Utley out for opener, confident he'll play in 2012
Phils star says ailing knee not bad enough for surgery, retirement
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Chase Utley has preferred to keep his injured knees shrouded in secrecy since they first became a known issue last February, but he tried to make a few things clear Sunday afternoon outside the Phillies' clubhouse at Bright House Field:
He is not having surgery.
He is not retiring.
He will play this season.
That is what he emphasized in a 13-minute interview session with reporters, but only time will tell if his words hold true. Just last month, Utley said his knees felt fine. And just before he left the team Monday for Phoenix to meet with physical therapist Brett Fischer, the Phillies said they expected Utley to be their Opening Day second baseman, and Utley said he expected to be on the field within the week. But with just 11 days before the Phillies open their 2012 season in Pittsburgh, Utley acknowledged he will open the season on the disabled list.
He offered no timetable for his return.
"I will take this process fairly slow, because I think it's important to get everything around my knees working correctly," Utley said. "And I think it's going to take a little bit of time. I'm disappointed. I'm upset. I'm not happy that I'm in this situation right now, but I'm not going to let that deter me and get me down."
Utley tried to dispel speculation about his condition, which had been fueled by his silence and contradictory reports about his progress.
"I don't have patellar tendinitis," Utley said. "It's called chondromalacia, which is a roughening of the cartilage underneath the patellar. And it's not that bad. It's not bad enough to have microfracture surgery. It's not bad enough to end my career. It's an issue I'm going to have to deal with. There's a lot of wear and tear in this game, and I just have to get things around my knee to move better to take a little pressure off my knee."
Utley said he is not looking at surgery or injections because he believes a daily routine of manual therapy, strength training and mobilization of the joints is enough and eventually will get him back on the field.
He said his nearly weeklong visit with Fischer has helped.
"I've already seen benefits over the last four or five days from doing some new exercises," he said. "I'm very optimistic this is going to turn out well. But again, it's going to take a little time and I have to do this right. I think it's important, not only for this year, but for the rest of my career. I'm 33 years old. I know some people think that's old, but I still feel like I have a lot of baseball left in me."
Utley had the worst season of his career in 2011, when he missed the first 46 games of the season because of a bad right knee.
Now it's the left knee.
"As far as pain, last year I was in more pain," Utley said.
Of course, one of the biggest questions is how Utley has had a setback, despite not playing since Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series and having the entire offseason to get his knees healthy.
"This offseason, I felt pretty good coming into camp, I felt pretty good, but the more I tried to progress, it became just a little bit more uncomfortable," he said. "I slowed it down a little bit, tried to ramp it up again, and once I ramped it up again, I knew it wasn't moving that great. So at that point, I decided to seek [Fischer's] advice.
"I think I can actually get it to go away, to be honest. My right knee, like I said, feels great."
Utley said he does not believe his knee issues will change the way he plays in the future, only the way he prepares to play.
And he said he will play.
"I'm not going to put any time on it, but I think at the pace we're going and the changes I've made in the past three or four days, it looks positive," he said. "I anticipate playing this year, absolutely, and contributing.
"I'm not looking for anybody to feel sorry for me. If anything, I'm looking for a little support here. I think we're onto something. I'm not happy that I'm not going to be on the field right away with my teammates, but we have a good squad. We have a good pitching staff. We have some veteran leaders who will allow it to not affect us.
"I'm not in the ideal position to make that statement, but I really believe I can get past this and contribute for a while. It's going to take a little time."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.