Ruben Amaro Jr. said he would continue to search for pitching help during the final two weeks before the July 31 trade deadline, but the Phillies' general manager admitted he is not that optimistic about getting a deal done.

"I think two guys got moved last year - [Cliff] Lee and [Jarrod] Washburn," Amaro said. "I don't expect that much to happen this year, either. Do we have to have another pitcher? No. Would I like to add some pitching? Yeah. I think we need to get healthy. I think we're getting closer."

The Phillies did get a little bit healthier before they opened the second half of the season Thursday night against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Reliever Chad Durbin became the latest player to return from the disabled list, marking the first time the Phillies' bullpen has been at full strength since the season started.

"When we were putting the team together, that's what we lined up," manager Charlie Manuel said.

Durbin's return came at the expense of righthander Nelson Figueroa, who was designated for assignment. The Phillies have 10 days to dispose of his contract, but they are hoping he clears waivers and accepts an assignment to triple-A Lehigh Valley.

"It was tough because he pitched so well for us," Amaro said. "But we have some guys we'd like to keep under control, and some other guys have pitched well and didn't necessarily deserve to go."

Manuel broke the news to Figueroa on Wednesday. The veteran righthander later expressed his disappointment in the form of a an e-mail, Manuel said.

"It was pretty hard," Manuel said. "I understand exactly how Figgy feels. Figgy has pitched good and he did a good job for us and he worked hard to be in the big leagues."

Figueroa, 36, went 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA in 13 appearances, including a scoreless string of 81/3 innings in his final five appearances.

"You fall into a numbers thing," Manuel said. "Sometimes you just have to make a decision."

In this case, the Phillies' decision was to keep righthander David Herndon, a Rule 5 draft choice who is only 24 years old. Herndon is 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA.

"He's been doing pretty good and he has a high ceiling," Manuel said when asked about Herndon, who will move into the long reliever role.

Durbin, who had been on the disabled list since June 24 with a strained right hamstring, pitched three perfect innings during his two-game rehabilitation assignment with single-A Clearwater. He said he had no lingering problems with his hamstring.

The Phillies' 3.83 bullpen ERA ranked 13th in baseball and seventh in the National League before the all-star break. Given that four key members of the relief corps - Durbin, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and J.C. Romero - have spent time on the disabled list, the Phillies' bullpen is well-rested as the second half begins.

"I think guys will be able to throw in roles that they're used to and comfortable with, and I think that's most of the battle when it comes to the bullpen," Durbin said.

The Phillies' relievers threw a major-league-low 2132/3 innings during the first half.

"The starters have been amazing," Durbin said. "Maybe it's a blessing in disguise or maybe it's just a blessing period . . . to have a rested bullpen going into the second half of the season. I would rather be fresh than tired toward the end of the year."

Utley update

Second baseman Chase Utley had a large white cast removed from his right arm Wednesday and said he now can begin fielding ground balls. He still has a splint on his right thumb as he continues to recover from the torn ligaments that sent him to the disabled list.

"I can do anything that doesn't involve using my thumb, so I can't throw and I can't hit," Utley said.

The second baseman said the splint will be removed in three weeks.

"At that point, I'll be evaluated, and if all goes according to plan, I can slowly start moving it again and regain the motion."

Extra bases

Placido Polanco, on the disabled list with left-elbow inflammation, began his rehab assignment at single-A Clearwater on Thursday and went 1 for 4, scoring a run. Manuel said the third baseman could rejoin the team in time for Saturday afternoon's game against the Cubs. . . . Lefthander Antonio Bastardo was activated from the disabled list and optioned to Lehigh Valley. . . . Outfielder Quintin Berry, the Phillies' fifth-round pick in 2006, was claimed off waivers by San Diego after being released by double-A Reading earlier in the week.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577