It's looking like Phillies' Utley will be out a long time

Posted: March 18, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The unused green jersey hung in Chase Utley's locker Thursday, just another reminder that life goes on without the Phillies second baseman.

While Utley left the team to visit an undisclosed rehab specialist, the Phillies wore their green hats and jerseys to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. They are a yearly sign that meaningful baseball is nearing. And with exactly two weeks until opening day at Citizens Bank Park, it would take a miracle for Utley to be ready.

The team has said Wilson Valdez is the favorite to earn significant playing time at second, but Grapefruit League play has at least proven the Phillies are not without internal options.

No one will suggest Josh Barfield, Delwyn Young, Michael Martinez, and Pete Orr are Chase Utley. Yet combined with Valdez, those five players are hitting .352 (62 for 176) with 19 extra-base hits and 23 RBIs. That is presented, of course, with the caveat that it is spring training.

"If somebody can win the position," manager Charlie Manuel said, "that's fine with me."

If not, it could be some sort of combination. But it will have to do for the immediate future because Utley is still far away from playing. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. would not disclose the location of Utley's secret rehab visit, which was made along with head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.

Amaro did say Utley has been making "minimal progress" in his bid to return. Utley, however, has not been able to run or field ground balls without the aid of a lawn chair.

"We're doing everything we possibly can to have him not get into a surgery," Amaro said. "Until we stop seeing progress, then we'll continue to exhaust all those possibilities."

The effort by Utley and the Phillies to exhaust all options before surgery would lead one to believe that surgery would mean the second baseman would be shut down for a considerable amount of time.

"We don't know," Amaro said. "Again, the risk of having surgery kind of outweighs trying to exhaust all these other possibilities. I think that's what Chase prefers, and I think that's what we prefer."

Whatever the case, the first Phillies roster likely won't have Utley on it. If the Phillies carry 12 pitchers, which they appear inclined to do, it leaves two bench spots up for grabs. Barring an acquisition from outside the organization, those jobs are down to Barfield, Young, Martinez, and Orr.

Martinez could have an advantage because of his Rule 5 status. If he does not make the opening day roster, the Phillies would have to offer the 28-year-old utility player back to Washington. He had two more hits Thursday, including his second homer of the spring, to raise his average to .325.

Barfield, a nonroster player, has impressed Phillies officials. He's hitting .407 in 27 at-bats. Young is hitting .311 and has the second-most at-bats of any Phillie this spring.

"I like the way they play," Manuel said of all the candidates.

Amaro said he believes Utley has handled his injury well, but he knows his second baseman has an elevated frustration level.

"I know he's disappointed he's not playing, but he understands it, and he's being patient as he possibly can," Amaro said.

Extra bases. Closer Brad Lidge (biceps tendinitis) played catch for a third straight day and said he felt good. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday. . . . Third baseman Placido Polanco (hyperextended left elbow) participated in fielding drills but did not take batting practice. He remains day-to-day. . . . Cliff Lee singled in his first at-bat of the spring, but it was his only trip to the plate because he completed just four innings. He allowed five runs (three earned) on seven hits - two of them being home runs - in a 7-6 loss to Toronto. "I gave up hits," Lee said. "That happens. On to the next one." . . . Backup catcher Brian Schneider left the team for personal reasons. He will be away indefinitely.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

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