Minutes after the manager said he did not know anything about Utley's recovery, the ultra-private second baseman called an impromptu news conference in front of his locker. He will play in an extended spring-training game Monday as designated hitter. It's his first game action in 241 days.
That hardly removed the sting from another Joe Blanton clunker or a 28-27 record that leaves the Phillies in last place. But as the players and their families enjoyed some catch and T-ball on the field Sunday evening, Utley's news provided a dash of optimism.
"Right now," Utley said, "I feel confident enough to move to the next step."
How long the next step will take is unknown, but bet on at least 16 days, which is how much time Utley spent in Florida last season when rehabilitating. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has suggested Utley will need more time this season. Utley did not dispute that idea Sunday. A return before the all-star break is not unrealistic.
Whatever the case, his arrival cannot come soon enough. Manuel used his 46th different lineup in 55 games Sunday, and this one included journeyman Hector Luna batting cleanup for the first time in his career.
The offense was comatose. Juan Pierre had three hits, and the rest of the team managed to match him against an effective Carlos Zambrano.
"He chopped us up pretty good," Pierre said.
Blanton did his own damage to ensure defeat. Not since Gavin Floyd in 2006 had a Phillies pitcher allowed five or more earned runs in four consecutive starts. Luckily for Blanton, it will take two more dreadful outings to match the modern franchise record of Calvin Maduro's three straight five-run games - twice - in 1997.
Blanton's ERA has ballooned from 2.96 to 5.27 during this forgettable stretch. Making matters more embarrassing, Blanton served up a bomb to the pitcher, Zambrano. Blanton is the first pitcher to allow home runs to opposing pitchers in consecutive starts since Glendon Rusch for Chicago in 2006.
"You never want to give up five runs, but I feel like it was a huge improvement from the last two or three times," Blanton said. "Even though the results weren't much better, I felt like it's a lot better."
They were until the seventh inning. The Marlins loaded the bases on a walk, a single, and a bunt single. The first single, off a broken bat, could have been an easy double play had Placido Polanco not moved in expecting a bunt from No. 8 hitter Chris Coghlan.
A Jose Reyes double scored two runs, and Manuel emerged to take the ball from Blanton's hand.
"That's just the way it happened after three bad ones," Blanton said.
So life in last place, albeit only 31/2 games back, continues. One-third of the way into this 2012 season, the Phillies often have shown life only to crawl back into a shell. After winning seven of nine games, they dropped the final two against Miami. Baseball's best team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, arrives for four games beginning Monday.
Utley's eventual presence alone will not cure everything, but last season the Phillies scored 0.8 more runs per game with him in the lineup. He said his knees are stronger now than they were a year ago.
"I'm excited," Utley said. "I'm not happy I'm in this position, but I'm excited that I'm feeling better and I have an opportunity to go down and keep working and kind of advance how things are going here."
Play time was almost over Sunday when the Phanatic stuck his nose in the face of Utley's son. The second baseman smiled. Soon, he disappeared.
Contact Matt Gelb at email@example.com or follow @magelb on Twitter.