PHILADELPHIA -- Erik Kratz is nearing his return to the Phillies, but when he gets back, how much playing time will the catcher get?
That's a question manager Charlie Manuel will have to answer in the coming weeks. Kratz tore the meniscus in his left knee about a month ago, but had surgery and is already rehabbing with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Manuel said Kratz will probably return to the Phillies after the All-Star break.
Kratz was the Phillies' primary catcher for two spells this season in place of Carlos Ruiz -- who was suspended for a banned substance at the beginning of the season, and sidelined with a hamstring injury from mid-May to mid-June. In his first stint with the "everyday" label, Kratz struggled, batting .191 in 21 games. With Ruiz injured, however, Kratz hit the ball well and was hitting .270 with six homers, 14 RBIs and a .970 OPS in his final 19 games before his own injury.
Meanwhile, Ruiz has a .259 average in 35 games, but has just six RBIs and no home runs. Ruiz is now healthy and has been the Phillies' everyday catcher since 2007. But with both players sustaining injuries this season, Manuel hinted that there's a chance the two catchers may share more time when Kratz is back.
"We'll see who comes out and plays when we have them both," Manuel said. "We'll see how they play."
While Ruiz offers more experience, Kratz has had much more pop in his bat this season. Though he's missed a month, Kratz's eight homers still rank fourth best for the Phillies, and he also has 22 RBIs in 140 at-bats.
"We like Chooch for our everyday catcher, because of what he does," Manuel said. "But Kratz is definitely capable of catching quite a bit. He's durable, like I said before. Since he's hurt, I don't know how it is. But he's in tremendous shape, he works hard."
Howard's surgery successful; Amaro optimistic
PHILADELPHIA -- Ruben Amaro Jr. seemed to have a pretty easy decision to make a little more than a week ago.
Sell! Sell! Sell!
But the Phillies entered Wednesday's game against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park winners of six of their last eight games and playing in a division that is arguably the weakest in baseball. So the club's general manager seemed buoyed by the news Ryan Howard had successful knee surgery earlier in the day.
Howard had a debridement of the left medial meniscus. His timetable to return is six to eight weeks.
"After [Phillies physician Michael] Ciccotti went in there and went in with the scope, it was a little better picture than we thought," Amaro said. "I think the player is feeling better about it, we're feeling better about it. As news goes, this is as good as we can get."
Amaro said it probably changes the season's outlook, "because we'll have him back. There's a reasonable chance we'll have him back at some point. We still have a lot of question marks about where we're going to go in the next couple of weeks. Right now, the team is making decisions a little harder on me, which is fine and which is good. I'd rather be in this situation than thinking about 2014 right now."
Amaro met with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, the Phillies coaching staff and others in the organization Tuesday, although he declined to call it an organizational meeting.
Regardless of what one calls it, the organization's decision-makers met to discuss the team leading to the July 31 Trade Deadline.
"There were no real revelations," Amaro said. "We are playing better baseball and putting ourselves in a position to be buyers. But there was nothing new out of it."
So they are leaning toward buying at this point?
"Yeah, I think we'll try to do that," he said.
The biggest need seems to be the bullpen. Since the end of May, the Phillies rank seventh in baseball, averaging 4.58 runs per game. Since a loss in San Diego on June 24, they are seventh, averaging 5.29 runs per game. But the bullpen has a 5.21 ERA since June 8, which is 27th in baseball.
"It's a hard one to get," Amaro said of bullpen help.
Of course, a bad stretch before the Trade Deadline and the Phillies are back to sellers. So would they sacrifice a top prospect for a reliever, knowing how fickle they can be (i.e. Mike Adams, Chad Qualls, Jose Contreras, Danys Baez, etc.)?
"Maybe," Amaro said.
But the best guess is probably not, unless it is a clear difference-maker to pitch in front of closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Amaro will be a busy man in the coming weeks.
Buy? Sell? For the moment, the Phillies are leaning toward buying, but that can change with one bad week.
"I would assume things would go down to the wire, unless we reel off 10 out of 11 or we lose 10 out of 11," he said. "Then we'll have a clearer picture. Right now, we're just not sure. I would assume like most years, it would go down to the wire."
Utley's future unclear as Deadline approaches
PHILADELPHIA -- General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. on Wednesday addressed something on everybody's mind: Chase Utley.
Utley will be a free agent after the season. He is the true leader in the Phillies' clubhouse and offensively he is showing the power he possessed in 2008 and '09, the last two times the club reached the World Series.
Amaro has said he hopes Utley will be a "Phillie for life."
So has he talked to him about it?
"Not really," Amaro said. "I think it's kind of inferred that it's something he'd like to do. It's a question for Chase."
Last season, the Phillies talked extensively with Cole Hamels' agent before the July 31 Trade Deadline to see where Hamels stood on remaining with the organization. If Hamels had been steadfast on testing the free agent market after the season, the Phillies could have pushed to trade him.
Amaro said they could speak with Utley's representation in a similar manner, although it does not mean the Phillies are pushing for an extension at the moment. Utley has had a lengthy injury history the past three seasons, so they might want to see how he holds up through September.
"We may have some discussions with him, out of respect for him and what he meant to our organization," Amaro said. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there. … We can always bring him back if we trade him. That's a possibility. But I don't really want him to leave. Period. So we'll see."
Hip soreness for Papelbon, but nothing serious
PHILADELPHIA -- Ears perked up Wednesday when manager Charlie Manuel said on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM that closer Jonathan Papelbon has some occasional soreness in his hip.
Papelbon is 2-0 with a 4.09 ERA and four blown saves in 10 opportunities in his last 11 appearances.
"Every now and then, like when you work him a lot or when he works out, things like that, he has a little soreness in his hip, but it's definitely not serious," Manuel said. "It hasn't been serious. Usually, like a day off or a day of rest or something like that, and he can bounce right back."
Papelbon said it's nothing more than usage.
"It's when you throw five out of seven days," Papelbon said. "It comes with the territory. It's the life of a closer."
He said it has nothing to do with his recent struggles.
"My arm actually feels incredible," he said. "I don't know why. Earlier in the season, my arm felt worse than my lower half. Now my lower half feels worse than my arm."
Daulton to begin treatment after cancer diagnosis
PHILADELPHIA -- Former Phillies catcher Darren Daulton has been diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, his family said in a statement Wednesday.
Daulton has returned home in Clearwater, Fla., where he will begin treatments, his family said in a release to Philadelphia radio station 97.5. Daulton had surgery to remove two brain tumors last Monday.
A leader of the 1993 team that won the National League pennant, Daulton spent parts of 14 seasons with the Phillies, and "Dutch" is still beloved in the city today. The news of his tumors and the more recent diagnosis has upset the Phillies' community.
"It saddens me, but I'll remain optimistic," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I guess he's in Florida now, and we pray that things go well for him."
The Daulton family stated that Darren thanked everyone and is "deeply touched" by the support he has received in the past few weeks.
Namm selected as Phillies' 'Tribute' winner
PHILADELPHIA -- Louis Namm of Thorofare, N.J., was named the Phillies' winner of Major League Baseball and People Magazine's "Tribute For Heroes" campaign.
Namm, along with winners from the other 29 teams, will be involved in All-Star activities next week and will be honored in a ceremony before the Midsummer Classic, which will be held Tuesday at Citi Field.
The "Tributes for Heroes" campaign set out to honor veterans and military service members, and Namm was voted on as the Phillies' winner among three finalists.
• Ruben Amaro Jr. said Roy Halladay, who had surgery on his right shoulder in May, is up to long tossing from 90 feet, and could be throwing from 120 feet soon. Amaro was unsure when Halladay would throw off a mound.
• Left-handed reliever Jeremy Horst has made two Minor League rehab appearances since injuring his throwing elbow last month. Amaro said Horst will likely throw again Thursday and Friday, and he still needs to decide if Horst will rejoin the Phillies' roster when healthy. Horst had a 6.23 ERA in 28 appearances before the injury.
• Amaro said reliever Michael Stutes probably won't be able to throw off the mound for "a couple of weeks." The right-handed reliever went on the DL on June 23 with bicep tendonitis.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.