Chase Utley said likely headed to DL

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. confirmed Thursday what has long been suspected: Chase Utley is "very likely" to start the season on the disabled list.

Asked before the Phillies' game Thursday with Minnesota whether he expected his second baseman to begin the season on the disabled list, Amaro replied: "I would think so. He hasn't seen the field yet, and we're a week away [from Opening Day.]"

The Phillies have been reluctant to give daily updates on the health of Utley's ailing right knee. So when asked if Utley was making any progress, the GM said only: "I think he feels better, but it will be a long-term process."

Utley has yet to play this spring because of patellar tendinitis, bone inflammation and chondromalacia in his right knee. He and the Phillies continue to explore as many options as possible to avoid knee surgery that could sideline him for a lengthy period of time.

The signing of Luis Castillo to a minor league contract this week, days after he'd been released by the Mets, was just one more indication that the Phillies don't expect Utley to be able to return for weeks, if not months. Castillo went 0-for-4 in his Phillies debut Wednesday and started at second again Thursday.

If the Phillies decide in the next week that Castillo is at least a short-term answer, they would add him to the major league roster, and he would likely be their Opening Day second baseman.

If they don't like what they see in Castillo, they would turn to utility infielder Wilson Valdez, who started 88 games at second base, shortstop and third base last season. Veteran infielders Josh Barfield and Pete Orr, both of whom are in camp as non-roster free agents, also have played second base this spring, as has Rule 5 draft pick Michael Martinez.

So the Phillies have given themselves options at second base. What they still don't have, however, is any clear indication of when Utley will be healthy enough to return.

Jayson Stark is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com.