MINNEAPOLIS -- It took just a couple of questions about his lineup and offense Wednesday to get Charlie Manuel riled up.
The Phillies manager is clearly frustrated about his meager offense.
It started innocently enough with a few questions about Ryan Howard's recent struggles and if they might be connected to his ailing left knee. Howard entered Wednesday with just one home run in his past 107 plate appearances. He is on pace to hit just 17 home runs with 77 RBIs this season, and his .735 on-base-plus-slugging percentage ranks 100th out of 163 qualifying players in baseball.
That clearly is not the production the Phillies need from their cleanup hitter.
Asked if Manuel could hit somebody else fourth, Manuel said, "What the [heck] are you getting at? Who's going to hit there? Let me ask you a question. Let me turn that around some. Write what you want to write."
Well, how about Domonic Brown?
"I could put anybody in there, OK?" Manuel said. "I'll do the managing. Whoever hits there, hits there."
But it must be alarming for more than just Manuel that Howard's production has been declining in recent seasons. The Phillies owe him $85 million following this year.
"Of course I'm concerned," Manuel said. "I'm concerned with everybody. Hey, look, I'm concerned with every [single] player I've got. Yeah, I'm concerned. I want to win. We say that we want to win the division and we want to go to the World Series, right? I'm concerned about every one of our guys. I'm concerned about that [.247] batting average. I'm concerned about that. I'm not only concerned about one guy, I'm concerned about them all. How about that? I don't know what I can do about it. I can go back to my room and sit there and look at the walls, and get up and come to the ballpark and look at the walls. I don't know what I can do about it. The only thing I can do is to put them out there and let them play."
Asked if he was upset about the offense or the questions concerning his offense, Manuel said, "A little of both, probably. We are inconsistent performance-wise. And when you've got that, it's hard. We won five games in a row, then we lose four. That's kind of how we've been playing."
Utley progresses, but no rehab stint yet
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Phillies badly need Chase Utley's bat in the lineup.
The second baseman is getting closer to a return from the 15-day disabled list, but he said Wednesday at Target Field that no rehab assignment has been scheduled. But Utley has been swinging the bat this week, and he said it has gone well.
"So far, so good," he said.
Utley has been on the DL since May 21 because of a strained right oblique. He said he could be back by the middle of the month. Of course, the middle of the month officially is this weekend, so maybe a return early next week is feasible.
"I think it's still realistic," he said. "Everything has gone well so far. Tomorrow I'm going to probably do the same, maybe pick up the intensity a little bit and go from there. But I don't have an actual date [in mind to return]. … The guys who I've talked to, who have had this in the past, they said once you start swinging, a few said it was sore and they had to back off for a few days. So far I haven't had to do that."
Struggling Adams gets vote of confidence
MINNEAPOLIS -- Phillies setup man Mike Adams expressed his gratitude Tuesday that manager Charlie Manuel has stuck with him while he has struggled.
Adams has a 7.11 ERA since he returned from the disabled list May 26 because of a strained back.
Manuel said Wednesday he plans to keep Adams pitching in the eighth inning, too.
"We have to get Adams well," Manuel said. "If Adams can get to where he was in the beginning of the season, then he's going to be fine. We have to get him where he's consistent and well. Sticking with him hasn't been hard -- if you get where I'm coming from."
Right-hander Justin De Fratus has pitched well in high-leverage situations this season, going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 13 appearances. He could be an option if Adams continues to struggle in the late innings.
• Catcher Erik Kratz had surgery Wednesday in Philadelphia to repair a torn medial meniscus in his left knee. The Phillies estimate his recovery to be six to eight weeks.
• The Phillies have no timetable for Carlos Ruiz to begin a rehab assignment, but the possibility remains the catcher could begin one before the end of the weekend. He has been on the DL since May 20 with a strained right hamstring.
• Catcher Tommy Joseph has been returned to the disabled list after missing a month because of a concussion.
• The Phillies optioned second baseman Cesar Hernandez to Triple-A Lehigh Valley following Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Twins. They said an accompanying move will be announced Thursday.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.