Chase Utley returned from a visit to a rehab specialist and resumed the only activities he has been able to participate in since the first week of spring training: batting practice and fielding ground balls while seated on a stool.
Yesterday, though, a new wrinkle may have been introduced when the division-rival Mets released three-time Gold Glove and three-time All-Star second baseman Luis Castillo. At the very least, the Phillies have not publicly ruled out the switch-hitting 35-year-old, who battled foot injuries last season while hitting .235 with a .337 on-base percentage and .267 slugging percentage in 86 games.
When asked of the Phillies' interest in Castillo, assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said, "That remains to be seen."
A National League scout who has watched the Mets this season did not paint a rosy picture of Castillo's ability.
"He's done," the scout said. "I don't think he can play anymore."
Still, Castillo has been a high on-base-percentage guy throughout his career, and since turning 30 has converted 89 of 117 stolen-base attempts (76 percent). And he is just 1 year removed from a season in which he hit .302 with a .387 on-base percentage and converted 20 of 26 stolen-base attempts while playing in 142 games.
From 1999-2009, Castillo hit .298 with a .375 on-base percentage, a .362 slugging percentage, and averages of 36 steals and 99 runs scored every 162 games.
This spring, Castillo is 8-for-28 with three walks (a .286 batting average and .355 on-base percentage).
Perhaps most significant, the Phillies would only owe him $414,000 of the $6 million remaining on his contract, with the Mets picking up the rest of the tab.
Asked whether he thought Castillo was worth pursuing, manager Charlie Manuel said he was not sure.
"I don't really know," Manuel said. "I think his game in the last couple years, it's dwindled some. I don't know how much is there, but he used to be a hell of a player. I know at one time he was real good. If possible, he might be someone that we take a look at or something."
A lot could depend on how Utley progresses in the near future. The second baseman has shown little signs of shaking the patellar tendinitis, bone inflammation and chondromalacia that the club has determined is causing the pain in his right knee.
The Phillies have been impressed with the way utility men Michael Martinez, Josh Barfield and Pete Orr have competed this spring. Martinez, a 28-year-old Rule 5 pick who can play second, short and centerfield, has drawn raves from both inside and outside the organization, with one non-Phillies scout opining that he's "playing his way onto the team."
Orr is known as a consummate professional with solid defensive ability and an excellent presence in the clubhouse, while Barfield is a former highly regarded Padres prospect who had a solid rookie season in 2006 and has hit well this spring. Orr went 3-for-4 with a double and a run yesterday in a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh.
"We're very comfortable [with them]," Proefrock said. "It's a hell of a competition. They've all played very well. They all have different characteristics that I think could fit well depending upon what circumstances we end up with."
In the meantime, the Phillies will hope Utley's visit to the rehab specialist results in the first significant improvement in his knee. The club has declined to say whom, exactly, Utley visited, but it has said the primary purpose was to introduce new exercises that might help alleviate the pain in his knee.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said multiple times that the Phillies are determined to exhaust all non-operative options before deciding on surgery for their second baseman. For now, though, the Phillies look set to enter the regular season without their No. 3 and No. 5 hitters from a year ago. Ben Francisco and John Mayberry Jr. have hit well this spring while competing to replace Jayson Werth, but Manuel remains concerned about defense.
"I'm concerned with [Utley], and I'm also concerned with the rightfield position," Manuel said. "We've got guys that we can put out there, but someone has to win that job, someone has to play real good for us. We've got to get some production out of them, and we have to get good defense. Our starting pitching is going to need good defense. We've got to play the game right. Plus, we have to score runs."
Brad Lidge hopes to be back on the mound in a Grapefruit League game in 3 or 4 days. He believes that will give him enough time to build enough arm strength for Opening Day, which comes 2 weeks from yesterday against the Astros at Citizens Bank Park. The veteran closer threw off a mound yesterday for the first time since last Friday, after which a case of biceps soreness had sidelined him.
"It feels a lot better now," said Lidge, who said the inflammation in his right arm is gone. "I haven't cranked it up to 100 percent yet. I threw about an 80 or 90 percent [effort] bullpen."
Lidge said he thinks the biceps tendinitis was caused by poor mechanics. His body was flying open to the first-base side during his delivery to home, putting extra strain on the biceps near the shoulder. He had trouble gaining velocity during his first five appearances, with his fastball sitting around 86 to 87 mph. Last season, he usually sat between 90 and 92 mph.
"My pop will never be there until the first game I'm closing in the regular season," said Lidge, who has allowed five runs on eight hits with four strikeotus and two walks in five appearances this spring. "That's how it's been for the last 10 years."
The Phillies trimmed their roster to 37, including young righthanders Michael Stutes and Vance Worley, in their latest round of cuts. Stutes probably improved his stock more than any other young player this spring, allowing one run, three hits and one walk while striking out nine in nine innings of Grapefruit League play. The 24-year-old reliever looks to be the most major league-ready of the organization's young bullpen arms, meaning you could see him in the big leagues at some point this season if the Phillies need to fill a hole.
Pitching coach Rich Dubee said he thought Worley, who struggled with his location at times, pressed too hard in his first legitimate attempt to win a big-league job. Both players are very high on the organizational depth chart should injuries occur.
Other cuts included outfielder Brandon Moss, infielder Jeff Larish, infielder Freddy Galvis and lefthanded pitchers Juan Perez Dan Meyer.
The Phillies beat the Pirates, 3-2, on a two-run walkoff single by Tuffy Gosewisch, improving their Grapefruit League record to 14-8 . . . Shane Victorino went 1-for-3 with his seventh double of the spring. Ryan Howard went 2-for-3 with a double . . . Two members of the Phillies' Dominican Summer League team, pitchers Daniel DelaCruz and Marcos Coca, have been suspended 50 games for positive steroid tests. DelaCruz tested positive for metabolites of Sanozolol and Coca tested positive for a metabolite of Boldenone . . . Phillies radio play-by-play announcer Scott Franzke signed a contract extension through 2016. He has been the main play-by-play voice since 2007.
Daily News sports writer Paul Hagen contributed to this report.
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