Utley says rehab on schedule

PHILADELPHIA -- Chase Utley says his rehab from hip surgery is on schedule, and the Philadelphia Phillies second baseman expects to be ready by Opening Day.

Utley, who underwent right hip surgery Nov. 24, said Saturday he is just weeks away from starting to swing a bat.

"In two to three weeks -- that would be nice," Utley said. "If everything goes as planned, that's what we want to do. And right now, we're on schedule."

Utley joined his World Series champion teammates Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge and Shane Victorino at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday for a televised meet-and-greet with fans.

Unlike his teammates, Utley has made more than the occasional visits offseason.

The three-time All-Star stayed in Philadelphia during the offseason and turned the ballpark into his office. Utley works out with the Phillies training staff five days a week and hopes to be ready when the season starts April 5 against the Atlanta Braves.

"It's about listening to my body. Right now, we are listening and it's responding well," Utley said. "If that continues to happen, then I don't see why I won't be ready for Opening Day."

"If there are some setbacks -- which are a possibility -- I'm not going to be dumb about it and move through it," Utley added. "I'll listen to my body and when it's ready, it's ready. Hopefully that will be Opening Day."

Utley, who hit .292 with a career-high 33 home runs in 2008, first felt pain in his hip in May or June last season. He played through the injury and helped lift the Phillies to their first World Series title since 1980 by hitting pivotal home runs in the first games of the NL Championship Series and World Series.

Shortly after the season ended, Utley and the team medical staff decided the best way to correct his hip would be through arthroscopic surgery, a process that included an estimated four to six months of recovery time.

While continuing his rehab -- which will move from Philadelphia to Clearwater, Fla., early next month -- Utley has stayed on course to return within that time frame. In the last month, he has added more strength conditioning to his program and is running on an underwater treadmill.

Utley said he should be cleared to run on land about the same time he can hit.

"Everything that we've done so far, there have been no problems," Utley said.

If Utley isn't ready when the regular season begins, the Phillies will likely turn to reserve utility man Eric Bruntlett, infield prospect Jason Donald or former Atlanta second baseman Marcus Giles, who has been invited to spring training.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he was "cautiously optimistic" that Utley would be available on Opening Day.

"I know how [Utley] works out," added manager Charlie Manuel. "He's more determined than anyone in the world, really."

Game notes
The competition for the Phillies' fifth starter spot will be a four-pitcher race between Chan Ho Park, Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ and prospect Carlos Carrasco. Amaro said Adam Eaton, entering the final year of a three-year, $24.5 million contract, is not involved in the competition. ... In addition to inquiring about former All-Stars Nomar Garciaparra and Moises Alou, the Phillies have contacted Ty Wigginton, Mark Grudzielanek and Kevin Millar to fill their void for a right-handed bat off the bench. ... Lidge will be honored at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association dinner Monday night as 2008's Outstanding Professional Athlete.