CLEARWATER, Fla. - Last spring, Chase Utley arrived at camp with what the Phillies termed "general soreness." It was an ominous beginning to what was a concerning season for Utley, who played in only 103 games and posted the second-lowest line-drive rate in baseball.
This spring, the Phillies plan to limit Utley's activity. Better to save him, manager Charlie Manuel said, for September rather than abuse him in February.
"Right now, he's fine," Manuel said. "But when he starts doing all of his work, there's no sense in us letting him take 100 ground balls a day and letting him hit for an hour in the cage. We're going to monitor some of that."
Utley's patellar tendinitis is not something that will go away; it's effectively an arthritic condition in his right knee, where cartilage is worn down.
Manuel said Utley will be eased into Grapefruit League play. He does not expect his second baseman to play often early in the schedule. The idea is to preserve him.
That was a philosophy Utley apparently followed this winter. Manuel said he altered his workout routine.
"He didn't talk about it a lot," Manuel said. "But he did not do any strenuous work with his knees whatsoever."
The manager said he envisions a similar plan this spring for third baseman Placido Polanco.
"We will definitely treat him the same way," Manuel said. "The last couple of years, he's had a hard time staying on the field. It's definitely noticeable."
Optimism for Contreras
Jose Contreras, the 40-year-old Cuban with a balky right elbow, isn't far behind the rest of the pitchers in camp. In fact, Contreras said he plans to throw off a mound Tuesday for the first time.
"I feel good," Contreras said.
The Phillies have expressed optimism for Contreras, who began 2011 as the team's closer and later succumbed to an elbow injury that required surgery in September. The question will be whether he can handle a strenuous workload.
"He's right on time," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He's doing really well. We're cautiously optimistic for opening day. He's feeling very confident about his elbow, which is good."
Pitching coach Rich Dubee was less revealing about Contreras' plans, only to say the pitcher's progress has pleased him.
"He put in a lot of hard work with offseason," Dubee said. "Hopefully, he stays on track."
Only Qualls missing
Thirty-four of the 35 pitchers and catchers reported to Phillies camp for the beginning of spring training. The lone absentee, righthander Chad Qualls, was excused for personal reasons.
Amaro said he expected Qualls to report Tuesday. Qualls signed a one-year, $1.15 million deal late in the offseason and could challenge for the primary setup role behind Jonathan Papelbon.
More than a few position players reported early. Among them: Utley, Hunter Pence, John Mayberry Jr., Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome, Domonic Brown, and Juan Pierre. Ryan Howard has spent a significant amount of time in Florida but was not present Sunday.
Righthander Justin De Fratus is the only pitcher limited at the beginning of camp. De Fratus has tightness in his elbow from offseason throwing. "We just wanted to catch it early," Amaro said. . . . Antonio Bastardo is the owner of a new Rolex, courtesy of Papelbon. Bastardo surrendered his No. 58 for Papelbon, who calls himself Cinco Ocho and signed for $50,000,058. Bastardo will wear No. 37.
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at email@example.com or @magelb on Twitter.