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Utley making progress in rehab assignment

2nd baseman's return could lead to less playing time for Hernandez

PHILADELPHIA -- The man leading the Phillies in on-base percentage might soon have far fewer chances to get on.

Six-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award winner Chase Utley has been on the disabled list since June 23 with inflammation in his right ankle, but he made his first rehab start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Sunday. Utley went 2-for-3 with a walk, an encouraging sign given that the second baseman reached base three times in just seven of the 65 games he played in the Majors this year.

Utley's return, however, is likely the signal of a reduced role for his replacement, Cesar Hernandez. Hernandez has proven himself to be more than serviceable in Utley's absence, batting .278 with a .354 on-base percentage, the best among regular starters on the team. Over the past few weeks, Hernandez has been a fixture atop the Phillies' lineup, slotting in as the leadoff man, the No. 2 batter and even filling in for Maikel Franco in the three hole a couple of times.

Despite Hernandez's strong play, Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said Sunday, after the Phillies' 6-2 loss to the Braves, that Hernandez's job on this team is going to change when Utley returns.

"I'm not going to just dump Utley on the bench," Mackanin said. "He's going to get playing time somewhere. And I'm going to find him playing time. I spoke to him yesterday about it. I'll mix it up, move him around. Play Cesar at shortstop for example to allow Utley to play. It's important for us, I believe, to get him at-bats."

Hernandez said postgame on Sunday that he is comfortable moving to shortstop if necessary and he has experience there. Mackanin also said that Utley might earn some reps at first base on days that Ryan Howard might need rest, maximizing the ways to get both Utley and Hernandez in the lineup.

With that in mind, there still isn't any guarantee that Utley will be a Phillie moving forward. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. still has the opportunity to trade players who clear waivers between now and the wavier Trade Deadline on August 31 and it isn't out of the question for Utley to be among those traded if he does in fact clear waivers.

Adding on to that, Amaro said that he and the organization will try to continue making moves until that deadline.

"I think there are still some things that could happen," Amaro said. "The process hasn't ended. We've got a lot of work to do still."

As for the timetable for Utley's return, not much is known about when he will rejoin the Major League club. He will continue his rehab on Tuesday and Wednesday, this time with Double-A Reading, and Mackanin said he would like to see Utley play some second base as opposed to being the designated hitter, like he was on Sunday. Whenever Utley does get back though, Mackanin said he believes Utley will be a key contributor.

"There's no way I'm just going to let him sit on the bench," Mackanin said. "Because he's got value and I think he's got a lot left."

Nick Suss is an associate reporter for
Read More: Philadelphia Phillies, Chase Utley