MINNEAPOLIS - Wally Joyner flipped some balls to Chase Utley in an underground batting cage Wednesday afternoon and the Phillies second baseman swung away. But later, when the team took batting practice at Target Field, Utley was still positioned behind a screen at second base.

The team has no date for Utley's return from a strained right oblique muscle because Utley has not yet taken live batting practice. That could happen this weekend in Denver. Both player and team predicted a "mid-June" return, although that is less likely by the day. A more realistic scenario is sometime next week.

Any timing is subject to change because swinging is the most demanding test for an oblique injury. Some soreness in Utley's side could slow the process.

Utley will require a few minor-league games to sharpen his swing. So, too, will catcher Carlos Ruiz. Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock offered scant details on the two injured players. He is hopeful they could begin minor-league stints before Sunday, when this road trip ends.

"They haven't told me exactly when Carlos and Utley are going to go out," manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's in the next few days, I'd say. Is it the next two or three or four? I don't know about that."

Ruiz is recovering from a strained right hamstring. He took batting practice with the team Wednesday.

Another injured catcher, Erik Kratz, underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in Philadelphia. The team expects him to be sidelined for six to eight weeks.

Lacking relief

Weeks before the Phillies gathered in Florida for spring training, Manuel was excited about one particular unit on his team.

"I think that you can see our bullpen really blossom with who we have," Manuel said Jan. 28.

Entering Wednesday, the Phillies' bullpen ERA of 4.48 ranked 28th in baseball.

"I've been surprised because I thought some of our pitchers would be further along," Manuel said. "That doesn't mean they can't pitch. They need more experience and work."

The manager is disappointed by Phillippe Aumont, who is at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Aumont, 24, has walked 12 batters in 71/3 innings there after failing to command the strike zone in the majors.

Jeremy Horst pitched to a 1.15 ERA in 311/3 innings a season ago. This year, he is the reliever used second-most often by Manuel and possesses a 5.55 ERA.

Horst pitched into bad luck early in the season. That has not been the case of late.

"I think that we have to use him, and also I want to," Manuel said. "He's very capable of doing the job for you. Sometimes it's a matter of circumstances that he's got where he's at. Sometimes staying with him helps, too. He kind of showed us last year what he could do."

Extra bases

The Phillies optioned infielder Cesar Hernandez after their 4-3 loss. They could promote Carlos Zambrano, who is scheduled to start Thursday for Lehigh Valley. . . . The Phillies placed catcher Tommy Joseph, one of their top prospects, on the disabled list. Joseph, who missed a month with a concussion, played five games for single-A Clearwater in between DL stints.