Wilmington (Del.) News Journal—March 27, 2009
It was a compact, left-handed stroke, and it happened so quickly that a blink of your eye would've caused you to miss it. The ball leapt from the bat and cut like a laser over the "2008 World Champions" sign above the right field fence at Bright House Field.
And, with that, Chase Utley pronounced himself fit to start the season.
But Utley spent most of the winter in Philadelphia working out under the supervision of athletic trainer Scott Sheridan, and when he arrived in Florida early last month he already was ahead of schedule. He played his first Grapefruit League game March 15, and two days later, he was diving for a grounder up the middle.
And now, after stroking a home run in each of the last two games, there really isn't any doubt that he will be ready for the season opener April 5 against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
"The last three or four games I haven't even thought about [the hip], to be honest with you," said Utley, one of the last players to leave the clubhouse Thursday after going 2-for-4 in a 10-2 loss to the New York Yankees and hiking his spring training average to .318 (7-for-22). "At first, I thought about it a little bit, but now it's out of my mind completely.
"We're moving in the right direction. It's a positive that everything feels good to this point."
Added general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., "I feel pretty comfortable about putting him out there [on opening night], if he doesn't have any setbacks. We're definitely fortunate to have him be where he is."
Utley admits he didn't expect to feel so good so quickly.
The surgery, performed Nov. 24 by Dr. Bryan Kelly at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, was less complicated than expected. Mostly, it consisted of trimming a "flap tear" in the labrum, a ring of dense tissue and cartilage that attaches to the hip socket.
Several scouts from opposing teams have remarked that they'd never guess Utley had offseason surgery. In his second Grapefruit League game March 17, he sprinted from first to third on a single and later dove for a ground ball up the middle.
Those were the first hints everything was OK.
"I didn't want to get on the field until I was able to go full throttle," Utley said. "Obviously, you don't really know what's going to happen until you do that. But my mind-set is once I get on the field, it's going to be just like it is during the regular season."
And there's little doubt that Utley will be ready.