PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Chase Utley was not on the team bus for the 96-mile trip yesterday morning to Charlotte Sports Park, spring home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
This wasn't surprising, though, since many veterans are given days off for lengthy spring-training road trips. And, of course, because Utley has yet to play a game in the first week of the exhibition season.
Utley entered camp rehabbing from a sprained right ankle, an injury he suffered while fielding ground balls in January. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he's "hopeful" that Utley will get into his first Grapefruit League game "within the next week."
Manager Ryne Sandberg said Utley was "gaining on it," but that if he was able to get into a game, it wouldn't be until "later in the week."
"He's day by day," Amaro said before yesterday's game. "I just saw his ankle [Saturday], it's still swollen. It's going to take some time to heal. There's no reason to rush him."
Utley arrived in camp Feb. 21 and immediately began taking regular batting practice with the rest of the Phillies' position players. He's taken infield work, too.
Utley did some light baserunning work during batting practice Saturday.
"He's getting his conditioning in," Sandberg said. "He's taking a lot of batting practice. So I think it's more just continuing to do that to get him real stable on his ankle, which I think will help him not think about it when he's out there playing."
Last week, Utley said he didn't want to rush back onto the field with his ankle not quite right in fear that it could make his legs overcompensate in other areas.
Utley, 36, missed the entirety of the spring-training schedule in both 2011 and '12 - as well as the first 2-3 months of the regular seasons that followed - with a chronic knee injury. Utley has added rigorous stretching and strengthening exercises to combat his knee issues. Last season, he played in 155 games, his most since 2009.
If Utley does not get into games this week, he will still have 3 weeks of exhibition games to prep for Opening Day, April 6 at Citizens Bank Park.
"As long as he gets 40-50 at-bats to get his timing down, I think that's the important thing," Amaro said.
"Two weeks [of spring-training games] can be adequate for a regular player," Sandberg said. "I think the biggest thing would be getting enough at-bats. He could get numerous at-bats in minor league [spring-training] games, as guys do. Then you hit the field for 2 weeks. For some guys that's enough."
From his perch in the visiting dugout, Ryne Sandberg could stare over and see a familiar face yesterday afternoon.
Jared Sandberg, the son of Sandberg's older brother, Del, is in his first season as the manager of the Triple A Durham Bulls. The younger Sandberg, 37, was a 16th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 1996, the year before Ryne Sandberg retired.
Jared Sandberg began his managerial career with the rookie-level Princeton Rays in 2009, 2 years after his uncle began his own career as a manager with the Class A Peoria Chiefs.
"It was awesome," the elder Sandberg said of sharing the field with his nephew for the first time. "He's moving up the ladder. He's done a nice job over there and that's good to see."
The two Sandbergs never crossed paths as minor league managers.
"We got together for Thanksgiving this year in Arizona," Ryne Sandberg said. "I usually see him five or six times a year. When we're both managing, there are a couple times during the season where we're close. If there was a way to do it, that happened a couple times."