Phillies officials sounded optimistic yesterday that Utley will be available to play most of the 2009 season, which begins April 5 against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. They also were optimistic that Utley will be the same Utley, the one who famously plays with reckless abandon, when he returns.
"I don't look to change the way he plays," said Scott Sheridan, the Phillies' head athletic trainer. "That's certainly not the goal of surgery. The goal here is to promote his health for the long term.
"This was not something he probably could continue to play with, and certainly needed to be addressed surgically, otherwise we wouldn't be doing it," Sheridan said.
The Phillies also said they don't expect Utley to change his well-regarded work ethic.
What might change?
"Exercise routines," Sheridan said. "His preparation of the game from the baseball side of things - I certainly wouldn't want to change anything with that. And if you think I can convince Chase to change his routine, you're crazy."
Utley, 29, has had several diagnostic studies of his hip since the Phillies won the World Series on Oct. 29. Team physician Michael Ciccotti and Bryan Kelly, a hip specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, also evaluated him.
Kelly will perform the surgery next week.
Sheridan said there wasn't a specific incident in which Utley, who was not available for comment, injured the hip. Instead, he might have started to feel some discomfort in his off-season workouts before spring training.
"It was kind of a progressive history for him," Sheridan said. "He had some symptoms in spring training. He had some symptoms in July. It was really on and off throughout the season."
It appeared to show up at the plate. Utley started the season on a torrid pace, so hot that he made himself the early-season favorite for the National League's most valuable player award. He hit .320 with 21 home runs, 52 RBIs, and a .680 slugging percentage in 267 plate appearances through June 2. But he hit .275 with 12 homers, 52 RBIs, and a .450 slugging percentage in 444 plate appearances the rest of the season.
Those late-season numbers aren't bad, but they show that Utley lost some of his power.
His pain varied throughout the season.
"The biggest thing is that it was just uncomfortable for him," Sheridan said. "A pinching feeling is how he described it to us."
"He was obviously highly functional," Ciccotti said. "His symptoms were very mild. There was not any point where he said he really felt that the symptoms he was having were going to affect his ability to play his position."
If Utley is not ready to play by the April 5 season opener, the Phillies think they have at least two in-house options at second base until he returns.
"You don't necessarily replace an Utley, but at the same time, we really feel . . . he's going to be fairly close to ready - if not ready - by opening day," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "A lot of it depends on how the rehab goes, how the surgery goes. This is not an exact science. But we fully expect to have Chase Utley with us for the bulk of the season, so I'd have to say, frankly, as far as how we go about our business with our club, it probably won't change significantly."
Eric Bruntlett filled in for shortstop Jimmy Rollins early this season, when Rollins spent time on the disabled list with a sprained ankle. Jason Donald, one of the team's top prospects, also is an option. He is hitting .407 with 12 doubles, two triples, five home runs, and 17 RBIs in the Arizona Fall League. His 1.223 on-base-plus-slugging percentage is second in the league.
The Phillies could bring in another infielder, but if they do, it would be a utility player.
But the hope is that Utley's recovery is closer to four months and that he could be ready or close to ready for the start of the season.
Expert backs Phils' take on Utley
Second baseman Chase Utley should be on his feet pretty soon after hip surgery next week, but his full recovery may take up to six months, depending on what is found, an outside expert said.
New York orthopedic surgeon Bryan Kelly will make several quarter-inch incisions around Utley's right hip.
The surgeon will insert a tiny camera to examine Utley's painful right hip along with other pencil-thin instruments to repair it.
From the Phillies' description, Temple University orthopedic surgeon Pekka Mooar suspects that Utley has a tear in the labrum, the thick rubbery cartilage on the edge of the hip socket; some excess bone growth impinging on the joint; or both.
It also could be cartilage that has broken off from the joint, Mooar said.
The Phillies estimated that Utley's full recovery will take four to six months.
Mooar generally agreed.
A torn labrum might take only three months, he said. Loose cartilage could mean four months, and if the bone growth needs to be removed, full recovery could take six months.
"I think the elite athletes probably have a better chance of getting better," said Mooar, who is not involved in the case. That's because professional athletes can get as much physical therapy as needed.
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