CLEARWATER, Fla. - Amid questions about a disconnected relationship between Chase Utley and the Phillies front office, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. spent 30 minutes Monday emphasizing that Utley was up front in detailing his health, and said that as recently as a week ago, both parties assumed he'd start the season on time.
Amaro claimed there was no indication the team's plan for gradually working Utley into spring activities would fail until March 18. Until that point, Amaro publicly maintained that Utley would play on opening day even though the second baseman had not participated in any fielding drills. On March 19, Utley was in Phoenix to consult a physical therapist.
"I honestly believed," Amaro said Monday, "we still had Chase Utley playing for us opening day up until he said, 'I've got to go see another specialist because I'm not feeling well enough.' "
Amaro was perturbed at the idea the Phillies misled the public regarding Utley's status.
"I'm not trying to deceive anybody," Amaro said. "Why would I lie to the public? How is that going to make the organization's relationship with the public better? What benefit would I have to tell you Chase is fine when I know that he's not?"
Utley is sidelined for an indefinite period with chondromalacia - a wearing down of the cartilage beneath the kneecap - in his left knee. He missed the first 46 games of the 2011 season with the same ailment in his right knee. Amaro said Utley woke up March 18 and decided the pain was too great after increased work.
"The beauty and the difficulty with Chase," Amaro said, "is that he's learned that it's important for him to be more aware of his physical situation."
Amaro and assistant general manager Scott Proefrock addressed writers in the meeting arranged by the team's public relations staff following criticism of the way Utley's spring was managed. At issue is Utley's desire to retain privacy and his optimism that fueled previous instances of playing through injuries. The Phillies have left most of Utley's training process in his hands, something with which Amaro is comfortable.
The GM said Utley has become more intelligent about pushing his body, whereas in the past he would have attempted to play through this. Amaro said he maintained regular dialogue with Utley during the winter. Both parties were extremely optimistic at the beginning of spring training. There were no signs of distress, Amaro said.
"I had no reason to think after he played so much at the end of the year and basically got through it. . . . He would have told me, 'Ruben, I'm not doing so good.' He never indicated that. He felt confident that he was going to be fine."
The Phillies have categorized Utley's injury as "chronic" because the knee pain has bothered him since at least 2010. Utley said Sunday he believes he can one day play without pain.
"If that's what he thinks, great," Amaro said. "I'm not in his body, so I couldn't begin to tell you.
"I don't know if the chondromalacia ever goes away. I don't know that. I don't believe it does. But if he can put himself in the right alignment then the pain that he's feeling can go away, I would assume."
Amaro, as Utley did Sunday, completely ruled out the possibility of surgery. "I don't think that there's a surgery that exists that would cure that," Amaro said.
If he had knowledge over the winter that Utley would miss the start of the season, Amaro said, it's possible he would have planned differently.
"He would have told me," Amaro said. "I have a good enough relationship with Chase after knowing him for so many years. He's not going to want to put our team in jeopardy. He's got too much loyalty to this organization and this club. He's not going to want to put this team in a situation where it's in a bind."
But a bind describes the Phillies' present situation. Freddy Galvis has been anointed Utley's replacement at second, but the team continues its search for offensive improvement. It could be as little as acquiring a bench player or perhaps as much as a full-time second baseman.
"We're not stocked full of middle infielders right now," Amaro said. "I mean, I don't look particularly intelligent for trading Wilson Valdez. If we have Wilson Valdez right now, we wouldn't have a need. But, we did. And we'll deal with it."
"And," Proefrock said, "if Michael Martinez doesn't break his foot, that's not an issue."
Whatever the case - even if Utley visited therapist Brett Fischer sooner or Amaro could better prepare - the condition that has deteriorated the cartilage under Utley's kneecap remains an impediment to his return.
"None of us," Amaro said, "know how long it's going to take."