Utley and Howard hanging on with rebuilding Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) It was just like old times when Chase Utley ripped a single and Ryan Howard followed by knocking one out of the park in their first game together this spring.

Except, it's 2015.

The glory days for Utley, Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies are in the past. They're no longer star players on a dominant team. Now, they're just veterans on a rebuilding club that's probably better off without them.

Utley, Howard and Jimmy Rollins led the Phillies during the most successful run in franchise history, when the team won five straight NL East titles from 2007-11, captured two pennants and the 2008 World Series crown.

But Rollins was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December. Howard would be gone if another team wanted him and his big contract. Utley seems content to finish his career here, though things can change. Both players have veto rights.

''As much respect as I have for the organization, if they ever came to me and asked me, I would have to listen,'' Utley said about a considering a trade. ''But I don't think much will change.''

The Phillies are picked to win the fewest games in the majors this season. It would be more beneficial for the team's future if Maikel Franco or Darin Ruf played first base and Cesar Hernandez was the regular second baseman.

For now, though, it's Utley and Howard hitting 3-4 in the lineup the same way they have for the past decade.

Howard arrived in excellent shape and said he's down to 240 pounds. He looks smooth in the field and the 2006 NL MVP is moving around better than he has since returning from tearing his left achilles tendon in October 2011.

''I feel like I did in `09,'' Howard said. ''My body has been feeling good, legs have been feeling good. I've had a good workload over spring training. I'm happy with where I am right now, happy with my weight. I'm feeling good.''

Howard hit 23 homers and had 95 RBIs last season, but posted career-lows in slugging percentage (.380) and OPS (.690). The 35-year-old slugger is due $60 million over the next two seasons, making it difficult to move him.

Howard has been experimenting with a different stance this spring, hoping to cut down his strikeouts and improve on a .223 average. He's standing taller, lowered his hands and moved his feet closer to the plate. The results are starting to show. He has two homers and a double in the past four days.

''Things I've been working on are starting to come together,'' Howard said.

Utley, who has chronic knee problems, hasn't played in the field because of a right ankle sprain. He was the designated hitter for the third time in four games on Monday and hopes to play second base soon.

The 36-year-old, six-time All-Star certainly will need a few days off during the season after seeing his production drop over the second half last season.

''I play the game fairly hard and after every game I'm spent,'' he said. ''I do the best I can to recuperate for the next day. I feel like I've done a pretty good job at it, but a few more days off here and there probably wouldn't hurt.''

While the Phillies are clearly going in a different direction, Utley and Howard are still around as reminders of better times.

''From an athlete's standpoint, you try to focus on the positive,'' Utley said. ''Obviously, nobody likes to lose. But to be successful you don't even think about losing. You think about doing what you need to do to win. And you try to carry that mindset and pass it on to other guys.''

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

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