The Philadelphia Phillies finally have a timetable for Chase Utley's return. The second baseman will finally start an official rehab assignment when he joins the Clearwater Threshers as the designated hitter.
With the rehab stint officially beginning, Utley has up to 20 days to rejoin the team. If he suffers any setbacks he would rejoin the disabled list and be out indefinitely. Obviously, the Phillies must feel confident in his ability to stay healthy. If all goes according to plan, Utley should be with the Phillies by July 2. As a fan, I am happy to hear that news.
Utley has not played in a regular baseball game since the 2011 season ended. His chronic knee injury became one of the major storylines during spring training. Many people, including those in the organization, expected him to be ready to start the season. Much to the frustration of the fans, that didn't happen. The Utley drama became one of the most bizarre injury storylines that the city has seen in a long time. At long last it looks like it is going to end. Of course, there are still questions that need to be answered.
Since Utley will start his rehab assignment as a DH, fans will want to know when he takes the field. The way he moves at second base is likely to determine how quickly he makes his return. Even though he hasn't played the field officially, Utley has been tested through practice. If the team was worried about his ability to play the field, I don't think they would be starting this assignment. I expect him to ease back into his position over the next week or two.
The other major question is how effective he will be when he does return. This is an aging player with bad knees. His batting average has declined in each of the last four years, including the 2011 season in which he finished with a .259 average. His power numbers have also slipped over the last few years. Based on that, there's not a lot of evidence that suggests that Utley will step in and catapult this offense. Still, he represents a major upgrade from what they have. In addition, Utley's return is a sign that the Phillies are a little closer to becoming whole again. That is enough of a reason for fans to be excited.* - Mark Paul is a Philadelphia resident and lifelong Phillies fan.