MIAMI - The Phillies played the first 76 games of the 2012 season without the services of both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
And everyone knows how that turned out: The team missed the postseason for the first time in 6 years.
It took 7 weeks into the 2013 season, but the grim thought of the team again trying to play without its two longtime, middle-of-the-order cogs returned this week in Miami.
While Howard returned to the lineup after missing two games with a left knee injury, Utley was a late scratch from yesterday's lineup after experiencing pain in his right side during pregame batting practice.
A team spokesman said that while the injury hasn't been officially labeled, the pain was more in Utley's upper body, in the rib cage or oblique region. Utley will be re-evaluated today.
Howard, meanwhile, labeled his injury as a day-to-day thing. Translation: It's not completely healed, but the cortisone shot he had on Sunday knocked out the pain for the time being.
Although he was healthy enough to play last night, Howard was asked whether he was concerned about the long-term prognosis of his knee.
"I guess if I blow up, then I'd be worried about that then," Howard said jokingly.
Howard said the plan going forward is to "keep an eye on it." When Charlie Manuel was asked whether that meant playing it conservative and giving Howard more time off here and there, the manager didn't seem keen on that game plan.
"When they tell me he's ready to go, he's ready to go," Manuel said. "I'm going to watch him. I'll see how he runs. It he starts limping, I might take him out of the game."
Howard said that he has felt pain off and on since spring training, but that it was at its worst on Saturday. When the Phils left for Miami after Sunday's game against the visiting Reds, Howard stayed back and had an MRI exam on his knee on Monday morning in Philadelphia.
The MRI revealed inflammation and tears in the cartilage of his meniscus.
Since Howard is in the second year of a 5-year, $125 million deal, and owed a guaranteed $85 million after this season, the effects of the wear and tear of his knee are surely worth monitoring. The idea of Howard playing the remainder of his contract on a bad knee was not one he wanted to ponder yesterday.
"That would suck," Howard said. "But I think that's where you take the time to get a full diagnosis and see . . . OK, this is a situation with my left leg. I want to make sure that my elbows, my knees, my shoulders, all that stuff [is OK]. That's just me personally. Either take time in the offseason or whatever to take a look and . . . are we cool? What's going on [with my left leg], is that going to have an effect with [the right leg]. This shoulder. All that stuff is connected."
As for possible surgery down the road, Howard called that the "worst-case scenario."
The major league average for five-hole hitters entering play yesterday: .249 with a .734 OPS this season, to go alongside six home runs and 22 RBI.
Delmon Young's production is well below that, but he was in the fifth spot in the lineup for the 16th time in 17 starts this season. He entered the night hitting .192 with a .586 OPS, one home run and four RBI since being activated from the DL last month.
Before homering in the fourth inning, he had four extra-base hits in 62 plate appearances.
"He hit a ball good to right-center [Monday] night," Manuel said of Young, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Monday. "He needs to start getting good contact a couple times a game and he'll start getting some hits. I feel like I have to keep playing him for a while and give him that chance."
Today on PhillyDailyNews.com: Rich Hofmann writes about the expensive mistake that was Ryan Howard's contract.