Progress in Chase Utley's chronically injured right knee is measured these days in the lateral steps he can make at an empty Citizens Bank Park.

Hours before each game, Utley trots out to second and fields a barrage of ground balls hit to him by first-base coach Sam Perlozzo. On Sunday, Utley made more movements in the field than he has yet, going to his right to flip a ball to second and even going down on one knee to make a pivot throw.

Utley has yet to run, and that will be the ultimate test of the patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia, and bone inflammation in his right knee. He has not even jogged and is not close to doing so.

Translation: a return is still far off.

"Oh, he's made some progress," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "But again, it's slow, and it'll continue to be slow. Even if he gets to the point where he starts to be able to run or jog, that doesn't mean he's going to jump forward all of a sudden and be in a rehab [game]."

Amaro said an online report that surfaced Tuesday saying Utley could start jogging "in the next couple of days" was erroneous.

"He is not close to jogging," Amaro said. "If he was close to jogging, he'd be jogging, I guess. The deal is that that would be the next step. He's taken some ground balls. He's done OK with that so far. But it's still baby steps, one step at a time."

Amaro said Utley has done some running in an underwater apparatus. The second baseman still feels some discomfort, but it is not debilitating, Amaro said. To be cleared to run, Utley will have to be pain free.

Charlie Manuel said that once Utley can run and go on a rehabilitation assignment, it shouldn't take long for him to return to game shape. Utley continues to take batting practice each day.

"I don't think he needs a whole lot of time, but I do think he needs some time," the Phillies manager said. "I think Chase maybe needs five or six days. He doesn't need a month. I like for him to go to spring training and get 70, 80 at-bats. I don't think we're going to be able to do that."

Utley will accompany the team on the road to Atlanta and Washington because the athletic training staff will be able to oversee his workouts.

"Plus," Amaro said, "I like having him around, and so does Charlie. Rightfully so."

Why?

"He's still our team leader," Amaro said. "Or one of them."

A Mets admirer

Manuel said he has heard many gloomy predictions for the New York Mets, who opened a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. But then he looks at their lineup, sees David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Angel Pagan - and wonders why the expectations are low.

"They're going to win more games than people think they are," Manuel said.

Extra bases

Kyle Kendrick declined to comment on the theft of his 2008 World Series ring from his Washington State home. . . . Shane Victorino returned to his leadoff spot after missing one start with a sore left calf. . . . Joe Blanton makes his season debut Wednesday.