Chase Utley is a Turnpike Off-Ramp


You know when you’re driving up the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and you’ve been riding along in that cattle-shoot for about 45 minutes to an hour, and you’re desperate to get off that road that seems to lead to nowhere?

Eventually, you keep saying to yourself, “Our exit is coming up soon. It’s coming up real soon.” You fantasize about a Hardees hamburger like you’ve never fantasized about another food in your life. You wait with baited breath to use one of the sparkling clean uber-johns that allow no less than 465 people to pee at the same time.

Friends, that is what we’re currently experiencing as we await the return of Chase Utley to the baseball diamond.

After Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to the Twins in Grapefruit League action, Charlie Manuel was asked once again when Utley would see his first game action, with Manuel saying “I’d say it’s coming up pretty soon.”

If that really is the case, that’s very good news. But why is there so much secrecy here? Does Charlie have a specific day in mind? Does he think it’s gonna be this month? Is Utley not sure when he’s going to play? Is this a matter of wanting to rest Utley, or needing to rest him?

Frankly, compared to Charlie Manuel and the Phils’ brass, Deep Throat was a regular gossip.

The worry of course is that Utley’s knee hasn’t felt good enough to allow him to play yet, and the Phillies don’t know when it will. And let’s face it, the Phils have never been up front about Chase when it comes to his health. They’ve hid his condition from everyone in the past, so there is a history there. And you’re certainly not going to get any answers out of the second baseman. No one even tries anymore.

It cannot be understated how important Chase Utley is to this team. Even if Ryan Howard isn’t out for the entire 2012 season (and I tend to think Jimmy Rollins’ comments to ESPN’s Jayson Stark today might be more prescient than we think) he’s not going to be the same player when he comes back. Howard generates all his power from his legs. If Howard can’t use his legs, he becomes a home run hitter who can’t hit home runs.

The Phillies need Chase Utley to at least slightly resemble the offensive player he once was. He doesn’t need to have a .900 OPS or slug 30 HRs anymore. But he does need to be a high on-base guy who can drive the ball into the gaps and pop about 20-25 HRs during the course of a season. And, he needs to play around 150 games.

Yet all that is uncertain, and the Phillies continue to talk about Utley’s return to action like it’s Exit 185 on the PA Turnpike.

“It’s coming up soon,” we’re told.

Hopefully, Utley’s 2012 season will be a lot more appetizing than a Hardees hamburger and fries.

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