It was rumored since the middle of the 2008 season and now, it's a definite. Chase Utley will undergo surgery on his right hip next week and he may miss the start of the 2009 season.
Right now, the surgery figures to keep Utley out from four to six months, which would put his return to sometime between the end of March and the end of May. The best guess is that he will likely miss at least a couple weeks of the season.
Utley played through the injury and even denied that he had any injury during the season even when former GM Pat Gillick told the media that he might need surgery. Utley never confirmed the injury publicly and refuses to use it as an excuse for his statistics, which fell off sharply after a huge start to his season.
Officially, the Phillies knew of a problem this past May, but Utley believes that the injury could go back to last off season when he was bothered by some soreness in his hip. The problem seemed to clear itself up, but flared again shortly after the start of the season.
Utley received two opinions, including one from the Phillies medical director Dr. Michael Ciccotti and both exams suggested having surgery. The procedure is being officially listed as an "arthroscopic evaluation with treatment of any labral or bony injury" and is similar to what Boston Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell is undergoing. The Red Sox have officially listed his return as five months. It's likely that Utley will be able to begin baseball activities three or four months after the surgery and his return will be determined by how well the procedure and the rehab progress.
This past season started with Utley on a tear, hitting .321 with 21 home runs through early June, but he tailed off to a .272 average the rest of the way and hit just another 12 home runs.
"He's a team player and a very tough guy, no question," said GM Ruben Amaro. "But the reality is, he's not a dummy. If he was not able to perform, he wouldn't have gone onto the field."
For now, the Phillies will figure on Eric Bruntlett or possibly prospect Jason Donald playing second base early in the season until Utley is able to return to the club.