Chase Utley cleared to start hitting

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has been cleared to start hitting, six weeks after surgery on his right thumb.

Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock says the news is encouraging, but the team is sticking to its original timetable for Utley's return. When the five-time All-Star had surgery on July 1, he was expected to miss at least eight weeks.

Proefrock says Utley will start a rehab assignment when he's ready.

Utley tore a ligament in his thumb sliding into second base in a game at Cincinnati on June 28. He's batting .277 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs.