From that moment on, the first baseman and cleanup hitter obviously was going to take longer to return than originally hoped.
"I was daydreaming, until he had this setback," manager Charlie Manuel said Wednesday, a few hours after Howard's first workout since the infection. "I was thinking somewhere along the last of April, first of May or something [for Howard's return]. Now that got pushed [back]. . . . He's back to square one."
Just to make the muddy waters murkier, Jimmy Rollins added the title of physiologist to a list that includes shortstop and oracle. In an interview with ESPN's Jayson Stark, Rollins said the infection made him wonder whether Howard might miss the season. At best, Rollins said, no one should expect Howard back before the all-star break.
The latter may turn out to be right, but Howard sounded a lot more optimistic. Taking everything into account - the original timetable, Howard's progress before the infection, and the time it will take him to bounce back from that - somewhere in June seems like a reasonable expectation. That's not ideal, but it's not the end of the Phillies' hopes, either.
With their pitching and the Howard-by-committee approach in their lineup, the Phillies can weather a couple of months without him. But that assumes the presence of Utley, which also was cast into some doubt by Rollins' ESPN prognosis - roughly translated, that Utley's hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, which is connected to the knee bone.
(Rollins laughed about his comments, saying he was trying to make reporters' "jobs more fun.")
Manuel said he expected Utley to see live pitching "in a couple of days" and then begin playing in games soon thereafter. As long as that happens, the Phillies will be following the original plan designed to have Utley ready for opening day. If Utley still hasn't appeared by this time next week, someone will have to explain that.
At some point, the best option for Utley may be a move to the American League. Playing the field is harder on his legs than hitting and running straight ahead, and further damage to the legs also saps his power at the plate. The only way to break that cycle is for him to go where he can be a designated hitter. That presents another conundrum, though, because no team is likely to part with much in trade until Utley shows he can regain his offensive form.
Of course, no one wants Utley to go, at least not while there's hope he can coax another season or two out of his body and contribute to this Phillies run.
The season will begin April 5 no matter what condition Howard and Utley are in. The Phillies know this as well as the rest of us. You can see signs they have been preparing contingency plans.
Freddy Galvis suddenly has been playing a lot of second base. He is scheduled to play with the A team in Clearwater on Thursday rather than the split squad that is going to Port Charlotte to play the Rays. Now blocked at shortstop by Rollins' long-term deal, Galvis could be an interesting alternative to Ty Wigginton or Michael Martinez at second.
Meanwhile, CSNPhilly.com reported this week that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has been inquiring about infield help via a possible trade. Combine that with rumors of interest in starting pitcher Joe Blanton, and a picture begins to form.
Amaro's actions will tell us a lot more than his words about what the team really expects from Utley and Howard. This is a GM who has never hesitated to be aggressive: Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence, and Jonathan Papelbon are testaments to that.
At the same time, you just don't order up a replacement for Chase Utley from room service. There is not a Ryan Howard tree among the palms.
"We need Ryan Howard and also Chase Utley," Manuel said.
For now, that's the only sure thing anyone can say about them.
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan