Update on Utley raises more questions

Chase Utley is still taking batting practice, butthe second baseman cannot run.
Chase Utley is still taking batting practice, butthe second baseman cannot run.
Posted: March 10, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies finally provided the Chase Utley update we all had been waiting for Wednesday and all it did was create more unanswered questions.

Will the Phillies' all-star second baseman be ready for opening day?

Will he need surgery?

Will he play at all this season?

Will he ever be the same player again?

Will general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. make some sort of move to replace his second baseman?

Don't know remained the only honest answer to all of the above.

All we found out for sure was that the cortisone injection Utley received Friday in an effort to relieve the acute pain in his right knee did not work as hoped, and now the second baseman and the team are seeking some new opinions on how to treat the problem.

Team physician Michael Ciccotti detailed the chronology of the problem and described Utley's condition as "mild patellar tendinitis and chondromalacia." Ciccotti said an MRI exam also revealed bone bruising in the knee. Neither Utley nor team officials would say whom they will turn to next as they try to figure out how to alleviate the second baseman's pain.

"All of this is troubling," Amaro said. "We wanted the guy to be on the field. For us, this is a long-term thing. Frankly, I don't care if he's making opening day or not making opening day. For us, this is about him being able to play long term, meaning through this year, through next year, and through the following year.

"This is something we want to make sure that he's 100 percent when he gets on the field so we don't have any missteps beyond this. That's really the goal here, and that's why we've been holding back so much."

Amaro would not rule out that Utley will be ready for opening day, but he did reject the idea that his second baseman could be sidelined for the entire season.

"Oh, I don't think that's an option, no," Amaro said. "I couldn't even begin to answer that, but that's not something we're talking about. We think he's going to be healthy enough sooner rather than later."

Surgery would likely end Utley's season, and it is absolutely the last measure that will be taken.

"We're going to try to exhaust every avenue prior to that and continue to see how it goes and monitor it on a daily basis," Utley said. "Again, it is frustrating. At this point, I have to stay positive and stay on top of things, which I think we've been doing."

Known for accelerated returns from injury and playing in pain, Utley said he has to be smart about his latest problem and gave a revealing answer when asked if he thought there was a chance he might not play this season.

"Like I said, my goal is to alleviate this as quickly as possible, but still keep in mind I have a career ahead of me," he said.

Utley, 32, has three years remaining on his contract and is scheduled to be paid $15 million each season.

Phillies trainer Scott Sheridan said Utley would continue to take batting practice and do all other activities that he can handle without pain.

"He does what he's comfortable to do," Sheridan said. "If he's able to hit, we want him to hit. If he's able to throw, we want him to throw. We just try to keep as many of those things going as we can, so if he continues to progress and gets better then we can move him on to other movements."

Utley said taking batting practice remains a painless procedure.

"Batting, it doesn't bother me whatsoever," he said. "Playing catch it doesn't bother me. It's more the pounding on it - the jumping, the running, things like that there is definitely pain there. I've had those things in the past that have gone away with treatment. Right now it's not going away. Again, we're trying to do the best things we can to alleviate this."

Amaro insisted he's not in any hurry to make a trade to replace Utley's bat in the lineup. He said Wilson Valdez was the most likely candidate to fill in at second base. Valdez started 35 games at second base last season.

"We're just trying to get him well and that's our priority that he's going to be playing," Amaro said. "I expect him to be playing for us at some point, hopefully even the early part of the season and maybe even the beginning of the season. Right now I think we have the talent in here that we're going to go with, and that's where we're at."

Manager Charlie Manuel was more candid than ever about his concern over Utley's condition.

"From an offensive standpoint, if we lost Utley and [Jayson] Werth and also from a defensive standpoint, we have to go like hell to find two good players," Manuel said. "I'm not saying we can't do it . . . but we're talking about two all-star players."

Manuel said Amaro and former general manager Pat Gillick have also been known in recent years for making all the right moves at the trade deadline. If Utley isn't back by then, the deadline search this summer will likely focus on a position player rather than a starting pitcher.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.


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