PHILADELPHIA (AP) -One month after having hand surgery, Chase Utley was back in Philadelphia's lineup Monday for the start of a pivotal four-game series against the NL East-leading New York Mets.
The Phillies were six games behind the Mets and three back of San Diego in the wild-card race.
Utley was having an MVP-caliber season before getting hurt. The All-Star second baseman is batting .336 with 41 doubles, 17 homers and 82 RBIs in 100 games. Without Utley, the Phillies were 15-13 and lost one game in the division standings.
``It might take him a while before he gets his good stroke down, but I feel he'll hold his own,'' manager Charlie Manuel said.
Infielder-outfielder Russell Branyan was designated for assignment to make room for Utley. Branyan was 2-for-9 with two homers and five RBIs in seven games.
Utley's return means Tadahito Iguchi, acquired from the Chicago White Sox a day after Utley was injured, moves to the bench for the first time in his major league career. Iguchi filled in nicely for Utley, batting .301 and playing solid defense.
It was thought the Phillies would consider moving Iguchi to third base, but he said he hasn't been asked to try a position he's never played.
``All I can do is prepare and help the team win in any way,'' Iguchi said through an interpreter. ``Chase Utley is a very important part of this team. It's good he's back.''
Utley was injured when he was struck by a pitch from Washington's John Lannan in the fifth inning of the pitcher's major league debut on July 26. The gritty Utley finished the game, but the next day had a pin inserted into his hand to stabilize a broken right ring finger.
Manuel put Utley in the No. 2 spot in the lineup and left Pat Burrell in the three-hole for now. Leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins initially dropped down to No. 3 after Utley went down, but Manuel moved the hot-hitting Burrell up from sixth three weeks ago.
The Phillies have been decimated by injuries this season. Just nine of the 25 players on the opening day roster haven't spent time on the disabled list.
Of the original starting rotation, only 44-year-old Jamie Moyer currently remains. All-Star Cole Hamels (elbow), Adam Eaton (shoulder), Freddy Garcia (shoulder) and Jon Lieber (foot) are on the disabled list. Brett Myers, the opening day starter, is the closer.
Eaton is scheduled to start against the Mets on Tuesday and Hamels should return by next week.

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