He has almost been an out of sight and out of mind figure through the first three months of the 2012 season.

But as Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley sat in the dugout at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, preparing to head to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to clear the final step in his road back from chondromalacia, he sounded like a player who is tired of watching people beat up on him and his faltering teammates.

"I know there are some people who have given up on me," Utley said. "There are some people who have given up on this team. I'll be the first one to tell you that I definitely have not given up on myself and our guys have not given up on this year. We have strong-willed guys on this team. We've lost some games lately. The majority of games we've lost, we've had a legitimate opportunity to win. All it takes is one good bounce our way and things can change."

Utley will play on Tuesday night for the IronPigs at Allentown. If all goes well, signs point to him being activated either Wednesday or Thursday.

"It's a possibility," Utley said when the subject of a Wednesday return was mentioned.

When asked about his condition, Utley would not say that his knees -- which have been impacted by a chronic condition each of the last two seasons -- were "pain free."

"I would say that I'm in a much better place than I was a month ago, and I'm encouraged by that," Utley said. "I wouldn't be out there if I felt uncomfortable."

Utley hit only .156 in nine games in his minor league assignment for Class A Clearwater. But the Phillies' management doesn't seem to worry about the lack of production from its second baseman.

"From what I saw of the DVDs of him hitting in Clearwater, he looks about the same to me," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He hit a home run the other night. I noticed the other night, it wasn't because he hit a home run, but he had a real good swing on the ball. He had a real good base."