Well, here it is, with July crowding June, and Utley still hasn't played an inning of major-league baseball this season. If all goes well Tuesday night in Allentown, where Utley will play one more rehabilitation game with the triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, he is scheduled to get on the field for the Phillies the following night against the Pirates.
Utley took part in pregame fielding and batting practice with the Phils on Monday night, and afterward he sat still for the predictable questions about his impending return and dispensed with answers that were just as predictable.
And sounded a lot like the same things he said in February.
"It's probably been a few years since I've had this much strength in my legs," Utley said. "But again, I think this is a work in progress. I think I can get them stronger. This is just the initial starting point, and I can build on it. Obviously, I'm optimistic, but I think I need to be at this point."
There wasn't much to read from words that really can be trusted, not because Utley doesn't believe them at the moment, and not because his optimism is as chronic as the pain that has bedeviled him for several seasons. The fact is that neither Utley, nor his physical trainer, nor the exercise program, nor the careful scheduling planned by Charlie Manuel will decide whether Utley will stay on the field for the rest of the season. The knees will decide, and they have been traitors before.
"When we put him out there, we want to make absolutely sure that he is ready to play in the big leagues, and he's not going to have a setback and stuff like that," Manuel said. "We want to make sure that he's absolutely ready."
Unfortunately, there's no way to be sure. That's partly because the pain is neither predictable nor preventable and partly because nobody, including those in the Phillies organization, is ever really sure whether Utley is being entirely forthcoming about his condition.
The Phils have to soft-pedal this a little bit, because Utley is known to be sensitive about criticism, and because the team happens to owe him another $15 million for next season and would like him to be in a positive frame of mind when he collects it.
Nevertheless, it hasn't been a smooth season when it comes to communication between the organization and the player. On March 15, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he saw no reason Utley wouldn't be ready to play in the season opener. Four days later, Utley left camp - his call - and Amaro had to shrug and keep his thoughts to himself.
"The guy's got bad knees," Amaro said.
Along the way, as Utley returned from Arizona to work out with the team in May, and then went back to Florida to rehab early this month, he quibbled with the organization's medical description of his condition - preferring chondromalacia to patellar tendinitis - and said little, but only when saying nothing wasn't an option.
None of that really matters. This time the comeback might work, but it won't work any better or worse regardless of what Utley, Amaro, Manuel, or a parade of a thousand knee specialists has to say. His knees will either hurt too much to allow him to play effectively or they won't. Flip a coin.
For his part, Utley says he has "no doubt" he eventually will be able to play five or six games in a week. He says he believes he will be the same kind of hitter he was in the past, and Manuel said Utley will resume his place as the third hitter in the batting order.
"I know there are some people who have given up on me. There are some people who have given up on this team," Utley said. "I'll be the first one to tell you that I definitely have not given up on myself and our guys have not given up on this year. . . . All it takes is one good bounce our way and things can change."
A good bounce would be a welcome change this season, both for Utley and the Phillies. Good bounces can go bad, however, just as months of offseason work can be wiped out before the first game of spring training.
After another three months of work, Chase Utley is back and he is confident once again. Maybe he'll be right this time, but everyone in the organization knows there is no guarantee. As the man said, after all, the guy's got bad knees.
Contact Bob Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.