The Phillies started four middle infielders Thursday while the one whose presence they crave fielded ground balls hours before the actual game. That was progress for Chase Utley, who is moving forward in his recovery from a strained right oblique.
His most important test, swinging a bat, will not happen for some time.
"It's still going to be a fairly slow process of trying to come back," Utley said. "As soon as I'm ready, I'll be out there."
Utley said he has no timetable for his return. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. offered a "mid-June" estimate. But that was after he established an optimistic 15-day window for Utley's activation.
Given the nature of the injury, the Phillies and Utley are operating with unknowns. All Utley knows is he will not be ready to return Thursday, the first day he is eligible to come off the disabled list.
"Totally unfamiliar," Utley said. "It's the first time I've pulled anything. It's a new process for me. I'm trying to stay positive with it. The main thing is to take it slow, especially with obliques. You don't want to set yourself back farther."
The second baseman was injured May 21. It could be a month total before he is back.
Utley said his midsection feels "a little bit better" every day. "It's not perfect yet." He will start to do more rotational exercises as tolerated. But he will not know how close he is to returning until he swings a bat.
"That will be the last thing I do," Utley said. "I'm just running and getting back into baseball shape by taking ground balls. Those are the things I'll do until I'm ready to hit."
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