CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Chase Utley won't be playing Wednesday for the Clearwater Threshers. That much the Phillies will say. It would be his third straight game and it starts at 10:30 a.m.

They won't say much more about his timetable, but here's the supposition, though: Utley, the Phillies All-Star second baseman, could be back in time to play the next time the Phillies are at home, a week from today against the Colorado Rockies.

Make no mistake. The pace of Utley's rehab from the patellar knee tendinitis that has sidelined him all year is quickening. Last night he played in his first official rehab game, which starts the 20-day clock to the time when he must be activated. It was also the first time he's played back-to-back days.

Counting a pair of extended rehab games, he now has 18 at bats. While manager Charlie Manuel has said that he likes hitters to have around 75 plate appearances in spring training, he's also said he thinks Utley is good enough to possibly get by with about half that number.

Even accounting for an occasional day off, he could easily get to 40 or more in a week. And, don't forget, even while his activities were limited, he was still taking batting practice.

If he doesn't have a setback with his knee and if he feels like he's seeing the ball well enough to compete against big league pitching, he could be back sooner rather than later.

Utley went 1-for-4 tonight against the Palm Beach Cardinals at Bright House Field. Afterward he was typically coy when asked if he was thinking more about making sure his knee was healthy or was focusing on sharpening his batting eye. But he was clearly upbeat.

"A little bit of both," he said. "Obviously, getting at bats is important. And obviously at the same time I'm testing my legs. The whole goal is just to feel comfortable in the batter's box. And to do that is just seeing pitches, having good at bats and trying to go from there.

"I've had a few at bats where I felt comfortable and a few I haven't. That's probably pretty standard at this point."

He also said his knee felt great and he's happy with his progress so far. Manager Charlie Manuel is clearly anxious to have him back in the lineup. It wouldn't be a shock to see him return sooner rather than later.

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