Position not in question when Utley returns

Position not in question when Utley returns

Position not in question when Utley returns
PHILADELPHIA -- Chase Utley is back on the field, hitting home runs and running the bases.

But don't get too excited.

He played an extended spring training game on Monday in Clearwater, Fla. He went 3-for-4 with a double and a home run as the designated hitter. It's an important step, but tougher challenges lie ahead. The biggest, of course, is playing second base and how his chronically injured knees respond to it.

"How much he can play is kind of up to him, and if it flares up, that's baseball," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said before Monday's series opener against the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park.

There has been plenty of discussion about Utley possibly changing positions in an effort to save his knees.

"Comes up every now and then, but it's nothing that we really hash out that we will do it," Manuel said.

It is an interesting conversation. Left field? First base? But don't bet on it happening this season.

"It's a tough thing to ask a guy," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said late last week when asked about Utley playing left field. "He's never done it. It's a tough message to send him. I know that."

In what way?

"To ask a guy to move a position?" Amaro said. "I'm not sure whether it does take pressure off [the knee] or not, whether it changes. But it's awfully tough after a guy who's never really played in the outfield -- he's been in the big leagues 10 years now playing second base and however long he played in college -- to all of a sudden say, 'Hey, he's going to play another position.' It's tough."

Manuel also weighed in on the discussion.

"If he's going to have pain, he can have pain at first base or left field or right field or wherever just like he can have it at second," he said. "I think getting him healthy and seeing what he can still do is the big thing. That's what I think. I think also, I think that we should sit him down and really ask him about that before we ever do that, that he's kind of earned that right to kind of have a say in those things."

Offensively speaking, it would serve the Phillies best if Utley played second base. Even if Utley performs like he did last season, he would be an upgrade over Freddy Galvis, Pete Orr and Mike Fontenot. They have a combined .283 on-base percentage, .417 slugging percentage and .700 OPS.

Utley had a .344 on-base percentage/.425 slugging percentage/.769 OPS line last season.

Phillies left fielders (.364/.414/.778) and first basemen (.342/.426/.769) have outperformed Utley's 2011 numbers.