Upbeat Utley joins Phillies for workouts

Upbeat Utley joins Phillies for workouts
April 24, 2012, 2:54 am
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PHOENIX Chase Utley smiled. Often. He smiled on the field as he took ground balls alongside Freddy Galvis. He smiled around the batting cage in between swings. He smiled as he chatted with reporters and even asked the guys with the notebooks how they were doing.Utley has spent the last three weeks rehabbing his sore knees with Phoenix-based physical therapist Brett Fischer. The 33-year-old second baseman, out of sight since spring training, joined his Phillies teammates for pregame workouts before Monday nights game against Arizona.Utley took batting practice and fielded ground balls. Both exercises carried significance. Utley said that his knees did not hurt when he hit. He couldnt say that since last season. He felt discomfort in his left knee while taking ground balls, but the pain was less than he felt during spring training, when he had to stop taking ground balls early in camp.Utleys positive post-workout body language and demeanor not seen for some time was that of a man who was feeling pretty good.Im not happy that Im not playing, he said. But, yeah, Im looking at this as a positive.Ive definitely gained strength the last three weeks. Im able to run, take some ground balls, fairly light, but I think there will be a progression to make them tougher. And as far as hitting, it was uncomfortable during spring training and now its comfortable.There remains no timetable for Utleys getting back into the lineup. He said he has more work to do with Fischer in Arizona and that he would begin playing when his knee is ready.Utley suffers from a cartilage condition called chondromalacia. He missed the first 46 games last season as the condition affected his right knee. This year the problem has been in his left knee. Utley will likely have to manage the condition for the remainder of his career.While sidelined last April and May, Utley worked mostly on keeping his legs loose. This time, under Fischers guidance, he has been able to mix in leg-strengthening exercises along with stretching and range of motion exercises.I feel a lot stronger than I did three weeks ago, he said.Leg strength is crucial for a hitter. Utleys performance at the plate last season suffered because he was not able to build strength in his legs.The whole thing is to get my legs strong, he said. If I continue to build on that I think Ill be all right.Utley works on his knees daily from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. He plans to work out again with his teammates on Tuesday and Wednesday then remain in Arizona. When hes gained enough strength, he will begin to play in minor league games. As a point of reference, Utley made his 2011 debut on May 23.In addition to Utley, first baseman Ryan Howard is also on the disabled list. He had the wound on the back of his left ankle checked by a specialist Monday, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. had no update on Howards condition. The wound on Howards ankle is the result of a procedure to clean out an infection that developed after surgery on a torn Achilles tendon. If Howard gets a good report, he could soon increase his baseball activities.Utley will play second base when he returns. If he returns before Howard, its not out of the question that he could see some action at first base until Howard is ready.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com.

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