Thursday, November 20, 2008
Utley could be out until June following hip surgery
By Jayson Stark
If the Philadelphia Phillies weren't aware before Thursday of how hard it can be to repeat, the World Series champs know that now.
The team announced Thursday that second baseman Chase Utley will need right hip surgery that potentially could keep him out until the first week of June.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Thursday that the team expects Utley to be "fairly close to ready, if not ready, by Opening Day." But Amaro also conceded the team won't have an accurate feel for Utley's recovery time until after the surgery.
Utley consistently downplayed speculation about his bad hip during the second half of the postseason. But the Phillies revealed Thursday that since the World Series, he has had the hip evaluated by Phillies team physician Michael Ciccotti, of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital's Rothman Institute, and by Dr. Bryan Kelly, of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
Both doctors recommended that Utley undergo surgery on his right hip. That procedure, described by the club as an "arthroscopic evaluation with treatment of any labral or bony injury," will be performed by Dr. Kelly next week.
According to the Phillies, Utley would be able to resume baseball activities in three to four months -- meaning sometime during spring training, but possibly not until the week before Opening Day.
However, full recovery time is projected at between four and six months. That means the best-case scenario is a return in early April, but the worst-case scenario is late May or early June, depending on how long a rehab option the club feels he would need.
Phillies trainer Scott Sheridan said Thursday that Utley's surgery will be similar to the procedure performed a month ago on Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, also by Dr. Kelly. The Red Sox have pegged Lowell's recovery time at five months, meaning he would be back right around Opening Day. But Sheridan said he wasn't familiar enough with the precise details of Lowell's surgery to project whether Utley's recovery time might be different.
Utley's hip issues were one of baseball's worst-kept secrets over the last four months of the season. Opposing players, coaches and scouts began wondering as early as mid-June whether he was playing with some sort of injury to his lower half.
Over the first eight weeks of the season, through June 3, Utley led the major leagues in home runs (21), and batted .321, with a .408 on-base percentage, .684 slugging percentage and 53 RBIs -- the second most in the National League.
But over the final four months, he batted only .272, with 12 homers, 51 RBIs, a .362 on-base percentage and .446 slugging percentage. He hit just .220 in the postseason, but did hit two home runs during the World Series.
However, Amaro said Thursday he thinks Utley's second-half struggles were "more mechanics than anything else."
"I don't know if the injury itself had much to do with his second-half problems," Amaro said. "Could it have weighed on him mentally? Possibly. But there are a lot of factors here."
But Amaro and Sheridan insisted they were able to "manage" Utley's discomfort during the season. In fact, Sheridan said Utley believed he initially injured the hip while working out last offseason, and that he reported "symptoms" as early as last spring training, and that they flared up again in July. But the trainer said: "We managed those symptoms. If we really thought this was putting him more at risk
we would have handled it differently."
"He's a team player and a very tough guy, no question," Amaro said. "But the reality is, he's not a dummy. He's going to make the decision that's most appropriate for the club. If he was unable to perform, he would not have gone on the field."
Amaro said that Utley's surgery will not have a "significant" effect on the Phillies' offseason game plan. However, there were already indications this winter that the Phillies have stepped up their pursuit of bench help and potential fill-ins, to supplement incumbent utility man Eric Bruntlett.
Their free-agent shopping list is believed to include Tadahito Iguchi, who replaced Utley for a month after he broke his hand in 2007, and former Phillie Nick Punto. They also have kicked around the idea of converting highly regarded shortstop prospect Jason Donald to second base. The Phillies had Donald play both second and third base in the Arizona Fall League.
The Phillies also announced Thursday that third baseman Pedro Feliz will need lower-back surgery. Feliz, however, is expected to be ready for Opening Day after his surgery, which will be performed by renowned back surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles.
Jayson Stark is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com.