"There is absolutely no reason to get him on the field when it's not necessary to get him on the field," Amaro said before a recent game. "What's necessary is that we make sure he feels OK and that he is prepared for the season and not for spring training."
It's entirely understandable if Utley's spring-training absence has created a sense of uneasiness up north as the countdown to opening day in Pittsburgh continues.
It's also entirely understandable why Amaro, Utley and the Phillies believe this is the best way to prepare the 33-year-old veteran's creaky right knee for the 2012 season.
Amaro was a Phillies player in 1992 when manager Jim Fregosi employed a similar tactic with Darren Daulton, a 30-year-old catcher who had undergone the third knee operation of his career near the end of the 1991 season.
I think Fregosi called it the St. Patrick's Day plan.
"I'm going to take it easy on Darren," Fregosi said at the time. "He'll get a lot of extra work on the side, but basically I won't start playing him in games until around the middle of March. All I really want to do is get him ready for the season."
Amaro said the Utley plan for this spring training was formulated in November and he had recalled Daulton's spring of 1992 before he broached the idea with others in the organization. The general manager said he believes he even mentioned Daulton's mid-March plan to Utley.
For those who are counting the days until Utley takes the field, St. Patrick's Day is Saturday.
"I talked to Chase about it and he was in agreement," Amaro said. "I talked to [manager] Charlie [Manuel] about it and he was in agreement. It just made sense. The guy has a knee issue that doesn't need to be overtaxed, and we felt this was the best way to handle it."
There are some differences between Utley's case and the Daulton saga two decades ago.
Sifting through newspaper archives from 20 years ago, nobody seemed to think it was a big deal when Fregosi announced that his catcher and team leader would sit out until mid-March. Of course, just the fact that Fregosi said it would be mid-March makes that case different than Utley's case.
Amaro and the Phillies will not put a date on when we can expect to see Utley playing amid the Florida palm trees, and mystery always creates anxiety.
Manuel said on Wednesday only that he expects Utley to see some action "pretty soon."
"We don't like putting dates on anything," Amaro said. "We don't want to create expectations with Ryan or with Chase. When we think it's right for him to play, he'll be playing, and we'll continue to consult Chase and the doctors."
Some more red flags about Utley went up recently when Phillies first-base coach Sam Perlozzo said he had not done any infield work recently with the second baseman. Early in camp, Utley could be seen working with minor-league infield coordinator Doug Mansolino, but those sessions have stopped recently, too.
Amaro insists this is by design rather than by injury-related necessity.
"He's not doing as much infield work," Amaro said. "I don't know exactly what he's doing on the infield. He can get himself prepared, and he's doing a lot of things indoors to keep himself ready. There's just no reason to start the pounding on [the knee] now . . . so we just told him to shut it down until it's time for him to be out there."
We do not know when that time is going to come, and we do not know how this plan is going to work. The Phillies and Utley know they need him to be better than he was a year ago when he returned from his chronic knee injury after the first 46 games and batted .259 in 103 games.
The hope is that the Utley plan works as well as the Daulton plan did in 1992.
After sitting out until March 14, Daulton slugged two home runs as a designated hitter in his first spring-training game. The target number of games for the catcher was 145, and he played in exactly that many games, finishing the season with a career-high 27 home runs and a league-leading 109 RBIs.
That was the first time Daulton put up numbers like that in his career. Utley has put up those kinds of numbers throughout his career, but as he works out alone in preparation for the 2012 season, there is doubt that he'll ever be able to do it again.
"We expect him to be on the field opening day, and that's as simply as I can put it to you," Amaro said.
That would be a better start than 2011.
Contact Bob Brookover
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