It's looking more and more like Chase Utley is going to be ready for Opening Day. While the Phillies will be extra-cautious with their star second baseman, he appears right on schedule for a four-month return to full health. Utley has been taking ground balls during fielding practice since Tuesday and has been hitting in the cage, both off of a tee and off of soft tosses. There is the pain, not fatigue, in his surgically-repaired right hip, leading Utley to believe that his hope of an Opening Day return is now a reality.
"I think it's pretty realisitc at this point," he said this morning. "We've pushed it over the past week and a half, two weeks that I've been down here and it's responded extermely well. We're not overdoing it yet but we are putting it to a good pace ans I think we are all pretty comfortable with it."
Asked to handicap his chances of returning by the start of the season, he said they were "fair to quite fair."
When Utley underwent his surgery in New York on Nov. 24, the Phillies announced a four-to-six month rehab for him. Monday marked the start of his 13th week after the operation. He'll be at 16 weeks -- four months -- post-op on March 16, which would give him 19 opportunities to play in spring training games before the start of the season.
Other stuff that didn't fit into the paper today:
1) It is a gray and windy day in Clearwater, snapping more than a week straight of perfect weather. It is supposed to drop into the 50's tomorrow before climbing back into the 60's for the weekend.
2) Newly-signed veteran Miguel Cairo worked at third base with Greg Dobbs yesterday, while prospect Jason Donald fielded balls at second base. If Pedro Feliz starts the season on the disabled list, I wouldn't be completely surprised to see someone like Cairo make the Opening Day roster.
3) 2008 first-round draft pick Anthony Hewitt might hit the ball as hard as anybody in camp. The ball just explodes off his bat. It's pretty amazing to watch and consider that he is still a teenager. That said, don't expect to see him in the big leagues any time soon. He is very much a project. Still, it is fun to watch him take batting practice.
4) The Grapefruit League opener is less than a week away. The Phillies travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday for their first game of the spring.