Phillies hopeful Young can return by mid-April

Phillies hopeful Young can return by mid-April

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Delmon Young took the redeye from Los Angeles to Tampa on Tuesday and showed up in the Phillies' clubhouse early Wednesday morning at Bright House Field. He came straight from the airport to the clubhouse after sleeping on the plane.

He took batting practice with his teammates a short time later.

"That was the first time I had someone throwing to me since the last World Series game," he said.

That must have been nice, right?

"It's batting practice," he said. "I really don't care too much to hit on the field."

But Young got good news in Los Angeles, where the doctor that performed the microfracture surgery on his right ankle in November told him that he can progress his rehab. That includes full-weight bearing on the treadmill, participating in batting practice and standing in right field to get acclimated to fly balls. That does not include shagging or making lateral movements, although that could come in the next week or so.

He didn't get the fuss as he answered a few questions about his rehab and trip to L.A. in front of his locker Wednesday.

"You guys trying to write a soap opera here or something?" he said.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Young has progressed "faster" than expected, and said he remains hopeful Young can be playing for the Phillies sometime between mid-April to May 1.

"We'll take the progression slowly and conservatively," Amaro said. "I'm just hopeful in the early part of April or the middle of April he's playing in games enough so we can start to really evaluate and work on that part of his game. We've talked about it before. We've got to make sure the guy can play well defensively for us to have him in our outfield. That's one of the things we're going to make sure -- when he's ready to play in Philadelphia, we feel he's ready to contribute to our club."

But Young said he hasn't been champing at the bit to get into Grapefruit League games.

"No, not really," he said. "It's cold and it's only March 6. I'm not anxious at all."

Regardless, Young is going to play right field and only right field whenever he joins the Phillies.

That is his preference.

That is the Phillies' preference, too.

"Because he's not good in left field," Amaro explained. "And he doesn't want to play there. He's a much better right fielder as he came through the system in Tampa Bay. He played center and right. He was a plus defender in right, and because of the circumstances, got away from that in other organizations. He's much more suited for right field."

Of course, that creates an interesting situation whenever Young joins the Phillies lineup. If the season started Wednesday, Domonic Brown could be the right fielder. But it sounds like even if Brown starts the season hitting well and playing solid defense in right, he will be making the switch to left.

Amaro doesn't consider that an issue because he said it's a push when it comes to Brown's ability to play left or right.

"Good spring," he said about Brown. "It looks like he's more relaxed. He's in a hitter's position that I think is more consistent than he's been. It's much, much closer to where he was as he progressed through the Minor Leagues. I think he is going about his business very professionally. I like what I've seen so far."

If the season started Wednesday, it is unclear who the Phillies' five outfielders would be. But Darin Ruf has struggled both offensively and defensively and could use more seasoning in Triple-A, if he doesn't improve his play in the coming weeks.

"Listen, if we broke camp today I couldn't really tell you what our outfield would look like," Amaro said. "I know that I have a pretty good idea of what I think it might look like, but we've got close to a month yet to make decisions on what's happening.

"Ruf has struggled in the outfield and he's struggled offensively, but sometimes that happens. He's a kid who's coming basically from Double-A. He did get a chance to be in the big leagues with us last year, but he wants to do his best to get acclimated in left field. He's trying to impress with his bat. He's probably trying to do a little bit too much. Whether he makes our club or not, that remains to be seen. He's going to have to play better than he's playing now to be on our Major League roster, but the fact of the matter is, there are a lot of things going on with him. We're throwing a lot of stuff at him. I think with some time he'll relax and play the way we know he can play. He's still learning. And he's still young as far as having the opportunity to be in Major League camp. This is the first Major League camp he's ever been in."

If Ruf opens in Triple-A, the Phillies outfield seems likely to include Brown, Ben Revere, Laynce Nix, John Mayberry Jr. and Rule 5 Draft pick Ender Inciarte.

In the meantime, Young will continue his rehab.

"I just do what the doctor says," he said.

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