Utley due back for Phillies Wednesday, in familiar three-hole

Posted: June 27, 2012

CHASE UTLEY acknowledged that he is an optimist, only because he has felt nothing to dissuade him from that positivity. So the Phillies second baseman, nearing a return to the majors, sounded as upbeat as ever on Monday.

On the eve of what is likely his final rehabilitation game, Utley said his troublesome knees feel better than they have in "a few years." He believes they can be even stronger eventually. And he likely will bat third Wednesday night for Charlie Manuel's last-place Phillies, who desperately need anything resembling a boost.

"I know there are some people who have given up on me," Utley said. "There are some people who have given up on this team. 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. We have strong-willed guys on this team."

The 33-year-old will play Tuesday for Triple A Lehigh Valley. He is expected to be activated for Wednesday night's Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park against Pittsburgh. Manuel said Utley has earned the right to bat third in his lineup.

Manuel has watched DVDs of Utley's minor league at-bats and noticed a stronger upper body. The manager thinks Utley can recapture the productivity he's shown in the past.

"Utley is our three-hole hitter," Manuel said. "I think he is the guy that works the count. I think he is the guy that, when he's right, he'll hit 25 to 30 homers. I think he is the guy that'll hit .300. I think he is the guy that can knock in 100 runs and score 100. That's what I picture Utley to be. I think until we find somebody I think can do better, more than likely he's going to land in that three-hole."

What no one knows is whether that picture is merely a memory. Utley last hit 25 home runs in 2009 and has not hit .300 since 2007.

He must manage his chronically injured knees for the remainder of his career. Utley deflected questions Monday about being "pain-free," because that is a state he likely will never achieve again.

Utley said he wants another rehab game mostly for defensive work. He said his knees have "improved every single day." Doing work in the field was most problematic earlier this season, but Utley said it is no longer a hindrance.

He said it's been difficult to watch his teammates slide toward irrelevancy.

"It has been tough the last month, but I realize that the more I rush it, the worse things can get," Utley said. "But I think we've been smart about it and done everything the right way."

And beginning Wednesday, his optimism will be tested in front of a city yearning for positivity.

Schneider to DL

Brian Schneider became the 14th Phillie to land on the disabled list. The backup catcher was placed on the 15-day DL Monday with a high right ankle sprain suffered Sunday during a home-plate collision.

Erik Kratz was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley to back up Carlos Ruiz.

Schneider, 35, was hitting .232 with a .656 OPS in 26 games. He has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last four seasons. He said doctors could not yet tell him how much time he would miss.

"It's just, wait it out a couple of days and basically see how it starts to react," Schneider said.

Extra bases

Manuel said the team still had not decided on a starting pitcher for Wednesday. There were a few options to discuss with pitching coach Rich Dubee, he said?…?Mike Fontenot started Monday at second base, marking his first start in 10 days. n

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @magelb.

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