Utley takes more grounders at third; Howard talks about struggles

Chase Utley said his performance at third base is still a "work in progress." (David J. Phillip/AP)

NEW YORK -- The two Phillies players who were the most talked about when they were not here during the first half of the season are again the primary topic of discussion as the season winds toward its conclusion.

Chase Utley drew more attention by working at third base Monday afternoon before the Phillies' game against the New York Mets and Ryan Howard answered questions about what a struggle this season has been for him since he returned from surgery on his left leg.

Under the supervision of first-base/infield coach Sam Perlozzo, Utley had an extensive session of throwing and fielding grounders at Citi Field. At one point, he drew the attention of Mets first baseman Ike Davis, who screamed across the diamond at the five-time all-star second baseman.

"No way, three-bagger?" Davis yelled.

Utley shrugged in response, but later talked about how he feels about his work at the position he last played as a minor-leaguer in 2002.

"It's still a work in progress," he said. "I'm still working on it, still putting the time into it and so far I feel like I've progressed a little bit, but I feel like there is still room for improvement. I've been out there four times and every time I've felt like I've done something different and it's an improvement, but ground balls off a fungo are different than ground balls in a big-league game."

Utley said he does not care if he plays third base before the end of this season.

"No," he said. "What's important is winning tonight."

Howard was back in the lineup for his 62d game of the season Monday night against the Mets and R.A. Dickey, but he admitted this season has been a struggle because of his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon.

"I feel like my biggest problem has been my hips have kind of been leaking forward," Howard said. "I don't know if that's a correlation with my ankle, but maybe it's something where I'm trying to generate extra power and my hips just kind of slide forward, which is taking me off my back side instead of being able to pivot on my back side. I don't know if there is a direct correlation to (the ankle) or not. This offseason if I can get stronger then we'll be able to tell."

Howard had respectable power numbers through August, hitting 10 home runs with 34 RBIs in his first 46 games after returning from the disabled list. In 15 September games before Monday, however, he was batting .193 with zero home runs and 12 RBIs.

You can read more about Utley and Howard in Tuesday's Inquirer.