Phils lose Utley 8 weeks, Polanco 3

Posted: July 02, 2010

PITTSBURGH - Boats motored languidly on the river in the distance and it felt like September football weather as Charlie Manuel sat on the dugout bench and let out a hearty laugh, making you almost forgot about the ominous storm cloud hovering over the Phillies' season.

A reporter had just asked about his plans for last night's game, which he would watch from the visitors' executive box as the result of a one-game suspension, and the avuncular manager had responded that he was going to "go up there and think about how we'll get through this."

And then came the knee-slapping laugh, and the sparkling eyes, and the peculiar brand of positivity that has served as the hallmark of his career.

"No," he said. "We're all right. We'll be OK."

Whether he is correct, or whether his soothing tonic has finally met its match will not be known for at least a couple of months. What is known is that the Phillies' organizational machine kicked into high gear yesterday as Manuel and the rest of the team learned they would spend the next 8 weeks without star second baseman Chase Utley, and at least the next 3 weeks without steady veteran third baseman Placido Polanco.

Utley underwent surgery yesterday to repair a right-thumb ligament that ripped away from the bone when he slid headfirst trying to stretch a single into a double Monday during a loss in Cincinnati.

Polanco, meanwhile, came away from a doctor's visit in New York with the news that he would need 3 to 4 weeks to recover from what has been diagnosed as triceps tendinitis in his right arm.

The Phillies say they expect Utley to miss approximately 8 weeks, which would mean a return to game action sometime after Aug. 26. Their initial plan for Polanco is complete rest until next Friday, followed by a progression of baseball activities that would have him back on the field a week or 2 later.

Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock, who is the only executive traveling with the team, stressed yesterday that the Phillies did not view a trade for another infielder as a necessity. But Phillies scouts have been monitoring potential additions throughout the week, and history suggests they will move quickly to provide Manuel with another option.

In 2007, when Utley was sidelined for a month with a broken hand, the team immediately traded for Chicago White Sox second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, whose performance helped keep their playoff hopes alive. This year, there is no shortage of potential additions. Baltimore's Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada, Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta, Seattle's Jose Lopez and Arizona's Kelly Johnson are some of the players who could be available.

In recent days, the Phillies have had scouts watching the Mariners, Orioles and Pirates, in addition to other clubs. With less than a month to go before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the coverage is typical and not relegated to available infielders. The Phillies would like to add to their pitching staff, a unit that even yesterday Manuel said was at the top of his list of concerns. But it is clear that identifying potential infield additions has reached priority status, even as the club attempts to downplay its urgency.

"I don't think it's necessarily a situation where we have to go get somebody," Proefrock said.

Proefrock, of course, is a skilled negotiator who knows the value of a position of strength. Problem is, the Phillies' situation is obvious to everyone.

They entered last night trailing the Braves by 3 1/2 games in the NL East. Together, Utley and Polanco had scored or driven in 152 runs in the first 74 games for the Phillies, who had totaled 353 runs. They were the two Phillies who entered the week leading their positions in fan voting for the NL All-Star team. Take their numbers out of the equation - Utley is hitting .277 with an .849 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) and 11 home runs, Polanco .318/782 with five homers - and the team's batting average drops from .259 to .248.

"It's tough," Manuel said. "The part that really kind of hurts us is both of them are contact hitters."

But the Phillies maintain, at least publicly, that they have enough offensive firepower to see them through the next couple of months. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, whose MVP performance in 2007 was a big reason the club survived Utley's absence, only recently returned from a calf strain that sidelined him a total of 2 months. First baseman Ryan Howard, who entered last night hitting .295 with 15 home runs, has career OPS of .993, .958 and 1.112 in July, August and September. Centerfielder Shane Victorino, a career .280 hitter who entered last night hitting .252, and leftfielder Raul Ibanez (.283/.240) have plenty of room to improve.

"We'll find a way," Rollins said. "We're not going anywhere. No one in this clubhouse is going to fold. No one is going to feel sorry in this clubhouse. We dang sure know they're not going to feel sorry for us outside this clubhouse. They still have to knock us off, and they're out there trying to do it, but we'll keep fighting to hold on."

On cue, fill-in second baseman Wilson Valdez homered last night for the second time in three games since Utley went down.

High above PNC Park, Manuel watched, perhaps turning to Proefrock and reiterating his earlier optimsim.

We're all right. We'll be OK.

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.

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