ONE OF THE KEY aspects of the Phillies' title run last season was their impeccable health. If they are to make a title defense, however, they will have at least one hurdle to clear.

Barring an unexpected prognosis from hip specialist Bryan Kelly, Phillies righthander Brett Myers is headed toward hip surgery and a 3-to-4 month recovery. Should Myers undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum, he is optimistic that he could return to the field in time to participate in the playoffs, should the Phillies advance that far.

Myers' injury is similar to the one that second baseman Chase Utley experienced, according to Myers' agent, Craig Landis. In fact, the Phillies are currently in the process of setting up an appointment with hip specialist Dr. Bryan Kelly, the New York-based doctor who performed Utley's procedure.

In a statement released last night, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Myers has bone spurs in his hip joint that were revealed by an X-ray in addition to "fraying and possible tearing in the labrum of the hip."

Utley underwent surgery in November and was back at full strength by mid-March. Myers has only been on the disabled list once in his career - in 2007, when he missed a month with a shoulder strain.

This season, he is 4-3 with 4.66 ERA.

"It's like Chase's," Landis said. "Brett said it's probably a little worse, but they are saying 3 to 4 months, probably 4 months, but Brett is pretty tough, a pretty quick healer. It'll be toward the end [of the season] if at all. If he had surgery, his new goal will be to get it right away and try to get back for Septemenber and certainly October."

As of last night, the Phillies were attempting to arrange a visit to Kelly's office in New York, Landis said. If surgery is deemed necessary, Myers is committed to gettingit done as soon as possible in order to enhance his chances of an autumn return.

But both Landis and the Phillies expect Myers to undergo surgery and are readying their contingency plans.

"It looks like surgery is probably necessary," Landis said.

Landis confirmed that the hip has bothered Myers sporadically over the past few seasons. He acknowledged that the condition could have contributed to the puzzling loss of velocity that Myers has experienced at times over the past 2 years.

On Wednesday night, the pain in Myers' hip was as severe and consistent as it has been at any time in his career. Myers said it first arrived in the second inning of the Phillies' 6-2 loss to the Marlins, and worsened in the third. He pitched well for the first three innings, retiring 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, before allowing a solo home run to Dan Uggla in the fourth; then a sacrifice fly to Wes Helms in the fifth that gave the Marlins a 2-0 lead.

But in the sixth inning, Myers gave up a leadoff double to Chris Coghlan and was forced to pitch out of the stretch, where the pain intensified.

"It was pretty bad out of the stretch," Myers said. "Sometimes it would just give way. It's kind of hard to finish pitches when you don't have your back leg pushing off. Against the Yankees I was feeling it, but it wasn't too bad. It was maybe once an inning. But tonight almost every second or third pitch it would bother me. Hopefully there is nothing serious with it and there is some treatment I can do to get rid of it."

Myers is a free agent at the end of this season. But Landis said his client's chief concern is getting back on the field in time to contribute to what the Phillies hope will be a third consecutive playoff appearance.

The Phillies will try to figure out a way to plug the hole left by Myers' absence. Amaro told the Daily News on Wednesday that the Phillies were hoping to pursue pitching help. Now that Myers is injured, expect those efforts to be doubled.

In the meantime, the Phillies have several options should Myers need surgery. Righthander Chan Ho Park spent the first month and a half of the season in the rotation before losing his job to lefthander J.A. Happ. Righthander Kyle Kendrick, who spent the last half of 2007 and all of 2008 in the Phillies' rotation, is 4-3 with a 4.25 ERA at Triple A Lehigh Valley and is on schedule to pitch next Tuesday, when Myers' next turn would be.

Amaro was unavailable for comment yesterday, other than the statement issued by the team.

"It is possible that Brett will not make his next start," Amaro said in the statement. "That decision as well as any decision on a possible DL stint or surgery will be determined at a later date." *

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