Utley to play five innings; back this week?

Chase Utley could return to the Phillies lineup this week. (Sarah J. Glover / Staff file photo)

NEW YORK -- So much for that eight-week timetable.

Chase Utley will begin his official rehab assignment Saturday night with single-A Clearwater. He will play five innings. That means it's entirely possible Utley could rejoin the Phillies this week.

When Utley had surgery on his right thumb July 1, doctors estimated at least an eight-week recovery period. That would have put him on target for a return sometime around Sept. 1. As Utley has progressed the last few weeks, the Phillies stuck to that timetable.

Obviously, the second baseman has accelerated his recovery of late. Last Wednesday, he was given clearance to swing a bat. Three days later, he's already in a rehab game.

It's not the first time Utley has been a quick healer. After off-season hip surgery in 2008, the Phillies thought Utley would miss the first month of the season. He was ready before opening day.

If Utley follows similar rehab assignments from the past, he could need just three games for single-A Clearwater and rejoin the team in time for the series opener against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday.

"Usually it won't take him a long time because he'll work at it, and he'll be ready," Charlie Manuel said Friday. "Actually I think with the time off, he's strong, and I look for him to come back and be really good."

More to come from the ballpark later.