PHILADELPHIA -- With the steely stare that embodies the hardest-nosed of players and consistent glue in the offense, Chase Utley confidently said his season hasn't ended, despite the broken fourth metacarpal bone in his right hand. "I'll be back. Don't worry, guys," Utley said after a disappointing 7-6 loss turned into a dark day on Thursday. "It's a break, but not that bad of a break. I definitely expect to be back (pause) this season." The break will likely keep Utley on the disabled list for four-to-six weeks, and possibly the rest of the season. It's the worst of many breaks in a year that already saw losses to starters Jon Lieber, Freddy Garcia, Brett Myers, Tom Gordon and Ryan Howard. This time, it takes away the No. 3 hitter, All-Star second baseman, clubhouse leader, fan favorite, and, with all due respect to Howard, arguably their Most Valuable Player.
"Utley is huge," said manager Charlie Manuel, his pained expression emphasizing his words. "He's a big part of our offense. He's a big part of our defense. He's a huge part of our team. We're losing one of our best players." Manuel didn't elaborate further. He didn't need to. Struck with an 0-2 fastball from Nationals starter John Lannan, who was making his Major League debut, Utley of course stayed in the game, explaining, "There's no point in coming out. We had the lead. It was sore, but you have to play through pain sometimes." Lannan, who now rivals J.D. Drew as a hated man in Philadelphia, hit Howard on the next pitch and was ejected by home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt. Through the pain of his 17th hit by pitch this season, Utley struck out and flew out. X-rays taken after the game revealed the fracture of the fourth metacarpal. He'll be examined again on Friday by hand specialist Randall Culp, a hand specialist with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. "Based on that decision and the (surgical) procedure he may or may not have, that's when we'll know his timeframe for getting back," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "There's a best-case [scenario] and a worst-case." Amaro said the team is optimistic in the diagnosis, describing it as a "two-to-three type of fracture" on a scale of 1-to-10, with the lower number being more mild. Severity aside, recent history indicates a minimum of four weeks, and more toward six. Cleveland's Travis Hafner's season ended Sept. 1 after he was hit by C.J. Wilson. Minnesota's Matt Guerrier cost Milwaukee's Jeff Cirillo nine weeks of the 2005 season, and it was supposed to be four-to-six. Utley can also call A's shortstop Bobby Crosby, who broke his third and fourth metacarpal bones in his left hand on July 24, and faces a similar recovery time. Utley said the best-case scenario has him returning in three weeks. The worst? "My hand will fall off," Utley said, keeping his sense of humor. Even if Utley misses just three weeks, the Phillies have suffered a serious blow. Good luck replacing a .336 average, 41 doubles, 17 homers and 82 RBIs. Abraham Nunez, the team's only backup middle infielder, will start at second. "It's definitely disappointing that I'm going to be out for a while," Utley said. "But this team has a lot of character. We've had a lot of injuries, a lot of pitchers have been down. We're still there. We're right in the hunt. We have two months to go. I expect to still be in the hunt come October." Utley's spot on the 25-man roster could be taken by Myers, who Amaro said will be activated before Friday's game. The team could also make two moves, replacing Utley with a hitter -- Joe Thurston? -- and sending a pitcher out to make room for Myers -- Clay Condrey or Michael Zagurski. Utley didn't think Lannan was throwing at him, and Lannan said he wasn't. "I wasn't throwing at anybody," Lannan said. "I was trying to make pitches. With Utley, I was trying to go inside with two strikes and it got away from me." Judging from the 70-minute post-game meeting among team officials, and the looks on their faces as they emerged, the pitcher's intent no longer mattered. "He's one of the best players and one of our leaders," Amaro said. "He'll still be around so I'm sure his presence [in the clubhouse] won't be lost. In the lineup it will be, but not in the clubhouse."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.