'Light at the end of the tunnel' for Howard, Utley

'Light at the end of the tunnel' for Howard, Utley

PHILADELPHIA -- Ruben Amaro Jr. called it "a light at the end of the tunnel."

The Phillies general manager confirmed Saturday night that first baseman Ryan Howard (Achilles tendon surgery) will leave for Clearwater, Fla., to continue his rehabilitation, and second baseman Chase Utley (chronic knee issues) could follow him to the complex soon.

The Phillies have been without their 3-4 hitters all year, which is a big reason they have scored two or fewer runs in 11 of their first 20 games.

"[Howard] will start doing some more baseball stuff, ground balls and some other things on Monday," Amaro said. "He probably won't start hitting for at least a few days. I think he wants to get his legs under him and not get into any bad habits. And once he starts hitting, he'll be able to hit. And go pretty aggressively, I think."

Utley, who has been working with physical therapist Brett Fischer in Arizona, is expected to join the team in Washington next weekend. As soon as he feels comfortable, he'll join Howard in Florida.

"If he continues to do well -- and so far, he's done pretty darn well -- at some point he'll be headed down to Clearwater. I don't know the exact timetable on him," Amaro said.

The Phillies have been reluctant to put a timetable on when either player could return to the big league lineup. Amaro is convinced they won't need the equivalent of a full Spring Training, however.

"But they do have to get ready for the season. They haven't played. So it's going to take some time," he said. "It's a good progression for both of them, I think, a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. It's positive news because they're moving in the right direction, and hopefully we can be aggressive with them once they get down to Clearwater and start doing more baseball-related stuff."

Before beginning a formal rehab assignment, players can participate in extended spring games. They can bat each inning if need be. They can start, sit a couple of innings, then re-enter the game. They can, in short, be used in almost any way the teams sees fit.

"There's a lot of leeway," Amaro said.