Chase Utley dragged his right leg as he entered the media room yesterday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
He sold the limp with a hard wince.
He was acting. Not exactly Matt Damon-quality acting (more Ben Affleck?), but acting nonetheless. Utley, who had surgery on his right hip Nov. 23, stepped up to the dais without a limp before he spoke publicly for the first time about his hip, which bothered him throughout the 2008 Phillies season.
Of course, one question was: Can the second baseman be ready to play on opening day 2009?
He thinks he can. In fact, he is planning on it.
"Rehab is going well," Utley said. "Things are progressing very well. I don't expect any setbacks. I feel like I'll be ready to go, but it's something I have to be careful of. I want to make sure that we rehab this right. I don't want to have this problem again. But as of now, it's looking good."
Scott Sheridan, the Phillies' head athletic trainer, said he is as optimistic as Utley, but he cautioned that the 29-year-old is only three weeks removed from surgery. He said after the six-week mark, when Utley begins the strengthening portion of his rehab, will be a better indicator of how things are going.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. seemed to echo Utley's and Sheridan's optimism. The Phillies recently had pursued free-agent utility infielder Nick Punto, who ultimately re-signed with the Minnesota Twins, and tried unsuccessfully to acquire Mark DeRosa from the Chicago Cubs. Both of those pursuits seemed to indicate that the Phils wanted insurance in case Utley is not ready to play by the season opener.
Amaro said yesterday that he feels the Phillies have suitable in-house candidates to play second base if Utley is not ready: Eric Bruntlett, who filled in for shortstop Jimmy Rollins last season, and Jason Donald, a top prospect who played well in the Arizona Fall League.
"We feel pretty well that we have it covered," Amaro said.
Utley is not sure exactly how or when he injured the hip. He just knows it flared up from time to time, with pain at its worst in May and June.
"It was something that at first I wasn't really sure if it was going to go away or not," he said. "You play 162 games, you're bound to have a few aches and pains. Most of them go away, whether it's a week, whether it's two months. They eventually go away. This didn't really get worse. It kind of just stayed the same throughout the course of the season. That's why I didn't make a big deal about it. . . . I didn't want to make it a distraction. It's the last thing we needed.
"Some days, the pain was bad. Some days, I didn't have any pain at all. We started doing some exercises throughout the course of the year. That kind of relieved a little bit of the pain. Did I have to have the surgery? No, I didn't have to have it. But I felt like it was something that needed to be done. . . . Now I kind of have a nice little pretty hip. It's pretty. You should see the X-rays. It's pretty."
Utley's power numbers suffered in the second half of the season, and many people believed the sore hip played a role.
"I would imagine it had something to do with it," he said. "It probably got me into some bad habits that I'm not used to getting into for long stretches of time."
Utley, who has a follow-up examination scheduled in mid-January, said he can begin baseball activities sometime in February. He said he hopes to play in some Grapefruit League games in spring training.
"My plan is to be ready by at least the middle of spring training," Utley said. "We'll see how it goes. It may be earlier; it may be a little later. The most important thing is to get healthy. That's the bottom line."
Hey, kids, don't swear. Utley famously dropped the f-bomb during the Phillies' World Series championship celebration on live TV at Citizens Bank Park in October.
"That was definitely an emotional day that we all had," Utley said. "That drive down Broad Street to the park was one of the best days of my life. I imagine for a lot of Phillies fans it was the same. I could have used different words to express myself. At the time, I didn't. I tell all kids not to use that word. If they're 29 and they win the World Series, I think they can say that. But I definitely would say to all the kids out there, 'Kids, it's a bad word. Don't say it.' And I'm dead serious."
Adios, Pat. Utley discussed the contract agreement the Phillies have reached with leftfielder Raul Ibanez, which means Pat Burrell's time in Philadelphia has ended. Utley and Burrell are close friends.
"It is going to be a little bit different around the clubhouse," Utley said. "You cannot replace the personality that he brings to the field every day. He really is a special individual. It's going to be a little tough at first. He kind of took me under his wing when I got to the big leagues. He showed me the ropes. I definitely appreciate that. You have to understand this is a business. The whole plan is to continue to win."