Getting to the heart of the Phils’ matter

Chase Utley started at second base and batted third last night for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He’s expected back in the Phillies’ lineup tonight at Citizens Bank Park.

“Getting him back is big for us in the clubhouse,” skipper Charlie Manuel said. “It’s big for us just to have him on our team.”

Utley’s first at-bat was uneventful, a fly out, then the All-Star singled and homered for the IronPigs. The Phillies’ minor-league affiliate sold out Coca-Cola Park in Allentown and the fans gave Utley a standing ovation when he stepped to the plate.

That’s one-half of the heart of Manuel’s lineup. And the team also received good news yesterday about the other half. Ryan Howard is returning to Philadelphia today for “functional testing” on his left Achilles tendon. If he passes testing, Howard will begin a rehab assignment with Single-A Lakewood tomorrow.

“I talked to Ryan and he’s been doing real good,” Manuel told reporters. “He’s looking forward to when he can come back. From the looks of things it’ll be right after the All-Star break. He’s feeling real good.”

Manuel added that Howard is still running with a little limp. Howard has been on the DL since the season started. He underwent Achilles surgery in October, then suffered a setback due to an infection.

“He feels like he’s getting there,” Manuel said. “He’s very positive about where he’s at.”

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