Chase Utley is FINE everybody. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
It’s understandable that Phillies fans are a little gun shy at the moment.
They came into the 2011 season led by the Phour Aces, a rotation that was supposed to be so dominant that it would cause opposing teams to melt into a gelatinous goo of baseball ineptitude. And the Phillies won 102 games that year, thanks almost entirely to that incredible group of starting pitchers.
But there was a chink in the armor. Chase Utley’s left knee wasn’t ready for Opening Day, and the star second baseman didn’t play his first baseball game until May 23.
Then Ryan Howard blew out his Achilles on the team’s final plate appearance of the season, the ground out to second in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cardinals.
Everyone knew Howard wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day in 2012, but the Phillies kept telling the public they hoped he’d be ready sometime in April.
Meanwhile, fans were also told that everything with Chase Utley was fine, his left knee was fine, and that he’d be ready to go, too.
Then, Howard suffered a setback. His surgically repaired foot developed an infection, and the conversation started to center more around oozing puss than a return to the lineup.
Suddenly, mid-April turned into July 6.
Then, mysteriously, as spring training 2012 developed, no one saw Utley anywhere in Clearwater. He was off, on a distant field, sitting on a stool, taking ground balls, picking four-leaf clovers out of the grass, not hitting anything, drinking heavily and cursing at the animals he saw in the clouds.
Yet at the start of March, everyone was told things were groovy.
"“He seems fine,” Ruben Amaro said on March 6. “We’re just taking things slowly with him. There’s no reason to start putting the pounding on his knees that typically he would have during this time. There’s no reason to start that process now when we can start it a little bit later on.”"
Surely the general manager of the team wouldn’t lie to us, right?
The truth is, no one, not Amaro, not Utley, not Manuel, no one really knew the extent of Utley’s injured right knee. After all, in 2011, the right knee was fine. It was the left knee that was the problem.
Fast forward to Tuesday when Utley was scratched from the lineup against the Yankees at Bright House Field due to a soaking wet field.
Ok, that’s reasonable. No need risking Utley’s delicate knees to the rigors of playing on a field that could very easily lead to a misstep or injury. No panic yet.
Then on Wednesday, the Phillies released the lineup card ahead of their spring game against the Twins, and Utley was not in the starting lineup for a SECOND STRAIGHT DAY. You can guess what followed.
Wow. I’m exhausted.
Friends, we live in an atmosphere of Phillies panic. Every time something out of the ordinary takes place, or something we don’t expect to happen, happens, everybody freaks out.
CHASE UTLEY NOT IN THE STARTING LINEUP FOR THE SECOND DAY IN A ROW??? WHAT’S GOING ON??? WHAT AREN’T THEY TELLING US???
While it’s true that you’re not paranoid if everyone IS indeed plotting against you, in this particular case, there is no plot.
Now, we have the magic of Twitter, which thrusts the panic directly to your electronic thinking box within seconds.
OH AND WHY IS DARIN RUF NOT PLAYING??? HAS HE BEEN CUT??? IS EVERYTHING OK??? PLEASE SOMEONE TELL ME THAT EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK???????
By the way, Darin Ruf is in the lineup today, playing left field. His right arm was hurting because he was doing a lot more long-distance throwing than he was used to. You can call off the dogs.
Deep in the recesses of every Phillies fan’s mind is a picture of Utley hobbling on his delicate knees, fielding ground balls on a distant field, with an airplane ticket to see Dr. Andrews in his back pocket. Everyone is guarding against yet another let down.
Or a picture of Ryan Howard, grabbing his foot, sitting in the clubhouse with his bandaged foot propped up on a table, with blood and other gross things oozing out.
No one wants to be told everything is alright and then have the rug pulled out from under them. That happened last year, and now everyone is guarding their hearts against it.
I understand the panic. I feel it too, sometimes. And if Utley or Howard or Halladay or anyone else is out for an extended period of time, then concern will certainly be warranted.
But, just so everyone understands, know this about spring training.
Veterans often do not make long bus trips with the team to away games. Some do, some don’t. It doesn’t mean anything other than some veterans have earned the right not to spend five to six hours on a bus to play a meaningless exhibition game.
Lineups in spring training don’t mean much. It’s a good time for the manager to tinker and play around, but it likely won’t result in a radical shift in lineup philosophy once the regular season starts.
In other words, don’t expect Ben Revere to lead off against the Braves on April 1.
Relief pitchers, particularly closers, struggle in spring training as they try and get their stuff together without the adrenaline rush of a save situation.
And all pitchers typically are a little light in the radar gun as they gather arm strength for the regular season.
So, listen guys. Don’t panic. Just relax. Let things play out for longer than 30 seconds before overreacting.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. In today’s googleweb world, and the recent history of the Phillies, an environment of panic has been created, leading to tweets like this one this morning…
Yup, this is our new reality.
Embrace the panic.