Utley continues to sit as regular season nears

Utley continues to sit as regular season nears

Utley continues to sit as regular season nears
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Chase Utley is a hard man to find at Bright House Field.

He has not played a single inning in a single Grapefruit League game, with Opening Day just three weeks away. He has not fielded a ground ball during batting practice or participated in fielding drills in weeks. He plays catch and takes BP, but seems to spend the rest of his time in the trainer's room in the Phillies 'clubhouse.

Baseball people use the phrase "baseball shape" a lot. Ryan Howard, for example, needs to get in shape once the protective boot is removed from his left foot. But he also needs to get in baseball shape, where he readies himself for the strains and pounding the body takes on the field, while also readying himself to hit big league pitching. Utley, who suffers from a chronic right knee condition, has exactly three weeks to get himself in baseball shape, but there is no word exactly when that process will begin, although Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Wednesday it could be soon.

Is there any chance Utley is not ready for Opening Day on April 5 in Pittsburgh?

"I don't think there's any chance he won't be ready Opening Day," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Thursday morning. "We fully expect him to be ready Opening Day."

Utley has not spoken to reporters about his health since Feb. 23. He prefers to keep his health issues quiet, which he makes clear to the front office and coaching staff. That certainly is his right, but also is why there is so little information about what exactly is going on and why everything seems shrouded in mystery.

"Think you'll talk anytime soon?" a reporter asked Utley earlier this week.

"It depends what you mean by soon," he replied.

"The next couple days," a reporter said.

"I doubt it," Utley replied.

But it is safe to say Utley is having issues with his knee, otherwise he would have been on the field. The Phillies also said they planned to bring along Placido Polanco slowly -- he is coming back from sports hernia surgeries and has had back issues -- but he has played in five of the team's first 14 games.

"His problem is not going away," Manuel said about Utley. "More than likely, it maybe never goes away."

The Phillies have their concerns. CSNPhilly.com reported earlier this week that the team is looking for infield depth, certainly one sign everything is not well at second base. Amaro said Thursday, "I think we're comfortable with the people we have in camp," but he rarely tips his hand when it comes to trade matters.

If the right deal presents itself, the GM certainly would upgrade.

Or maybe the Phillies really like what they have seen from Freddy Galvis, who has started at second base in five of the past six games. The Phillies said last month they planned to have Galvis, who has played only shortstop in the Minor Leagues, take a few ground balls at second base and third base, but did not know if they planned to play him at either position in any Grapefruit League games.

But suddenly Galvis is playing second base every day, another sign Utley's health is an issue.

Galvis has impressed.

"He's a good player," Manuel gushed. "He has real good instincts. Somebody has taught him good. He has a good feel for playing baseball. He doesn't get caught making simple mistakes. He doesn't make many of those. He knows how to play."

"He's done a nice job," Amaro said. "He's still learning the position, but we thought it was important for him in case we have guys go down in the middle of the infield. He's as good a defender as we have in our camp. We thought it was important to at least give us that option if there are any issues that pop up."

It remains to be seen if Galvis can hold his own offensively. He hit a combined .278 with a .716 OPS with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season, but had not had better than a .588 OPS the previous four seasons. He is hitting .267 (8-for-30) with two doubles and seven RBIs this spring.

"Ideally, he goes to Triple-A and he plays every day and he continues to work on that part of his game," Amaro said. "But he's a good situational hitter. He's moved runners. He's probably been our best situational hitter this spring as far as driving runs in. I think he has three sacrifice flies. He's moved runners. He's gotten some bunts down. He's done some things to make positive outs."

"You can probably put him down as the best bunter on the team," Manuel said.

Galvis could be the Phillies' Plan B if Utley misses an extended period of time, or if Utley isn't ready to start the season. Other options in camp include big league veterans Pete Orr, Kevin Frandsen and Michael Martinez.

But the Phillies maintain Utley will be ready.

Of course, there is ready and there is baseball ready. Can Utley be baseball ready by Opening Day?

"I think so," Amaro said. "Charlie thinks so. Chase thinks so. Will he be hitting on all cylinders and be in midseason form? I don't know."

"We want him to be at a real good percentage of playing," Manuel said. "Will he ever be 100 percent? I don't know about that. He might never be that."

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