Charlie Manuel smiled when he spoke of Chase Utley's return to the field. The second baseman with the sweet, short stroke started a rehab assignment Wednesday with Double A Reading.
Utley has been out since May 20 with a strained right oblique. Expect the minor-league stint to be brief.
"I think he should be back with us Friday or Saturday (against the New York Mets)," Manuel said. "But we don't want to rush anything. We've taken our time with this. We don't want a relapse. We want Utley to be at 100-percent or close to it. I would think he would definitely give us a boost."
Carlos Ruiz returned to the Phillies' lineup Tuesday night. Ruiz had missed most of the season due to a suspension and a hamstring injury.
"We need to get him back in there," Manuel said. "It's important to have Utley and Ruiz out there. They're a big part of this team. If we can get them going, we can make a run at this. We're not that far out."
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman echoes Manuel's sentiments. The Phillies and the Nationals are tied for second in the NL East, each seven games behind the Atlanta Braves.
"Neither of us are that far out," Zimmerman said. "Each team could make a run. Most of the season is left to play. Neither the Phillies or us have gotten hot yet. It's going to be very interesting. The big games left are between us and the Phillies and the Braves. I think it would be foolish for fans to think the season's over for us or the Phillies."
If a Phillies fan was told before the season that Manuel's squad would be tied with the Nats in mid-June, they would have rejoiced since most pundits had the Nationals winning the division, if not the World Series. It's been a struggle for the Nats.
"I never pay attention to any of that," Zimmerman said. "I didn't pay attention to it this year, even though I heard a lot of people thought we were going to go really far. I didn't pay attention to it when we were bad either. You never know what's going to happen in not just baseball but in sports."