When Will Chase Utley Actually Return?

There wasn't much to be happy about if you were a Phillies fan on Sunday. And if you were a member of the last-place Phillies, well, a second-straight loss to the Marlins and Joe Blanton getting roughed up (again) didn't help.

But there was a little bit of good news: according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, second baseman Chase Utley is set to begin extended spring training, the "next step" in his rehabilitation.

Utley's going to have to get better about fielding ground balls -- because of his knee injury, that's been the toughest part for him thus far in recovery.

"Ground balls, early on, one day it was good the next day it wasn’t so good," Utley said. "Right now on a daily basis they've been feeling pretty good. It’s still not perfect yet, but I think we're getting there, we’re on the verge of getting a lot better. I wanted to take this opportunity to get down there, get some at-bats, kind of get a head start in that aspect."

Gelb ran through the time table from Utley's rehab in 2011, in order to figure out when he could return. Last season, it took Utley 16 days from starting extended spring training to return to the bigs. And Utley also said his knees are "definitely stronger" than this time last year.

"They're definitely stronger at this point," he said. "I'll keep continuing to build them and get them stronger than they are now."

But, having said that, Gelb makes a good point: general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn't expect Utley to return "before the end of June."

With that in mind, let's have a little baby pool-style guess at when Utley will return. Dash Treyhorn is taking July 6. Dan Stamm is going all Team America on us and taking July 4.

I'm (surprisingly) feeling optimistic about it so I'll pick June 26. Not only is that my birthday, but it means that Utley will get three games against Pirates pitching at home before hitting the road to play the Marlins and then the Mets. Then he'd be available for a home series against the Braves before the All-Star Game.

Those division games are critical to the Phils, and the Pirates series would let him return at home and spark some enthusiasm for the fans. Leave your best guess in the comments below.

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