Utley progressing slowly, return still uncertain


Monday, March 28, 2011
Posted: 4:55 p.m.
By Jim SalisburyCSNPhilly.com
CLEARWATER, Fla.Chase Utleys lost spring training is over.

Like his teammates, Utley cleaned out his locker, packed his belongings and headed to the airport for a flight to Philadelphia on Monday afternoon.

The most anticipated Phillies opener ever is four days away.

Utley will be a spectator. His run of consecutive opening day starts will end at five.

A painful bout of patellar tendinitis sidelined the all-star second baseman all spring. He didnt play an inning. He didnt run. There is no timetable for when he will get into a game.

Utley has been examined by multiple doctors, from New York to California, one person with knowledge of the situation said. Utley and team medical personnel have researched surgical possibilities and determined thatright nowthey are too risky to commit to.

So Utley is treating his condition with a stretching and massage program that he and the team hopes will alleviate the pain and get him back on the field as soon as possible.

Over the past few weeks I think we have made some progress, Utley said on Monday. Im optimistic at this point and well continue to do what were doing.

Utley was asked whether he was optimistic that he could get on the field or that he could avoid surgery.

Both, he said.

As for when he might get on the field, Utley offered no clues, though he said it was his goal to be back before the all-star break.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was asked if a May 1 return was realistic. Amaro said he couldnt put a timetable on Utleys possible return, but he did say the club would not be putting Utley on the 60-day disabled list.

Were hopeful he comes back long before that, Amaro said.

Still, Utley is going to be sidelined for a significant amount of time. After taking ground balls while seated on a stool for several weeks, he recently started taking some light, low-intensity ground balls while standing. He is still not running.

There are some positive signs, Amaro said. Again its going to be a slow process and were going to have to be patient with him, but at the very least were having positive progressions and not going backward.

Utley would not talk about how many doctors he had seen. He did say that he had investigated the possibility of surgeryseveral different types, including microfracture surgeryand isnt ready to go in that direction. Surgery would require a lengthy rehab period that could keep him out of the lineup for an extended time. There would also be no guarantee that it would cure his problem. In fact, surgery could make the problem worse.

Thats what a few different doctors have said, Utley said. Hey, listen, if surgery was the answer and I could be back on the field in six weeks guaranteed, it would be a no-brainer. But I dont think thats the case. Its a little unpredictable at this point, so I want to take as many steps as I can to avoid that surgery.

There are a few types of surgeries that guys would recommend, but none of them I feel that comfortable with at this point. I think we can alleviate this without the surgery. But time will tell.

Utley recently visited with a rehab consultant and learned some exercises and stretching routines that he said have helped.

We've come up with a good stretching program, he said. I guess you could say its a massage-type program, a little bit more intense than just a standard massage, and I think it is loosening everything up, which is allowing my knee to work a little bit more efficiently.

I think weve been pretty patient with it. And were going to continue to be patient. I think thats the smart thing to do and were going to stay on that track.

The goal of the treatment is to calm the pain so Utley can get on the field. That raises a question, though: Wont the pain come back once Utley starts pounding on the leg again?

That crossed my mind, he said. That's why we're trying to take this process slowly and read how I'm responding. You might try something one day and see how you respond the next day and if it's OK and everything feels OK you can make progressions off of that. As long as were moving in the right direction, I think we'll be OK.

The key word there is think.

No one knows for sure whether Utley will get better. No one knows for sure when he will play again.

Amaro was asked if he was bracing for not having Utley at all this season.

We havent thought that far ahead, the GM said. Honestly were hopeful that he continues to progress. We still think hes going to be our second baseman. Its just a matter of when.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com

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