Notes: Bell's back acts up again

Notes: Back trouble sidelines Bell again

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- While David Bell wasn't exactly AWOL from Phillies camp on Saturday morning, his absence warranted an explanation.

Bell, who made his Spring Training debut in a Minor League game on Thursday, had been scheduled to start his second game on Friday and third on Saturday.

But he missed both games and will be reevaluated on Sunday. Assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Bell is day-to-day with back spasms.

"We'll see what happens [on Sunday]," Amaro said.

It is becoming more likely that the veteran third baseman will start the season on the disabled list, though Amaro said it was too early to make such an assessment.

"Our main goal right now is to get him on the field and playing," Amaro said. "We want to have all our bullets when we break camp."

Bell said he was encouraged after playing four innings on Thursday. He made two plays, including a tricky backhand grab that required an off-balance throw. Now, he's hurt again.

"His back kind of locked up," said manager Charlie Manuel. "That just sets him back. I'm concerned. I want him to get healthy to where he can play a stretch of games."

Manuel said Bell must log some regular Grapefruit League playing time before he'll feel comfortable using him.

"He has to get well," Manuel said. "Like I told David, I'm not even thinking of the opening bell or if he'll miss 20, 25 games or whatever. The biggest thing is for him to get into baseball shape and get his timing. We have an understanding that Opening Day doesn't matter."

So can he be ready, even if this a minor setback?

"I don't want to pin that down, but it would be tough," Manuel said. "We have to work him up slowly so he can play nine [innings]."

The timing may just not be right for Opening Day, which means more playing time for Alex Gonzalez and Abraham Nunez.

"It's great to have them," Amaro said of Gonzalez and Nunez. "I'm glad we have depth there. They're good, solid Major League players. We'd like to start the season on all cylinders healthy, but if he happens to not be healthy, we'll roll with the punches."

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Bell's injury could also increase the chances of Chris Coste making the team. Coste can play first, third and catcher. Tomas Perez, a six-year Phillies veteran, might also be in better shape if Bell is out.

Utley returns: Chase Utley thought he had it.

He couldn't help himself, and raised his arms in jubilation at the thought of putting Team USA up by a run over Canada and erasing an 8-0 deficit.

"We were mounting a comeback, the crowd was intense and we were fired up at the time," said Utley. "I hit that ball really well, just not well enough. What are you going to do?"

Here's what you shouldn't do: raise your arms until the ball leaves the park, which it didn't do in Utley's case. When center fielder Adam Stern squeezed it just in front of the fence, Utley knew he was cooked.

"I'm hearing it from all the guys. I expect to," Utley said. "I deserve it. I would give myself grief. If someone else did that, I'd tell them about it."

Utley's near homer and premature celebration was a hot topic in camp last week, as Team USA dropped an opening-round game to Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

After all, the long out came off Phillies Minor Leaguer Scott Mathieson, and veteran Rheal Cormier was loudly celebrating in Team Canada's bullpen. Cormier was one of many people to send Utley a text message.

Cormier's suggested that Utley try Canadian maple bats, for better distance, while another friend thought the second baseman should've worked out a week longer at a gym. Utley said he had a similar response for all the suggestions.

Regardless of the result, there's no question that Utley enjoyed his time playing with the best American-born players. He gushed about playing next to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Derrek Lee.

Getting dressed for morning batting practice on Saturday, Utley wore a gray World Baseball Classic T-shirt under his jersey.

"I really wasn't sure what it was going to be like, but it was everything I expected," Utley said. "The intensity was up. We didn't play that well, but I'll take the experience. I know we haven't been to the playoffs, but we had a playoff run last year and it was intense then. It was very similar out there."

As for his teammates?

"You can't really beat the experience of meeting those guys," he said. "Those guys are Hall of Fame guys. Just being around them make you a better player."

Coste-ing: The more Coste's name (pronounced "Coast") keeps coming up in postgame discussions, the better his chances are of becoming a 33-year-old Major League rookie on April.

The journeyman infielder slugged a pair of two-run homers in Philadelphia's 9-8 loss to Pittsburgh, including a game-tying shot with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. They were the latest in a seemingly endless series of big hits for Coste this spring.

"Before the game, I was actually thinking, 'It's been a while,'" Coste said with a smile. "I was thinking I haven't been up in those situations recently. Of course, today it happened. I got good pitches to hit in really good counts, but you still have to hit those pitches, in those exact counts. At the same time, I'm still wondering if it's a dream."

He's tearing up Grapefruit League pitching with a .455 average.

"He shocked 'em twice, didn't he?" said Manuel said. "I think Coste is serious. I'm serious about Coste, too."

The trick is finding a way to use him. Coste can play first, third and catch, and Manuel remembers him playing some outfield when he was in camp with Cleveland. The possibility of Bell starting the season on the disabled list helps Coste's chances, as would a trade of Perez.

As for playing the outfield, Coste is open to it, though he said it's never been discussed.

"I know one of the things they're looking for is a fifth outfielder, but if they did, I'd be the first one to run down to K-Mart and buy an outfielder's glove," he said.

Quotable: "[Utley's] a little rusty, but he'll be all right. He'll probably hit .350 or so. I'd be happy with that, but I'd tell him he's got to hit .360 next year." -- Manuel, on Utley, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first game since playing in the World Baseball Classic

Philling in: Gonzalez spent his second day playing outfield in a Minor League game. ... Ricardo Rodriguez unleashed two wild pitches and surrendered three runs in an inning on Saturday. "The problems he's had this spring is his command," said Manuel. "His arm is good, but he's having trouble throwing strikes."

Coming up: Jon Lieber makes his third Grapefruit League appearance on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Reds in Sarasota. Lieber has allowed three earned runs on 10 hits in six innings. Cormier, Julio Santana and Arthur Rhodes are also scheduled to pitch.

Projected Opening Day pitcher Aaron Harang is scheduled to start for Cincinnati.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.