- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Chase Utley homered in his first at-bat of the season Wednesday night after the Philadelphia Phillies slugger missed the first 76 games because of a chronic problem in both knees.

Utley connected on a 2-2 pitch from Pittsburgh right-hander James McDonald in the first inning. Carlos Ruiz followed with a homer to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead.

A five-time All-Star at second base, Utley received a standing ovation during pregame introductions and again when he came to the plate. He was mobbed by teammates in the dugout after circling the bases and came out for a curtain call.

Utley sat out the first 46 games last year before returning to have the least productive season of his career. He batted .259 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs.

The 33-year-old Utley had been sidelined this year with a condition called bilateral chondromalacia. He played nine games with Class-A Clearwater during his rehab assignment and finished up Tuesday night at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he went 2 for 5 with a home run and played all nine innings at second base.

He was activated from the disabled list Wednesday. To make room on the roster, the Phillies optioned infielder Michael Martinez to Lehigh Valley. Martinez was hitting .133 with a home run and four RBIs in 16 games.

In addition to Utley, fellow slugger Ryan Howard is on the comeback trail for Philadelphia as well.

Howard will begin a rehab stint Thursday night. The 2006 NL MVP hasn’t played since tearing his left Achilles’ tendon on the final swing of the 2011 season in Game 5 of the NL division series against St. Louis.

Howard will serve as the designated hitter for Class-A Lakewood. He could return to the Phillies within three weeks.

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