Howard, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in the team's final playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, has been hampered by a superficial wound infection, which stalled his progress. Following a minor surgical procedure in late February to clean out the infection, Howard was returned to a walking boot for additional time and restrictions were placed on his physical activity. Wound specialists were consulted to help ensure that healing continued as expected. Recently, Howard was given the green light to move forward with his activity and he is heading to Clearwater, Fla., to try to do just that. The plan is to gradually increase baseball activities and continue to build strength in the leg. The Phillies are naturally staying away from any timetable for Howard to rejoin the team.
Utley began this season much as he did the last one, on the DL due to discomfort in his knees associated with patellar chondromalacia, a softening of the cartilage under the kneecap. He has been working with a physical therapist in Arizona and mostly staying out of range of the media. When the Phillies traveled to Arizona last week, Utley joined his teammates for some batting practice and even spoke with reporters. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Utley said he is feeling good and is stronger than at this time last year. "Last year, I went with the mindset of getting everything loose and not trying to make my legs tight," Utley said. "Right now, we're trying to gain strength and continue to keep my legs loose."
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the Wilmington News Journal that Utley is expected to rejoin the team within the next week, but only to perform pregame workouts and continue his rehab with head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan, nothing more. Once Utley is ready, he will then head to Florida and work his way back toward more rigorous baseball activity including eventual game play. It would appear he is still quite a ways off from game action and he remains without a formal timetable. Each advancement is predicated on Utley remaining relatively symptom-free from one phase to the next, something no one can predict. Still, the Phillies are encouraged that Utley will soon be one step further along in his recovery path.
The bottom line is that there is no more definitive return date for either Howard or Utley than there was a month ago. There are still multiple hurdles for each player to overcome and with those come the possibility of setbacks, but there is also something now that brightens the picture for both: progress. Real, tangible progress.
Nationals now down two closers
The Washington Nationals lost Drew Storen to an elbow issue before the season even started (he then underwent surgery in April to remove a bone fragment and he continues his rehab efforts). Now Brad Lidge has joined Storen on the DL. Lidge, who had been dealing with vertigo not so long ago, now has an abdominal strain. According to The Washington Post, Lidge actually began feeling discomfort in the lower abdominal region earlier this season, but the pain recently took a turn for the worse. Lidge was headed to Philadelphia to consult with the surgeon who operated on teammate Ryan Zimmerman last year for a similar injury. That surgeon is Dr. William Meyers, widely regarded as the leading expert on injuries of this nature, commonly referred to as "sports hernias." In fact, Meyers is encouraging a shift away from that term to the term "athletic pubalgia," which as he notes, "is harder to pronounce but probably more accurate in its description," in that it describes pain in the pubic region (groin, lower abdomen) typically experienced during athletic activities. These symptoms can be attributed to a variety of causes, including but not limited to muscular tears, so the detailed workup Lidge will undergo in Philadelphia will help clarify the nature of the problem.
There has been no word on the results of Lidge's visit as of yet, so it is too soon to speculate whether surgery will, in fact, be in order. Even if surgery is recommended, the length of time to return to baseball will depend to some degree on what structures are involved. In the meantime, closer duties have now shifted to Henry Rodriguez full-time (after he had shared the role with Lidge). The Nationals have to be hoping from a health perspective that the third guy's the charm.