CLEARWATER, Fla. - Phillies second baseman Chase Utley returned to "live" baseball action Monday for the first time in 241 days as a designated hitter in an extended spring training game against a team of New York Yankees farmhands.
The five-time All-Star, who had not played this season due to pain in his chronically injured knees, did not have any apparent physical issues as he collected three hits in four at-bats, including a home run, before leaving Richie Ashburn Field, with a small collection of team personnel in tow, while the game continued on.
It was the first time Utley had seen live pitching and simulated game action since Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series. He is not scheduled to play on Tuesday.
As a Phillies DH for the 1 p.m. game, the teams agreed that Utley would hit third each inning. When not at the plate, Utley mostly parked himself in a folding chair outside the entrance to the team's third-base dugout, chatting with minor-league coaches and parceling out the occasional fist bump to his teammates for the day.
He went through a normal round of stretching in the on-deck circle before each at-bat, and he ran the bases freely when needed, seemingly without incident.
"He swung the bat good," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He said he felt good. The big thing now will be to see how quick we can get him active and doing things on the field."
Batting lefthanded for each at-bat against two young Yankees righthanders, Utley doubled down the line in right field on his first swing in the first inning.
He singled through the hole on the right side in the third inning and homered deep to right-center on a 3-2 count after an extended at-bat in the fourth inning.
Utley's opponents on the mound for his first day on a field in 2012 were Taylor Morton and Leo Vinas, both of whom pitched for the Yankees' Gulf Coast League team last year.
Morton, a ninth-round pick in the 2010 draft, pitched the first three innings and gave up the double and single. Vinas, a former Long Island high schooler who was signed through the Yankees' community outreach program, pitched the fourth and surrendered the home run.
After Utley's departure, Phillies officials on site referred questions about Utley's postgame condition to the big-league team's baseball communications office.
Utley was not made available for comment, and Kevin Gregg, the Phillies manager of baseball communications, did not return a call for comment.
On Sunday before he left Philadelphia for Florida, Utley said, "I feel confident enough to move to the next step. . . . I'm excited that I'm feeling better, and I have an opportunity to go down and keep working and kind of advance how things are going here."
Utley needed 16 days to work through a rehabilitation last season, but both he and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. have suggested that Utley will need more time than that this season. A return before the all-star break does not seem unrealistic.
Extended spring training ends June 14. Once Utley starts an official rehab assignment, a 20-day clock begins ticking. So, if he starts it as late as June 15, the latest he could return is on July 5, four games before the all-star break.