It appears that Chase Utley will return to the Phillies for Wednesday’s game against the Pirates after missing the first 76 games of the season with creaky knees.
His presence will certainly help in the clubhouse as well on the field (where the Phillies can finally stop playing Michael Martinez, who is capable defensively but offers less than zero at the plate). While not the most vocal player, Utley commands respect in the clubhouse because of his past success, even if that seems like light years ago, and for the way he plays the game. He also does something no other hitter in the Phillies’ lineup seems capable of and that’s work a pitcher. During his prime (I thought he’d be entering his prime now, but that’s another discussion for another day), Utley had the ability to make pitcher’s throw something they didn’t want to and when they did he made them pay.
That wasn’t the case last year though, when Utley appeared to struggle using his legs at the plate. And that’s where I wonder what kind of production he’ll provide this year since he posted career lows in games played (103), batting average (.259), home runs (11), on-base percentage (.344), slugging percentage (.425) and OPS (.769) last year with just one bad knee. Now he has two bad knees and is coming off a rehab stint in Clearwater where he was 5-for-32 with one home run, five RBIs and five strikeouts. And worst of all? It’s playing in the field that affects his knees the most, which means Martinez will likely play when Utley is given the day off since Mike Fontenot has been just awful defensively and Freddy Galvis is hurt/suspended.
So what exactly will Utley bring to the table? How can anyone be hopeful after all the above information? I sure can’t. You want to hope that the old Utley, who ran out every ground ball like it was Game 7 of the World Series, clobbered home runs a big man would be jealous of and threw his body around on defense with reckless abandon, will return and lead the Phillies out of the NL East cellar. You also want to be realistic and accept that this is a man whose playing career may be over after his contract runs out next season (which means we’ll most likely have to go through this again of him not being ready to play at the start of the 2013 season). He could DH in the American League, you might say, but the DH isn’t for everyone. Just ask Pat Burrell.
The reality of the situation is that Utley, and his bad knees, will be a superior upgrade to what is in place now and Ryan Howard will provide the same when he returns, whenever that may be, but neither pitch out of the bullpen, which has been putrid this season, and both are shells of their former selves. The hole the Phillies have dug themselves, nine games out of first place and six games under .500 going into Monday’s game against Pittsburgh, may be too deep to climb out of. Even the old Utley would have been hard pressed to save this season.