Injured Utley connects with Phillies in Arizona, takes batting practice

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Chase Utley took batting practice with the Phillies at Chase Field before Monday's game. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)

PHOENIX - Two of the seven buildings at Canal Crossing Business Park, one mile south of Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport, are vacant. One is available with 90 percent financing. Tucked in the far left corner, behind the companies that produce filter supplies, concrete construction, and electric solutions, is Fischer Sports Therapy.

This is where Chase Utley works now. He spends as many as six hours a day in the gym, which caters to a number of professional athletes, to build strength in his chronically injured knees.

But on Monday, Utley left early. He wore a dark T-shirt and shorts with lime-green sneakers when he walked to his rental car shortly before noon. His escort was Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.

It was time to see his teammates.

"I'm not happy that I'm not playing," Utley, 33, said. "But I'm looking at it from a positive, like I always have. I've definitely gained strength over the past three weeks."

Those three weeks have provided optimism for the second baseman. Utley took batting practice with the Phillies at Chase Field before Monday's game. He fielded some ground balls for the first time in two months. He smiled.

There is no pain when he swings, Utley said. Soreness persists in the field. But during spring training, Utley reached a point where he could not do any infield work because of the sting. And hitting was problematic too.

So there is progress. Utley missed the first 46 games of the 2011 season and could be operating on a similar pace in 2012. He declined to affix a timetable to his return, and will remain in Phoenix to work at Brett Fischer's complex once the Phillies leave.

"It's hard to tell," Utley said. "So far, on a daily basis, I've been feeling good. I haven't had to slow things down. Being here for a little longer will benefit me. At some point, I'll meet with the team and continue to do more baseball stuff. Then we'll see what happens."

Utley could not compare his progress to last season, but admitted that his knees are stronger now than they were before. That appears to be the focus of his rehabilitation program this time.

"Last year, I went with the mind-set of getting everything loose and not trying to make my legs tight," Utley said. "Right now, we're trying to gain strength and continue to keep my legs loose."

Utley's 12.7 percent line-drive rate was the second-lowest in baseball last season. He played in only 103 games, but by the time the postseason started, his ability to swing with any power was diminished.

He has been swinging in a cage for about two weeks. He's also been running, but did not do that Monday.

"I'd like to be back right now," Utley said. "I have to listen to my body, and right now it's telling me to continue to move forward with the things I'm doing. I don't want to put a certain date on it because I don't want to force something that's not ready to happen. When my knee is ready to go, I'll be out there."

Until then, he is a resident of Arizona and will make the daily drive to the nondescript business park.

"I think we're on the right track," Utley said. That does not preclude concern. But by the way Utley acted Monday, positivity appears reasonable.

 


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow @magelb on Twitter.