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08/14/10 7:58 PM ET

Utley begins rehab assignment

Second baseman could rejoin Phils as early as Tuesday

NEW YORK -- Do not be surprised to see Chase Utley in the Phillies' lineup Tuesday.

The second baseman is scheduled to play four rehab games with Class A Clearwater before being reevaluated: five innings Saturday -- in which he went 1-for-3 with a groundout, a strikeout and a triple -- seven innings Sunday, seven innings in the field Monday in Game 1 of a doubleheader and seven innings as a designated hitter in Game 2 of the doubleheader.

If Utley feels good about his surgically repaired right thumb -- and the Phillies also feel good about it -- Utley likely will be in the lineup for Tuesday's series opener against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park.

"Nothing is a surprise in regards to his ability to recuperate and get back," Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said. "He wants to play. He wants to help the team. I know it's been killing him not to play. He's like a caged animal. Obviously, we want him back. But we want him back healthy so he's able to help us the rest of the season. We don't want this to be something that lingers beyond this season."

Utley tore a ligament in his right thumb June 28 in Cincinnati. He had surgery three days later, and the Phillies estimated it would take him eight weeks to recover, which would have put him back in the lineup late August. If Utley returns Tuesday, he would be returning a little fewer than two weeks ahead of schedule.

So is Utley's thumb completely healed?

"The doctor cleared him [Wednesday] to start baseball activities," Proefrock said. "He felt comfortable after those three days, telling us, 'Let's go. I'm ready to play.' He's been doing everything else [other than hitting]. He's been taking ground balls and throwing the best he can. He's been doing his exercises. Everything else is ready. It's just a matter of getting ready to go hit. "The doctor said he could progress as he felt able."

Utley has been a quick healer in the past. He had hip surgery following the 2008 World Series championship. The Phillies estimated a four-to-six month recovery period, which meant he might not have been back until late May 2009.

Utley was playing in Spring Training games in March and was in the 2009 Opening Day lineup.

Tuesday is realistic because Utley has not needed many games in the past to get ready following an injury. When he missed a month with a broken right hand in 2007, he went 1-for-10 in three rehab games before rejoining the Phillies. He hit .321 with seven doubles, two triples, five home runs, 21 RBIs and a .916 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 32 games to finish the season.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.