes, how the rehab goes. This isn't an exact science, but we fully expect to have Chase Utley with us for the bulk of the season."
Distressing news about Utley is of particular concern to a team that celebrated its first World Series title since 1980 less than one month ago. Utley is the team's best hitter and one of its on-field leaders, a hard-nosed player who treats every play as if it's his last.
Through June 3, Utley was batting .321 with a .684 slugging percentage and was leading the Major Leagues with 21 home runs. He had become the early favorite for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. But after that, his production dropped, and he hit .272 with 12 homers.
He hit just .220 in the postseason, with two home runs during the World Series.
Utley consistently shrugged off speculation about his condition, always joking or smiling. His name popped up on the team's internal injury report in mid-May, but Utley kept playing.
Since the World Series ended, Utley has had several diagnostic studies on the hip, and Phillies team physician Michael Ciccotti, of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital's Rothman Institute, and Dr. Bryan Kelly, of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, recommended surgery.
The procedure was described by the team as an "arthroscopic evaluation with treatment of any labral or bony injury." Sheridan said the surgery is similar to the procedure Kelly performed last month on Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. The Red Sox expect Lowell's recovery to take five months, making him ready for Opening Day, but Sheridan said each case is different.
The Phillies hope Utley can resume baseball activities after three to four months, then go from there.
The fact that Utley played in 159 games in 2008 is remarkable.
"He thinks there may have been something last offseason when he first started doing his workouts," Sheridan said. "It was a progressive history for him. He had some symptoms in Spring Training. He had some symptoms in July. It was on and off throughout the season."
"He's a team player and a very tough guy, no question," Amaro said. "But the reality is, he's not a dummy. If he felt he was going to do something that was going to be detrimental to the club, he would have begged out. If he was not able to perform, he wouldn't have gone onto the field."
The question now is how quickly Utley can get back onto it.
Going with the optimistic outlook, Amaro said Thursday's development won't have much effect on the team's offseason plans. Eric Bruntlett filled in for Jimmy Rollins at shortstop last season, and could do the same for Utley at second. The team also may be obliged to promote prospect Jason Donald, who flourished in the Olympics and in the Arizona Fall League.
"I think we have coverage with Bruntlett and the emergence of Donald at this stage of the game," Amaro said. "That doesn't mean that we wouldn't look to add, but I think we're covered fairly well."
Also announced on Thursday was lower back surgery for third baseman Pedro Feliz. He is expected to be ready for Opening Day.
Feliz, 33, spent 26 days on the disabled list with lower back problems and sought an offseason evaluation. Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles will perform the surgery, which is scheduled to be a lumbar discectomy.