Amaro optimistic Utley will be ready for Opening Day

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley will be out four-to-six months after having hip surgery. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)

UPDATED - 2:35 p.m.

Just got off the conference call with Ruben Amaro, Scott Sheridan, and Dr. Michael Ciccotti.

A few important points. . .

1) Amaro said that all the reports he has heard are that Utley has a very good chance at returning to the Phillies in time for Opening Day, which starts a week later next season thanks to the World Baseball Classic. The Phillies gave a rough timetable of four-to-six months for Utley's return, but it sounds like they are banking on him being more toward the four months.

"Our feeling is that he's going to be fairly close to ready if not ready by Opening Day," Amaro said.  "A lot of it depends on how the rehab goes, how the surgery goes. It isn't an exactly science. . .We fully expect to have Chase Utley with us for the bulk of the season."

2) While the "Balky hip" Pat Gillick declared Utley to have over the summer was often blamed for the drop-off in Utley's production over the course of the season, Amaro said he doesn't think the injury had much to do with it. Amaro said he thought Utley's struggles were more "mechanical" than anything. Ciccotti said Utley's symptoms were relatively "minor." Though all acknowleged the injury probably affected him to some degree, particularly from a mental stand point, they also said there wasn't one specific baseball movement that caused the pain. So it doesn't sound like he was in agony every time he finished his swing.

3) This is more of a "condition" than an "injury," at least the way it sounds. Sheridan said there was no one specific occurence that caused it. He said Utley reported feeling some pinching in his right hip all the way back in the offseason. He said it wasn't a steady pain, that the "pinching" sensation would flare up now and again. There would be good days and bad days.

4) The Phillies don't plan on doing anything drastic to replace Utley. As Amaro said earlier, they expect him to be back sometime before or early in the season. The GM said he thinks the Phils are covered with veteran utility infielder Eric Bruntlett and rising prospect Jason Donald. So in spring training, while Utley is out, it sounds like Donald could get some significant playing time. That said, the Phils won't shut their eyes to available free agent infield options. But they don't feel the need - at least not publicly - to scramble to find a starting-quality second baseman.

Here is our coverage from earlier in the day:


As we await a 2 p.m. conference call with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan, we'll try to take a look at the implications of Chase Utley's injury (complete details are down below).

First, it isn't clear what, exactly, the injury is. But it sounds like it could be similar to the one suffered by Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who missed the ALCS due to a hip injury that would require surgery. In this article in the Boston Globe, Amalie Benjamin details Lowell's condition.

Lowell was ultimately operated on by New York-based doctor Brian Kelly, one of the doctors who examined Utley earlier this offseason while trying to determine the source of the pain he has experienced for the better part of the season.

Here's an excerpt from Benjamin's article:

The arthroscopic surgery, if all goes well, will repair Lowell's labrum. It will also include shaving down "a big bone spur on the top of my femur. I think that's what's been jamming that whole hip area," Lowell said.

Had the injury just been to the labrum, the recovery time would be far shorter. But as it stands, Lowell said it should be possible to be cleared to start baseball activities in three months.

He said the doctors are also looking at an area on his adductor for issues.

Throughout the second half of the season, Utley's hip was one of the most talked-about body parts in the city of Philadelphia. Despite his struggles at the plate and the admission of general manager Pat Gillick that Utley was dealing with a "Balky hip," the all-star second baseman was evasive whenever asked about the injury.

Apparently, it was pretty serious.

The Phillies announced today that Utley will undergo surgery next week that could sideline him for the beginning part of the 2009 season. Sheridan and Amaro will be available on a conference call at 2 p.m., so we should know more sometime after that.

It isn't clear when, exactly, Utley suffered the injury. But he has been on the Phillies' internal injury report since at least early May. Through May 5, Utley was hitting .362 with 13 home runs and 26 RBI in 33 games.

After that, he hit .273 with 20 home runs and 78 RBI in 126 games.

How much the drop-off had to do with the inevitable slow down from the blistering pace at which he started the season and how much it had to do with the injury is unclear.

According to the Phillies, Utley has undergone a series of diagnostic tests on his hip since the end of the season. Based on those tests, surgery was recommended.

According to the team, Utley will not be able to resume baseball activities until 3-4 months after surgery. Three months from Monday is Feb. 24, 10 days after the start of spring training. But the total recovery time could be four to six months.

Four months from Monday is March 24, nine days before the end of spring training.

Five months is April 24, which would cause him to miss 16 games.

Six months is May 24, which would cause him to miss 43 games.


What kind of options do the Phillies have?

The first name that comes to mind is infield prospect Jason Donald, who, it turns out, was awarded the Darrell Stenson Award today, which is given by the Arizona Fall League to a player who "best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership."

Donald ranked fourth in the AFL with a .407 batting average this year. He has quickly become one of the Phillies' top position prospects. He'll certainly get a chance to earn a roster spot in spring training.

Eric Bruntlett, who filled in when Jimmy Rollins was injured, is another option.

But if the Phillies believe that Utley might miss a significant amount of time next season, they will likely need to look for a free agent option. Tad Iguchi filled in the last time Utley was hurt.


The team also announced that third baseman Pedro Feliz will need back surgery and faces 8 to 12 weeks of rehab. Surgery will be performed by Dr. Robert Watkins, who recently operated on Eagles right guard Shawn Andrews.

More later ...