CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Chase Utley took batting practice and infield work on Friday and expects to be on the field when the Philadelphia Phillies open the Grapefruit League season next week.
Utley, who hasn’t played in a spring training game since 2010 and has missed significant time each of the last two seasons with knee injuries, is confident he can play a full, healthy season in 2013.
“I feel pretty (darn) good right now,” Utley said in a press conference following the optional workout at the Carpenter Complex. “Hopefully, it will stay that way and I think it will. Hopefully, all the work has paid off.”
The Phillies will hold their first full-squad workout on Saturday. A week later, Utley plans to play vs. the Houston Astros.
But a note of caution: Utley was similarly optimistic a year ago in camp.
When he arrived to spring training in 2012, Utley was a year removed from his first battle with chronic knee pain. First termed “general soreness” by the Phillies — when he was held out of the first Grapefruit game of the 2011 season — the knee pain eventually kept Utley sidelined for the entire spring and for the first seven weeks of the regular season, too.
Utley felt he put the proper plan in place after that season, resting his legs. But when he began participating in baseball activities last year in Clearwater, Utley felt the pain return.
In addition to missing the exhibition season for the second consecutive year, Utley didn’t get on the field in 2012 until June 27, when the season was nearly half over. Utley homered in his first at-bat that night in the Phillies’ 77th game.
In the end, Utley played in 83 of the final 86 games, and started in 81 of them.
Before the season ended, Utley and the team’s training staff devised an offseason plan that was drastically different from the one from the year before. Rather than rest, Utley stayed active, taking regular ground ball work with the University of San Francisco baseball team.
“I basically didn’t stop playing baseball,” Utley said. “I realized that I was feeling good as soon as I came back (last June) and I wanted to keep it that way. I wanted to keep doing the things that I’ve been doing and build on that.
“That was the plan.”
More than two months into his offseason program, Utley sent a holiday text message to his manager. In so many words, Utley told Charlie Manuel that he could expect to see his regular second baseman on the field in 2013.
“The text at Christmas actually said, ‘If you’ll be a good boy, you might get a healthy second baseman. Santa might bring you a hell of a second baseman,'” Manuel said. “For him, that was (saying) a whole lot. I got a whole lot out of it. . Chase usually doesn’t say too much.”
The 34-year-old Utley hasn’t played more than 115 games in a season since 2009. A five-time All-Star, Utley is entering the final season of a seven-year, $85 million contract.
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