Is it too late for the Phillies?
"There's no doubt in my mind there's plenty of time," Utley said before Monday's game against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. "I know there are some people that have given up on me, and there are some people that have given up on this team. But I'll be the first one to tell you that I definitely haven't given up on myself, and I know our guys have not given up on this year. We have strong-willed guys on this team."
Those were uncharacteristically strong comments from Utley, who has been on the disabled list since the season started because of chondromalacia in his left knee.
Utley worked out with the team on Monday and will play a rehab game on Tuesday with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Assuming all goes OK, expect him to be activated and hitting third in the Phillies' lineup on Wednesday.
The Phillies certainly could use him in the lineup, in the field and in the clubhouse, which has been noticeably more blasé than past seasons.
Manager Charlie Manuel is looking forward to Wednesday.
"Utley is our three-hole hitter," Manuel said. "I think he is the guy that works the count. I think he is the guy that when he's right, he'll hit 25 to 30 homers. I think he is the guy that will hit .300. I think he is the guy that can knock in 100 runs and score 100. That's what I picture Utley to be. I think until we find somebody I think can do better, more than likely he's going to land in that three-hole."
And does Manuel still believe Utley can be a productive three-hole hitter?
"I think he's earned a chance to see if he's that guy," he said.
"I do believe that," said Utley when asked if he can be the hitter he was a few years ago. "There's no doubt that [my legs] are stronger than they were last year. Having my legs under me is an important part of that. But time will tell."
Utley would not say that his knees are completely pain-free, but "I'm in a much better place than I was a month ago, and I'm encouraged by that. I wouldn't be out there if I felt uncomfortable."
Utley hit .156 in nine rehab games with Class A Clearwater, but it is difficult to read much into that. He went 1-for-10 in a rehab assignment in Clearwater in 2007 and went on to hit .332 that season for the Phillies.
"Every day it seemed to get a little bit better," Utley said. "I had some good swings and some bad swings, which was anticipated. But I'm optimistic [about] how things went."
Manuel indicated that Utley will be worked in slowly before being turned loose, but Utley believes he should be eventually playing five, six or seven games a week.
But no pressure.
"Any time you add pressure to this game, it will just make it more difficult. I understand," Utley said. "I've been around here for a long time. We've had successful years here. I'm just as excited as the fans are to get back on the field."