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Utley out eight weeks after thumb surgery

Utley out eight weeks after thumb surgery

PITTSBURGH -- Can the Phillies survive this?

Chase Utley had surgery Thursday to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. The Phillies said their star second baseman will miss approximately eight weeks. It is a major blow to the Phils, who have six other players on the disabled list.

The list includes third baseman Placido Polanco, who will miss three to four weeks with inflammation in his left elbow.

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"We'll find a way," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said before Thursday's game against the Pirates at PNC Park. "We're not going anywhere. No one in this clubhouse is going to fold. No one is going to feel sorry in this clubhouse. We dang sure know they're not going to feel sorry for us outside this clubhouse. They still have to knock us off, and they're out there trying to do it, but we'll keep fighting to hold on."

Hand specialist Andrew Weiland performed Utley's surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan said Utley, who tore the ligament from the bone, will be in a splint for five weeks. Once the splint is removed, he will begin range-of-motion exercises. The eight weeks includes rehab time in the Minor Leagues, but if the eight-week estimate holds, Utley would not return to the Phillies until late August or early September.

Is there any chance he could return earlier?

"Obviously, I've worked with Chase a lot," Sheridan said. "Nobody is going to work harder than he is. If it could happen, I would bet on him before I'd bet on other people."

Utley, who injured his thumb Monday in Cincinnati, has done a good job coming back from injuries on or ahead of schedule. He had surgery on a broken right wrist on July 27, 2007, with the estimated return three to four weeks. He returned Aug. 28. Utley had surgery on his right hip Nov. 24, 2008, with the estimated return four to six months. He made the Opening Day 2009 lineup.

It is one thing to lose Utley or Polanco for an extended period of time -- the Phillies have played without Rollins for most of the season and entered Friday 3 1/2 games behind the front-running Braves in the National League East -- but losing two of the top three hitters in the lineup will be tough to overcome.

The Phillies could use help. They traded for second baseman Tadahito Iguchi in 2007 when Utley missed a month. Iguchi played well, and he helped the Phillies win their first National League East championship since 1993.

But Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said Thursday they are not scrambling for help.

"I don't think it's necessarily a situation where we have to go get somebody," he said.

Not that the Phils have not talked to teams. They have.

"We're always looking to improve the club," Proefrock continued. "It's a continual process. That hasn't changed. We talk about those kinds of things every day, so maybe the focus is a little different than it was."

Names that have been mentioned include Ty Wigginton, Miguel Tejada and Kelly Johnson, but they might be tough to get. A source indicated one problem is that teams know the Phillies need help, and the asking price has spiked dramatically. The same thing happened in 2007, when Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn both injured themselves during the same game at Wrigley Field. The Phillies called around asking for help, but never made a move because teams requested top prospects for temporary help.

The Phillies instead plugged Jayson Werth into the outfield, and he hit .414 in August. The Phillies could use a similar boost from inside the organization.

"We're not the only team that has injuries," Proefrock said. "We've got a tremendous amount of talent still out on the field, and they need to step it up and do their jobs. [Wilson] Valdez has filled in very well when Jimmy was out at shortstop. He's already done very well the first couple times he's been at second base. Dobber [Greg Dobbs] has proven that when he gets to play regularly, he can be a productive offensive player. He's going to get that opportunity again. We just need everybody to do their jobs."

Polanco will completely rest his elbow for two weeks. Sheridan said neither doctors that examined him this week recommended surgery, but they will have to watch him closely the remainder of the season.

"We're going to have to manage it," Sheridan said. "This timetable that we're giving him now is important. He's had rest in the past, and obviously it wasn't enough. But Polly is a gamer. He wants to play. He's going to try to push through a little bit. Now I think we're at the point where we've got to give him the full two weeks. That's why we placed him on the disabled list."

While the focus is the hole at second base, the Phillies could trade for a third baseman and play him there until Polanco returns. Once Polanco returns, Polanco could move to second base, where he has earned Gold Glove Awards.

"We'll just have to wait and see who that is," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "If I've got somebody like [Albert] Pujols ..."

Manuel knows that isn't happening, but maybe Philadelphia will get someone else. In the meantime, the club will count on Dobbs and Valdez.

"We can get through it," Manuel said. "Yeah, we can get through it. Let me put it to you like this -- we're going to get through it. We're all right. We've got a lot left."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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