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Utley, Drew may return Wednesday

6/26/2012

Did the return of catcher Salvador Perez to the Kansas City Royals portend a big comeback week? It certainly appears that way. Perez started the season on the DL after undergoing left lateral meniscus surgery this spring. The nature of the repair, combined with the squatting and pivoting demands of his position, caused him to miss nearly the first three months of the season. This week, two other players who have been sidelined to start the season are expected to join Perez in making their first major league appearance of 2012.

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley could be returning to the lineup Wednesday if all goes well in a scheduled Tuesday rehab outing, according to CSNPhilly.com.

His return is not a huge surprise, but it is a relief; once Utley began a rehab assignment, the 20-day clock began ticking. He was slated to return by July 2, barring a setback that would have halted his rehab assignment. So far, there have been no setbacks, a strong indicator that he could fare well once he rejoins the lineup, presuming he sticks with his exercise program and does not scale his activity up too quickly.

Everything about Utley's progress to date has been very deliberate, very measured, and, perhaps most importantly, dictated by Utley's assessment of how his body has responded to each test. After a delayed start to both this season and last, Utley has been forced to take his rehab a step slower this year. It's no secret that he was diagnosed with chondromalacia under his patella (kneecap), the softening of the cartilage in that region, an irreversible condition. But the muscles that support and control not only the patella but the entire lower kinetic chain -- essentially the pelvis, hip, knee and foot -- are amenable to improvement if there are imbalances in flexibility and strength. The focus then is to adapt the surrounding tissues as much as possible to allow Utley to function at a high level, despite the diagnosis.

So far it seems to be paying off, because Utley has not hit any speed bumps in his recovery. He has not regressed in terms of the vigor of his activity at any point along the way. Naturally, both he and the Phillies are hoping this pattern will continue as he works back into major league play, but that remains to be seen.

• It has been nearly a year since Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew suffered a nasty right ankle fracture on a slide into home plate. The seriousness of the injury was immediately apparent to anyone who saw it as Drew's ankle was rotated in a direction ankles don't typically go. After undergoing surgery to stabilize the fracture and repair the torn ligaments, Drew embarked on a lengthy -- and not particularly smooth -- course of rehab. There finally may be some light at the end of the tunnel, as Drew is expected to be activated Wednesday, according to remarks made last week by general manager Kevin Towers during an appearance on Arizona radio station KTAR-620.

One of the challenges Drew encountered was persistent soreness and stiffness in the ankle that impaired his running and agility. While this is not an uncommon effect associated with these types of injuries, the unpredictable nature of how his joint would respond to activity became a source of frustration. Even within the organization there were those who questioned Drew's commitment to return.

To Drew's credit, he seemed to tune out the noise and continued to focus on his workouts. Although his ankle is not yet fully recovered (something that could take months more to achieve), he has managed to clear some obstacles. For a long time, Drew was unable to participate in back-to-back games. Ten days ago he did just that. In fact, it was three consecutive games. More importantly, Drew did not appear to be any worse for having done so.

Still, the team is tempering expectations. Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson told the Arizona Republic, "I don't know if I can sit here and say he'll be available one day, two days, three days in a row," adding, "He may play one day and get really sore the next day."

The awareness on the part of Gibson that they will need to be flexible with Drew is critical. By allowing him to rest when necessary, the Diamondbacks benefit from having him available intermittently (as opposed to him remaining out on the DL) and can continue to influence his recovery in a positive direction while he plays.

Of course, it presents a nightmare for fantasy owners who may not know from one day to the next whether Drew will be available. Drew's playing time could be very unpredictable initially, but if he tolerates activity well and doesn't go backwards in terms of pain and stiffness, his status could evolve the next few weeks.