CLEARWATER, Fla. - They wore green on the field and in the stands Saturday, the annual spring sign that meaningful baseball is less than three weeks away. The crowds on the concourse at Bright House Field tested fire codes. The Phanatic did an Irish jig with two umpires.
And the Phillies' aging infield suffered another blow.
"Happy St. Patty's Day," Charlie Manuel said.
These are the scenes that begin to sting as the calendar inches toward April: Ryan Howard again hobbled to the dugout in a boot. Chase Utley played coy about his future. Placido Polanco left the ballpark for X-rays on his finger.
Are there any bodies to man the infield for this team?
"I don't want to hear 'body' crap," Manuel said. "I want somebody in here who can play. We talk about getting to the playoffs and winning the World Series. I don't particularly like that. Don't say 'body' to me."
The bodies Manuel trusts are in various states of disrepair. Howard has been saddled with the boot for three weeks and his return is increasingly delayed to the summer. Utley stated his goal remains to be on the field for opening day but admitted everything hasn't gone according to plan. And Polanco, the latest wounded one, injured his thumb diving back to first base.
Polanco was taken for X-rays on his left ring finger and the team did not have immediate results. He jammed the finger on a pickoff play in the first inning. He played for another inning before Michael Martinez replaced him.
The severity of Utley's chronic knee problems is obvious. His daily tasks have been limited to batting practice and other conditioning done behind closed doors. Utley confirmed that he has not done any infield work recently.
"Not yet," he said. "I'm making progressions to get to that point. I'd like to do that at some point next week."
Both Ruben Amaro Jr. and Manuel have said Utley will be playing in Pittsburgh on April 5. Utley was asked if he still thought that was possible.
"That's the goal," he said.
Utley said it was his decision to back off on taking ground balls based on the way his knee felt. The veteran second baseman had warned at the start of camp that he would not play in the early portion of spring training, but the questions have mounted as his absence has continued. One big-league scout said he did not think it would be possible for Utley to open the season on time if he were not on the field starting next week.
Utley was asked if everything has gone according to his original spring training plan.
After a long pause, he said, "I don't know. That's a good question. There have been some ups and downs. There are parts that are really positive."
The imperative question at this juncture may not be when Manuel's regular infield will play, but how productive these players will actually be. Howard's Achilles injury could take until 2013 to fully heal. Utley's knee problems are chronic and will bother him for the rest of his career. Polanco's finger can be added to the litany of body parts to have failed him in the last three years.
The Phillies could be searching for infield help outside of camp, as Manuel insinuated Saturday. He doesn't want just anyone. He wants someone who can produce.
Are there enough candidates internally?
"I don't know," Manuel said. "Some of those guys I'm talking about might be on the field. You don't know until you get a chance. Sometimes it's hard to get a chance in this game."
The manager took solace in this fact: There are 15 games left in the Grapefruit League. St. Patrick's Day came and went, only complicating things for these Phillies.
"I'd like to see us play more," Manuel said. "And we will."
Bob Brookover contributed to this article.