Chase Utley Set To Make Spring Debut


For Chase Utley and his fans, which is pretty much every Phillies fan out there, the wait finally appears to be over. Utley has been announced as the #3 hitter in the lineup, serving as the Designated Hitter when the club squares off against the Tampa Bay Rays at Bright House Field this afternoon.

Utley has been sidelined from game action all spring after suffering a mild right ankle sprain when he stepped on a baseball in January. Utley’s injury problems in recent years have been well chronicled. He missed all of Spring Training in 2011 and 2012 – as well as significant portions of both seasons – with a degenerative knee condition.

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When Utley arrived in Clearwater and announced that he would miss the beginning of Grapefruit League action, people worried. The fans worried. The manager worried. The front office worried. Utley said not to worry. People worried anyway. This is, after all, Philadelphia.

With Utley’s recent knee problems, the Phillies’ medical staff and Utley himself saw no need to rush back and reinjure the ankle, or even worse yet, reinjure the knees, as a result.  Even though the season outlook for the Phillies is bleak, Utley’s presence in the lineup, and just as importantly in the clubhouse, would be sorely missed.

The six-time All-Star was relatively injury-free in 2014.  Utley appeared in 155 games and amassed 664 plate appearances last season.  These were his highest totals since the pennant-winning 2009 campaign, now six long years ago, when he played in 156 games and had 687 plate appearances.  Arguably, he played too much in 2014. As the season wore on, Utley wore down physically.

The season totals were very respectable – .270/.339/.407, 11 home runs, 78 runs batted in, 36 doubles, and 10 stolen bases. However, after getting off to a torrid start in April and May, Utley cooled off considerably thereafter. He sported a .794 OPS before the All-Star break, and a .673 OPS after the break.

Now 36 years old with a knee condition that needs to be managed throughout the course of the season, it would be in everybody’s best interest – the player, the team, and the fans – if Utley plays in the 120-130 games range.  Fewer games means less wear-and-tear, which in turn should lead to more consistent production across the full season.

Chase Utley is one of the most iconic players in franchise history. The great majority of baseball fans would love nothing more than to see him ride off into the sunset on his terms. For now, we’ll settle for a couple of injury free at-bats in sun-splashed Clearwater, Florida.