Clearwater Countdown: Hip to Be Ready?'s Spring Training preview continues

There might be snow on the ground but the smell of spring is in the air.

That's right Phillies pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater in just 10 days and in honor of the start of Spring Training will be doing our top-10 countdown of issues to be settled before Opening Day.

No. 9:

The question is simple -- the answer not so much.

Will Chase Utley's hip be ready to go on Opening Day?

You'd be hard pressed to find a Phillies fan that doesn't want to see Utley batting third in the Opening Day lineup. But, will he be ready to play at his intense level?

Utley himself seems to want to be ready to play for the opener but has left the door open to some extra time on the mend.

"I'm going to listen to my body, and when it's ready, it will be ready. Hopefully, that will be Opening Day," said Utley.

The Phillies in the meantime have a great security blanket if Utley's Puppies remain in the dog pound come April 5.

It's tough to replace (even temporarily) a perennial MVP candidate but the Phils may have to do just that should Utley's hip injury remain to be a problem.

Minor-league standout Jason Donald could easily start the season with the Phillies as it is assuming Utley is ready -- if Chase can't go Donald seems a safe bet to make his first Major League debut.

Donald is a natural middle infielder (playing at shortstop) that the Phils may try to move to third if they fail to sign Nomar Garciaparra. That move could easily be made to second base instead if Chase can't go.

Donald seems ready to make the jump to the majors after batting .307, slugging .459, with 19 doubles, 14 homers and 54 RBI in 362 at bats at AA-affiliate Reading last season. He would have played in more than 92 games if he hadn't gone to Beijing to play baseball for Team USA in the Olympics.

Donald is the future but this is the now and the Phils are prepared with other options.

The Phils also have a possible card up their sleeve -- the Phightins' signed Marcus Giles to a minor league deal earlier this winter.

Giles is a former All-Star who might just fit into the Phillies plan especially if Utley isn't ready. Giles hasn't played in the Majors since 2007 but is a career .277 hitter -- it's worth giving him a shot to be a possible quick fix at second.

The other option for the Phillies is to start infield-utility-extraordinaire Eric Bruntlett at second to allow Utley more time.

In any case the chase for defending the World championship is on and Utley needs to be a part of the chase if the Phils hope to win again.

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