It may not be the most encouraging image, an enfeebled Chase Utley gingerly moving from left to right to field carefully hit ground balls. But that’s apparently what has the Phillies tickled pink about the progress of their starting second baseman.
Only he’s not the starting second baseman. He’s Chase Utley, the Man With No Knees.
He’s been running, he’s been fielding. He’s spent some time in the cage. The batting cage, not the cage they keep Kyle Kendrick in with the giant hamster bottle. He’ll be down in Clearwater soon, rehabbing with a bunch of thrilled Single-A prospects.
Meanwhile, a slick rookie has buckled down in his spot, and with a slowly heating bat and the ability to run quickly in any direction, we may not be so anxious to see him go.
“Hey guys, it’s me,” Chase will say, dropping his bags.
The room will plummet into awkward silence. Everyone looks around for Freddy. Good, he’s out taking grounders. Didn’t want him here for this.
“Whose ready to play some second base?” Chase asks. ”I know I am!”
Everyone smiles the same fake smile–all teeth, and barely bending beyond normal mouth position. It’d be tough to convince anyone that nothing was wrong.
“Right, guys?” Chase asks, picking up a nearby bat. ”Remember this?”
He mimics a few swings, and everyone nods, but on his third cut, the bat accidentally flies out of his hands, clatters against Juan Pierre’s skull, and flies back, bouncing off Chase’s knee.
“Guh… I… I’m all right, ” Chase says, waving off the aid of a trainer. ”I’m fine, just… stay the hell away from me.”
He returns to his feet, a bit slowly. Rich Dubee fingers the pistol on his belt he usually reserves for waking up Kyle Kendrick at three in the morning, then convincing him it was a dream the next day. Charlie Manuel shakes his head.
“I’m fine. See?” Chase wiggles his knee in the air. But everyone watches his face. Did he just wince? Even a little?
Because anything that comes out of his mouth can be tossed out as insufficient evidence. Chase’s ability to swallow pain and play around it is admirable, but doesn’t help anybody–especially himself, when he explodes at the meniscus rounding second base.
Chase will return. And it will be great to have him.
Things have changed.