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12/15/08 5:17 PM EST

Utley setting his sights on Opening Day

Second baseman is recovering from surgery on his right hip

PHILADELPHIA -- Genetics certainly played a role in the deterioration of Chase Utley's right hip, as did the second baseman's unrelenting style of play. And Utley acknowledged all that on Monday afternoon, not long after striding up to his microphone without a visible limp.

It's been almost precisely three weeks since Utley underwent arthroscopic surgery to trim the labrum and a bony lesion in his right hip, and still, Utley doesn't care much to know how this all came about. His mind is instead rooted in what comes next: rehabilitation, strengthening, and whatever else Phillies trainer Scott Sheridan has in mind.

Utley cares for the present, it seems -- and presently, his hip feels fine.

"You should see the X-ray," he said. "It's pretty."

No one sitting beside him was about to disagree. So without much interjection, in his first public appearance since his surgery on Nov. 25, Utley faced a small crowd at Citizens Bank Park and proclaimed hope that he would be ready to play come Opening Day.

"Things are progressing very well," Utley said. "I don't expect any setbacks, and if there are no setbacks, I feel like I'll be ready to go."

Such projections are difficult to make with any sort of accuracy, considering that the season is still nearly four months away. But leave it to Utley to try. Barely more than a week ago, he was on crutches -- "and I couldn't wait to get rid of them," Utley said. He won't be able to test the hip with any significant stress for another three weeks.

From there, he and Sheridan will begin a strengthening program, before Utley can even consider resuming regular baseball activities. And only after all that will he have a more accurate idea as to whether his initial projections might be sound.

"If we can get to that point without a whole lot of trouble, I think we're in good shape," Sheridan said. "After the six-week period, I think we'll have a lot better idea of how aggressive we can be. There's a fine line between being aggressive and being stupid, for lack of a better word. We have to make sure that we're doing the right things."

And Utley will be doing so under a bit more supervision than before. It was roughly June when the Phillies second baseman first realized that the aches and pains in his hip were not the type that would disappear with time. He attempted to play through them, and did so with success -- though not without consequence.

After batting .352 in April and hitting 18 home runs over the first two full months of the season, Utley managed to hit just 14 homers over the final four months. His production in nearly every major offensive category dipped. And despite hitting three home runs in the postseason, he supplemented that with a .220 average.

All the while, he swore off talk that his right hip -- a clear detriment by that point -- was the cause.

Now, he's come to reconsider.

Hot Stove

"I would imagine it probably had something to do with it," Utley said. "It probably got me into some bad habits that I'm not used to getting into for a long, extended amount of time. That might have had something to do with it, but I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out."

It ended with the Phillies as World Series champions for the first time in 28 years, and Utley -- despite his relative lack of production -- was a significant reason why. Because of that, few could blame Utley for continuing to play, even knowing that he was all but incapable of producing up to his own lofty standards.

"Every day, whether I felt terrible or I felt good, I still felt like I had an opportunity to help the team win," he said. "And if I didn't feel that way, that's when I would have told [manager] Charlie [Manuel] to shut me down. But I never got to that point."

Utley disappeared from Citizens Bank Park's media room soon after, walking briskly -- a rather critical detail, it would seem -- and in no apparent pain. He said he is disappointed that he can't play in the World Baseball Classic in March for a second time, but he hopes to be fit enough to play in more than a few Grapefruit League games.

Utley could have avoided the surgery altogether, he said, electing instead to rehab his hip and hope for improved results. But his youth -- Utley will celebrate his 30th birthday on Wednesday -- and his overall health encouraged him to proceed with the surgery.

Now, he is proceeding away from it. And Utley is convinced that such procedure will not last long.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.