WASHINGTON - There was Chase Utley, sitting on a table in the Phillies clubhouse Saturday morning and joking with bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer at Kyle Kendrick's expense. It was like old times when Utley reappeared from his six-week stay in Arizona to rejoin his teammates.
They are happy to see him, but want to know when he's leaving again.
Utley is nearing the point where testing his chronically injured knees in games is a reality. He will stay with the Phillies to do more strenuous fielding work. There is no date for Utley to report to Florida to start playing in rehab games. A team official said Utley would determine when his body is ready.
Utley said he continues to not feel pain when he swings a bat, but that taking ground balls still requires more work, which he will do with the team.
"Being fairly pain-free and not having to think about it is the most important thing," Utley said. "I've built some strength over the past month and will continue to do that with the things I'm doing. We'll see. I don't want to be a detriment in the field. I want to be ready to rock when the time comes."
It's unlikely Utley leaves for Clearwater before Thursday. The second baseman and his wife are hosting their annual charity event that day in Philadelphia. Once he arrives in Florida, his stay is likely to be similar to, if not longer than, last season's.
Utley spent 11 days on his official minor-league assignment in 2011. That would leave him at least three weeks away from returning to the majors. And that is all dependent on his body's progressing in a straight line.
When Utley goes to Florida, he said it will be to play in games. Last season, he missed the first 46 games and returned May 23.
"I'm not trying to look too far ahead," Utley said. "Right now, I'm just trying to get to that point where I'm ready for a rehab assignment."
The Phillies last saw Utley more than a week ago while in Arizona. He spent the time in Phoenix consulting with physical therapist Brett Fischer.
"I think I learned a little bit about how my body is really, ideally supposed to move to be the most efficient and pain-free," Utley said. "I took some different ideas of stretches and strengthening things I'll carry for a while. It was a great experience. Obviously I didn't like being away from the team and not being a part of what is going on here. But I thought it was best for me now and for the team in the future."
Cliff Lee threw another bullpen session without a hitch Saturday and said he expected to return from the disabled list Wednesday against the Mets. Lee hasn't pitched since his 10-inning outing April 18 in which he strained a muscle in his left side.
That would slide Kyle Kendrick back to the bullpen and require the Phillies to ship out a bullpen arm to make space.
Carlos Ruiz batted fifth for the first time in his career and was 0 for 3 with the team's lone RBI on a sacrifice fly. Ruiz had batted higher only once (second in 2008). He entered Saturday with a .610 slugging percentage, tops among National League catchers and almost 200 points higher than any other Phillies regular. Manuel said he wanted Ruiz to bat with more men on base. He was noncommittal as to whether he'd keep Ruiz there. "I might keep doing it," Manuel said. "We'll see." . . . The Phillies released outfielder Luis Montanez from triple A.