Despite poor start, Utley happy with his progress

Ryan Howard grounds out in one of his four hitless at-bats in an extended-spring-training game in Clearwater, Fla. Laynce Nix played and also was 0 for 4. EDDIE MICHELS
Ryan Howard grounds out in one of his four hitless at-bats in an extended-spring-training game in Clearwater, Fla. Laynce Nix played and also was 0 for 4. EDDIE MICHELS
Posted: June 15, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It may not have looked that way in the morning box score, but Chase Utley considered Tuesday night's exercise at Bright House Field another step in the right direction on his rickety knees.

Playing in his first minor-league rehab game for the single-A Clearwater Threshers, Utley went hitless in five at-bats with three strikeouts and a foul-out against the Tampa Yankees.

He was the designated hitter in Clearwater's 4-3, 10-inning loss, and when he swung and missed at an off-speed pitch from Tampa's Rigoberto Arrebato in the bottom of the ninth inning for his third straight strikeout, the sparse crowd taking advantage of dollar-dog-and-beer night booed the Philadelphia icon.

They had cheered him earlier in the evening, with one female fan even proposing marriage before his second at-bat, which was his most productive of the evening. He lined out to left field against former Lenape High School righthander Sean Black in the fourth inning, one pitch after hitting a ball down the right-field line that was just foul.

Utley, out since the start of the season because of chronic soreness in both of his knees, looked at six pitches and was called out on strikes in his third at-bat, against lefty Aaron Dott in the sixth inning. Dott struck out Utley again to end the seventh inning.

Utley laughed and smiled when he was asked about the boos.

"I guess they didn't appreciate the strikeout, but it's a work in progress," he said. "I'm excited to be out there. I'm working hard trying to get back on the field, and we'll see how it goes."

A hitless start in which he put the ball in play only one time probably was not the result he was looking for, but the fact it was a pain-free experience was encouraging.

"It is what it is," he said. "It was Day 1. It was just good to be out there playing at night, which is a change at times. So it will be fun to continue this."

The results were slightly better on Wednesday at Tampa. Utley, again the DH, was 1 for 5 with an RBI and two runs scored. He drove home a run on a groundout in the first inning, singled on a line drive to center in the third, and reached second on an error in the ninth. He scored from second on a single in the ninth in the Threshers' 8-5 win.

Before Tuesday's game, Utley took grounders with his Clearwater teammates, alternating at second base with Albert Cartwright. After taking batting practice, however, Utley did not go into the field for extra work. Instead, he had a long conversation with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

"I could have taken some more ground balls, but the one thing I've learned over this whole process is I can't overdo it," he said. "If I overdo it, that's when it gets most uncomfortable. The last week or so have been very positive. Could I get out there [Wednesday]? Possibly, but I think it's better to be safe than sorry at this point and really get a good feel for my body. Right now, it's responding well."

Utley, 33, and trying to begin his 10th big-league season, said he has zero knee pain when he hits and runs, the only tools required of a designated hitter. That does not mean he's in a hurry to become an American Leaguer.

"That definitely has not crossed my mind, especially not at this point," Utley said. "The past three or four weeks have been very positive in just taking ground balls and being out on the field and on my feet on a daily basis. That's been a good thing. I've been able to take more ground balls, picked up the intensity, and so far so good."

The whole point of Tuesday's exercise was to get Utley back playing for the Phillies. After he finished meeting with a small media contingent at Bright House Field, Utley walked into an adjoining room where his wife, Jen, and infant son, Benjamin, were talking to Amaro. A nearby television was showing the Phillies loss to the Twins in Minnesota.

More ground in the standings was lost, and if the Phillies fall too far behind, the returns of Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay could become irrelevant.

"I know with Ryan and Roy and I out, it's a little bit more difficult, but we have guys who can do a good job," Utley said.

Howard, Nix continue rehab. Ryan Howard, recovering following offseason Achilles tendon surgery, went 0 for 4 on Wednesday against a team of Yankees minor-leaguers and recently signed draft picks. Howard led off every inning that he played.

Laynce Nix hit behind Howard and went 0 for 4 and did not hit a ball out of the infield. Nix has been sidelined with a left calf strain.

Neither Howard nor Nix ran the bases.

The teams were made up of players remaining from extended spring training and new signees who will begin playing in the short-season rookie leagues next week.

Outfielder Jason Pridie, who recently signed a minor-league contract with the Phillies, had a two-run single. Originally signed by Tampa Bay, Pridie has spent time in the majors with Minnesota and the New York Mets. He played in 101 games for the Mets last season and hit .231 with four homers and 20 RBIs.

He signed a minor-league contract with Oakland last November. He was suspended for 50 games in March for violating baseball's substance abuse policy. He asked the Athletics for his release last week and signed with the Phillies.

Contact Bob Brookover at or follow on Twitter @brookob.

Daily News correspondent Eddie Michels contributed to this article.


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