March 17, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley (26) throws the ball to first for an out during the fourth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s the good news. Chase Utley is still playing baseball without a stool.
The Phils’ second baseman seems to be perfectly healthy after two years in which his health was a constant question mark. Utley’s knees forced him to miss the start of two straight seasons while sapping him of the power and mobility that made him such a special player.
So far this spring, there are no apparent physical problems with Chase. He’s looked good defensively, has run the bases well, and appears on track to make his first opening day start since 2010.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news. He’s hitting like crap.
Of course, it’s only spring training and, as we all know, spring stats can be taken with a grain of salt. But Utley has had a rough go of it down in Clearwater, with only one home run and three extra-base hits in 40 spring at bats so far. He’s walked eight times and struck out seven.
Most still have Chase penciled in as the #3 hitter in the lineup once the regular season starts, but the Phillies are going to need much more than that from their “best” hitter if they’re going to have any kind of offensive success this year.
I know, I’m marvelous at stating the obvious, right?
Happily, Chase Utley is one of the hardest working players in the game and is trying to dig himself out of whatever funk he has found himself.
What is there not to like about Utley’s swing? Oh, right. It’s inability to hit a moving baseball right now.
A healthy Chase Utley will most likely figure this out. Gone are the days of 35-game hitting streaks and OPS’s over. 900. Utley probably isn’t ever going to hit 25 to 30 home runs in a season again, and he hasn’t been a .300 hitter since 2007.
Expectations for Chase must be tempered.
However, the Phils don’t need that kind of production from Utley. Most computerized projections have him somewhere around .270/.360/.445/.820 with 15 to 20 homers and 20 to 25 doubles. He’ll also continue to provide superb defense at second and his rejuvenated knees have made him dangerous on the base paths once again.
That would be a very productive season for a National League second baseman. It may not be the numbers of a typical #3 hitter in the lineup, though, which is why Utley may now be more suited to the #2 spot.
And even though spring numbers traditionally don’t mean very much, it would be very nice to see Utley pick it up a bit during the team’s last couple weeks in Florida. Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown have certainly done a lot with their spring at bats to make people feel good about them heading into 2013, and it would benefit the Phils greatly if Utley can join them in the hit parade.
So, even though Chase isn’t hitting much of anything right now, there’s no reason to be overly concerned. Expectations must be lowered a bit, and the bigger story of Utley’s health supersedes any other news concerning his progress.
For now, anyway.