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Phillies, still examining options, don't rule out surgery for Utley

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The question was posed to both Ruben Amaro Jr. and Chase Utley: Is Utley, who is suffering from severe pain in his right knee, in danger of missing the 2011 season?.

Amaro: "I don't think that that's an option, no. I couldn't even begin to answer that. That is definitely not something we are talking about."

Utley:  "My goal is to alleviate this as quickly as possible, but still keep in mind that I have a career ahead of me."

Simply put: Utley and the Phillies do not know what to expect. They do not know when, or if, he will return to the field in 2011. They do not know how, exactly, they will treat his balky right knee.

What is known: Utley is suffering from bone inlammation and a condition called chondromalacia that has caused severe pain in his right knee. And for the first time since the Phillies shut him down in February, they did not publicly rulse out surgery as an option.

"We're trying to do this non-operatively," Amaro said. "We'd rather not go in there and operate. We are going to try to exhaust all those possibilities. Now, it may turn out that we have to do something, as far as operation is concerned. But the goal is to get him well without doing it."

Utley said surgery would be a "last resort."

"We're going to try to exhaust every avenue prior to that and continue to see how it goes and monitor it on a daily basis," he said. "Again, it is frustrating, but at this point I have to stay positive and stay on top of things, which I think we've been doing."

Utley had an MRI two days ago that, according to a statement released by the team, revealed "mild patellar tendinitis and chondromalacia" and "bone inflammation."

In layman's terms chondromalacia is roughening on the surface of the patella that accumulates over time. Utley has suffered soreness from the condition in the past, but never for this extent of time.

"All of us that have done something active in our lives have some of that underneath the kneecap," said Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.

His status for Opening Day is very much up in the air.

"I couldn't tell you one way or another," Amaro said today. "OUr hope is that he is ready for Opening Day. I don't know if that is going to happen."

Utley, 32, said he was trying to keep the big picture in mind as the team evaluated treatment options.

"It's something that I'm trying to educate myself more and more on, trying to get as many opinions as possible on how to treat it," he said. "There's no black and white here. It's something you have to deal with. Obviously, it's a little frustrating right now, but we have to look at the big picture in trying to get this resolved, obviously quickly, but also be in good spirits for the long run."

Amaro and Sheridan said the team was in the process of gathering information on various options that might be used to treat the condition. Sheridan and team doctor Michael Ciccotti, along with Utley's personal representatives, are working their various networks of medical professionals to examine options to alleviate the pain.

"We're still looking and researching who it is we want to get opinions from," Amaro said. "We're trying to find the best people to treat this, to give us better opinions."

Asked if Utley could play through the condition as it stands right now, Amaro responded, "Not right now, no. He doesn't feel comfortable enough to be able to play, and if he would, knowing Chase, he would be playing. There's too much discomfort right now for him to be playing. And, frankly, rest might be the best option here."

Sheridan could not estimate a timetable for recovery from any potential surgery.

"Those are all unknowns right now," he said. "You've got to exhaust the non-operative treatments."

If Utley misses any time, he will be replaced by Wilson Valdez, Amaro said.

For more on Chase Utley's injury, including the Phillies' options for replacing him, visit the Daily News' Phillies blog.