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Utley eyeing late July return

Phillies second baseman hoping to test lingering ankle injury on field next weekend

ATLANTA -- Chase Utley is hopeful he can be back on the field before the end of the month.

The Phillies second baseman received a cortisone injection in his right ankle June 24, a day after he landed on the 15-day disabled list.

"It's definitely given me some relief," Utley said before Friday's game against the Braves at Turner Field.

Utley has remained off the ankle since the injection, but he said he will begin moving on it a little beginning Saturday. He said he could take some ground balls as early as next weekend's series against the Giants in San Francisco, but, he said, "it's not like I have to take ground balls there. It depends how it's going."

So for the moment Utley will continue to rehab with the team at least through the All-Star break.

"I would like to be in some games before [August]," he said. "But the most important thing is being healthy. There's no point in rushing it."

Utley sprained his ankle in January, and a slow recovery forced him to miss the beginning of Grapefruit League games in Spring Training. He opened the season in the Phillies' lineup, but has hit .179 (39-for-218) with seven doubles, one triple, four home runs, 25 RBIs and a .532 OPS in 65 games.

Utley has a $15 million club option for next season. It automatically vests if he reaches 500 plate appearances. He has 249 plate appearances through 82 games, which puts him slightly behind that pace. Obviously, the longer he is on the DL the more difficult it will be to trigger the option.

It seems like a moot point anyway. Cesar Hernandez has played well in Utley's absence. He is hitting .284 (46-for-162) with 10 doubles, one triple, one home run, 17 RBIs and a .748 OPS. If Hernandez had enough plate appearances to qualify, he would rank 10th out of 23 qualified second baseman in OPS. It is unclear how Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin will handle playing time at second base upon Utley's return, although Mackanin said Hernandez has earned the right for more playing time.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
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