"I've admired how he conducts himself. He's a professional," said Sandberg of his one-night number three hitter. Prior to the game, Sandberg personally spent time hitting ground balls to Utley and throwing batting practice to the rehabbing infielder. Of course, Sandberg always takes a hands-on approach to pre-game work, but this was a little different even for a Hall of Famer.
"I got a little thrill from doing it," admitted Sandberg.
Utley didn't have a lot of opportunities to make defensive plays during the game, but did have a couple of plays where he had to go either right or left and make a nice play; he handled them all with ease and also handled covering the bag without any problem. In other words, everything looks good.
"It's a great sign for him with where he's at," said Sandberg.
As for getting to work with Sandberg, Utley offered the utmost respect. "He's one of the best to ever play the game and I had already picked his brain down in spring training, so it was good just to get to talk with him again and work with him."
After the game, Utley seemed confident, but left the question of whether or not he'll be in the Phillies lineup Wednesday night, hanging in the air. "I'll talk to Ruben [Amaro] tonight [Tuesday night]," explained Utley. "I'm looking forward to moving forward. I feel confident." It's likely that Utley will have another conversation with Amaro Wednesday as a final check on how those balky knees are feeling after playing at Lehigh Valley Tuesday night.
"As for the rehab, the game at this level [AAA] was a little faster, which I knew that it would be, but it wasn't a problem for me," said Utley.
Looking back, Utley believes that his knees held him back last season because they weren't as strong as they are now. He believes that not only slowed him in the field, but at the plate.
"My legs are the key. I didn't have a lot of strength last year," admitted Utley. "They feel better now."
Utley's return, whether it's Wednesday or soon after, seems imminent. Unless there would be some unforeseen setback, it appears to be full-steam ahead for the former all-star. The question now is whether his return will continue to boost the surging Phillies, who also hope to have first baseman Ryan Howard back before too long.
Howard will be checked out in Philly and could start an official rehab assignment with Lakewood on Thursday night. The Phillies would then have 20 days to activate the slugger which would have him back right after the all-star break.