ST. LOUIS - Chase Utley took two sessions of batting practice before the Phillies' game Thursday night against the St. Louis Cardinals and manager Charlie Manuel liked what he saw.
"I was encouraged with the way the ball was jumping off his bat and how nice he was swinging," Manuel said before his team opened a four-game series against the defending World Series champions at Busch Stadium. "And any time he goes out and takes ground balls, I get encouraged by that."
Utley's BP sessions may have been encouraging, but his work in the field was limited and that's the part of the game that causes the second baseman's creaky left knee the most pain.
After taking fewer than 10 ground balls, Utley participated in pregame batting practice and then went out to the more forgiving grass surface in left field. He also spent some time in left field during early batting practice on Thursday, but Manuel said there are no plans to move Utley to another position.
"He was just out there seeing how his leg feels," Manuel said. "First of all, we have to see where he's at and how he feels about it if he can get to a point where he has absolutely no pain. I think the pain thing is what holds him up. He can have pain at first base, in left field, at second base, wherever. I think we have to get him to a place where we can get him on the field first."
Less pain, or at least tolerable pain, is the answer to when Utley will begin a rehab assignment in Clearwater, Fla. and there is still no timetable for that development.
"I think it's a matter of him feeling like he's ready to go play in a game," Manuel said. "I think it's a matter of him being healthy enough and thinking that he's ready. I think we've been through what we went through with him last year and we definitely want to make sure that he's ready to play and that he can endure some of the pain or [have] no pain if possible.
"That's what we're working for, to have no pain playing. I think when you talk about how much he plays and where he plays, I think as long as he has pain, it's still the same."
Manuel also warned that whenever Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard return, it may take some time for them to get untracked.
"Where they're [on rehab assignments] is not equivalent to big-league baseball," Manuel said. "They're going to have to get used to that once they come back because they didn't have any spring training. . . . It might take them a little while to get going."
Howard, recovering from a long stretch of inactivity caused by an infection near his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon, participated in what assistant general manager Scott Proefrock called "a simulated game" Wednesday in Florida.
In essence, Howard took live batting practice against organizational pitchers who are in the extended spring training program.
"It's a chance for him to see some pitches with some velocity rather than just having a coach throw to him," Proefrock said.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz was back in the lineup and hitting cleanup for the second straight game after suffering a bruised right wrist when he was hit by a foul tip Wednesday night against Washington. . . . Disabled righthander Vance Worley (elbow inflammation) made 50 throws at 60 feet off flat ground before the game and "came through it fine," according to Proefrock.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins was reinstated from the paternity leave list and was back in the leadoff spot. . . . Jim Thome (lower back strain) hit in an extended spring-training game on Wednesday.
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