Phillies' Utley likely to start season on DL

Chase Utley , out this spring with tendinitis in his right knee, has taken batting practice but has been unable to take the field.
Chase Utley , out this spring with tendinitis in his right knee, has taken batting practice but has been unable to take the field.
Posted: March 25, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The day, much like many of the previous 38 since the Phillies arrived here for the start of spring training, did not go as planned.

Thursday started with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. stating the obvious: Chase Utley will likely open the season on the disabled list.

That was followed by another in a series of pedestrian performances from lefthander Cole Hamels in the Phillies' 7-3 Grapefruit League loss to the Minnesota Twins at Bright House Field.

Brad Lidge made his first appearance in a big-league spring training game since March 11, got two quick outs and then could not get a third. When he checked out, his ERA was up from 9.00 to 9.53. Since he's a closer and not a NASDAQ stock, he was less than thrilled with the upward trend.

Luis Castillo, the second baseman trying to fill some of the void left by Utley's absence, went hitless for a second straight game and struck out looking twice.

While the regulars, or at least what is passing for the regulars these days, were still in the game, the Phillies turned six hits into zero runs, a recipe that never sits well with their offensive-minded manager.

Let's start with Utley. After a brief conversation with the second baseman during his latest round of batting practice that did not include any significant infield work, Amaro was asked if he expected his all-star second baseman to open the season on the disabled list.

"I would think so," Amaro said. "We haven't seen him on the field yet and we're a week away [from opening day]. It's likely he's not going to make our club, at least not right now."

Amaro said he thinks Utley, out the entire spring with patellar tendinitis in his right knee, is feeling a little better since starting an exercise program recommended by an undisclosed rehab specialist. The general manager added, however, that "it's kind of a long-term process. It's not going to happen overnight."

It will be interesting to see whether some Phillies can turn on a switch and be ready for the start of the season after struggling in the Grapefruit League. Hamels includes himself in that group. After surrendering six runs on nine hits, including a three-run home run by Delmon Young in the fifth inning, the lefthander was less than pleased with this specific outing and his overall spring.

"Not good," he said. "I don't know if I've really accomplished much. I feel strong, but I have a few things I have to work out, and it better be sooner rather than later. It's kind of one of those gut checks. I know I have an extra day off, which is nice, but I have to get in a little more hard work. Things are getting to where they mean something, so I have to be good to go."

Lidge, two days after feeling good about an appearance in a minor-league game following a bout with biceps tendinitis, did not even want to talk about his ninth-inning appearance against the Twins, which started with two strikeouts and ended after he allowed a home run to Dustin Martin, a single to Rene Rivera, and issued consecutive walks.

When Lidge returned to the clubhouse, catcher Carlos Ruiz asked the closer how he did. A sigh and a long pause preceded his two-word response: "Not good."

"Brad, he hadn't been out there in a while," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He got a couple quick outs and then all of a sudden a lefthanded hitter popped a fastball on him. It looked like he got it in the good part of the plate. We'll see what happens. If he's not ready to go out there he'll let us know. By the way he pitches, too, will kind of tell us."

Predictably, the manager's greatest concern remains his offense.

Asked about day two of Castillo's tryout to replace Utley at second base, the manager gave a mixed review.

"He played good defense," Manuel said. "Of course, he didn't get no hits."

Castillo is 0 for 8 in two games and after a weak pop out in his third at-bat Thursday, a fan chimed in with his opinion: "Go back to the Mets."

Later, the manager went into his lineup-lament routine when asked if he had any idea what his batting order might look like on opening day.

"Right now I don't," he said. "We got two holes there, and also we're asking guys to come back that had off years last year, too. We're missing two big run producers right in the middle of our lineup, and I don't see nobody we got out there. . . . We got people who are going to have to step up and do better than they've been doing or prove that they are better big-league players than they have been. That's what I see. That's exactly what I see."

And that's certainly not what the manager planned on seeing when he arrived in early February.


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

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