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5/31/2013 12:52 A.M. ET

Utley fields ground balls, won't put timetable on return

PHILADELPHIA -- Chase Utley took another step forward in his recovery from a strained right oblique Thursday, but he remains more than a week away from rejoining the Phillies lineup.

Utley still feels some tenderness in the oblique, but he felt good enough to field a few ground balls at Citizens Bank Park.

"So far, so good," he said. "It's all about taking the next step and making sure we all feel comfortable in taking that next step."

Utley might not be back until mid-June, although he is remaining cautious. Push too hard, too fast and he could suffer a setback.

"I don't have a timetable," he said. "As soon as it feels better, I'll put more stress on it and go from there. The biggest test will be rotational stuff. That's what initially hurt it in the first place. That will be the last thing I do. I'm just running and getting back into baseball shape by taking ground balls. Those are the things I'll do until I'm ready to hit."

Howard gets breather; Frandsen in at first base

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel figured Thursday would be a good day to rest Ryan Howard.

Kevin Frandsen started at first base instead against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park.

The Red Sox had left-hander Franklin Morales on the mound Thursday, and with a steady stream of right-handed pitchers coming in the near future, Manuel figured this would be a good night to get Howard off his ailing left knee.

Howard is hitting .323 (10-for-31) with three doubles, one home run, four RBIs and 14 strikeouts in his last eight games.

In first start, Hernandez collects first two hits

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies rookie second baseman Cesar Hernandez made his first big league start Thursday against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park.

The rationale into that decision?

"I said I was going to play him, didn't I?" manager Charlie Manuel said before the game. "If he gets some knocks tonight, I'll probably like him a lot more."

Hernandez notched his first career hit, a single in the first inning of a 9-2 loss, then added another single in the eighth and finished 2-for-4.

Hernandez is on the 25-man roster while Michael Young is on the bereavement list. Young left the team Wednesday. It is unknown when he will be back, but he must miss a minimum of three days and a maximum of seven.

Kratz taking full advantage of starting role

PHILADELPHIA -- With Carlos Ruiz serving a suspension at the beginning of the season, Erik Kratz had a chance to be the Phillies' everyday catcher.

Kratz struggled early and hit just .191 with two homers, seven RBIs and 16 strikeouts before Ruiz returned in late April to put Kratz on backup duty. Three weeks after Ruiz returned, however, he went down with a hamstring injury, which again opened a door for Kratz.

The 32-year-old hit a game-tying home run against Reds closer Aroldis Chapman on the same afternoon Ruiz got hurt, and his bat has not cooled off since.

Since Ruiz's injury -- which landed him on the disabled list -- Kratz has nine hits, including four homers, along with six RBIs, a .441 on-base percentage and a 1.219 OPS in nine contests. He credits seeing the ball better for his recent offensive success.

"They were throwing me balls before, and I was just swinging at them," Kratz said. "Maybe now, I am hitting balls that I was missing before, fouling back before. It's that fine of a line."

Kratz hit his third home run in four games Wednesday in the Phillies' 4-3 win against the Red Sox, and he also hit two deep fly balls that just missed going out. Manager Charlie Manuel called Kratz one of the strongest players on his team.

"[Wednesday] night, he kind of hit the ball and got fooled, yet it almost went out of the yard," Manuel said Thursday. "He's very strong and he's very dangerous. If you throw the ball where he's swinging, he can put a hurting on you."

Kratz said being in an everyday role has helped him even more behind the plate than at it, as it helps him learn an opposing team's lineup better.

Ruiz is expected to return in mid-June, but until then, Kratz said he is trying to make the most of his starting role.

"You can't miss your opportunities," Kratz said. "And I had some opportunities to drive some balls that I didn't get [earlier in the season], and now I am getting some of them."

'Incredible Hulk' delivers first pitch

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillie Phanatic was not the only one who's famous for being big and green at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night.

Lou Ferrigno, the "Incredible Hulk" actor and body builder, was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Phillies faced the Red Sox.

"I'm just hoping to get the ball straight in," Ferrigno said before the game. "I don't want to knock the catcher down."

Crowned Mr. Universe at age 20, Ferrigno does have baseball ties. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native said he grew up rooting for the Yankees and played the sport for about 10 years.

Ferrigno is in town for the 2013 Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con, and before the game he got his customized jersey signed by a few players as well as Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

The literal hulking man said he still gets recognized "all day long, everywhere," but he does not mind the attention.

"I'm happy here, because I'm supporting Philly," Ferrigno said. "We also have this convention, and everyone came up to me and was excited, wanting me to sign autographs."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.