Sam Donnellon: Chasing away talk of an injury to Phillies second baseman

Posted: October 26, 2009

YOU ASK THE questions knowing the answer.

"Is there anything wrong with your foot?" I asked Chase Utley yesterday.

"No," he said.

"Is there anything wrong with your hip?"

"No," he said.

"Would you tell us if there was?"

"Probably not."

With that out of the way, we have only the numbers and our eyes as a guide. Despite batting .211 in the five games against the Dodgers, Utley is hitting .303 this postseason, above his average. But his home run in Game 3 against Colorado is his only extra-base hit so far. He has walked eight times, struck out seven times. On several of those occasions, such as with bases loaded in the fourth inning of Game 5 last Wednesday, he was caught looking.

Utley struck out three times in Game 5. Twice looking.

"He's not hurt," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel insisted yesterday. "He's just not seeing the ball well right now.

"It's a feel. It's hard to explain to somebody. Even when I was a hitting coach, it's hard for somebody to explain the feel. Every day is different. Some days when you pick up a bat, you feel like you can hit anybody. Actually, the first thing you do when you get to the ballpark, can't wait to pick up a bat and see how it feels to you. But that's kind of what it is.

"You go through streaks where you're just not hitting. I'm sure pitchers go through it, too. That's just how it goes."

Ah, but there is more intrigue. There always seems to be with the elusive Utley, one of two players the Phillies made available after yesterday's practice/simulated game at Citizens Bank Park. If it were just his hitting, just a minislump in a short series, just a temporary drought of power, then Manuel's mantra makes total sense.

But we've seen the what-else. We all saw the wild throwing error in Game 2 of the League Championship series, which followed a wild throw on a similar play in Game 1. We all read Mitch Williams' comments, that he believes the Phillies' second baseman is favoring a right foot that may have been injured when Utley fouled a ball off it in the final weeks of the regular season.

In Philadelphia, the day after his error cost the Phillies Game 2 of the Dodgers series, Utley took ground balls and relay throws at second under the watchful eye of third-base coach Sam Perlozzo, who has worked diligently on Ryan Howard's technique this season.

The day before, Perlozzo had described Utley as someone who doesn't always look great playing the position, "but gets the job done." Those who have watched his defensive maturation know that what we have seen this postseason - and to be honest, over late September - is not typical. These days, Utley often double-clutches before throwing. During the games in LA, a couple throws nearly pulled Howard off the bag.

So he's hurt, right? Foot or hip, he can't move around as well as in the past. Except for this: Utley has two stolen bases, has scored eight runs. He hopped happily into the batter's box yesterday, and I mean hopped, swiveling in the air, landing down hard.

No grimacing, no gingerly dancing afterward.

"I think the days off right now are pretty special," he said at one point yesterday. "You don't have many days off during the regular season. You let your body relax, heal up. It's a good thing."

A hint?

Maybe. Maybe not. Utley was answering a question about the Phillies' 7-day layoff before they play the Yankees starting Wednesday night. Maybe it makes all the difference in the world to him and he tears it up over the next seven possible games. Certainly, that was the thought in resting him over the last week of the regular season; he hit .429 in the Colorado series, getting six hits in 14 at-bats.

"A lot of it is in your head," Manuel said, and maybe that's all it is. His preparation, study and stoic demeanor have led to quick fixes in the past.

In your head?

We've been led to believe that Utley's dome is above all that.

So if it isn't his foot or his hip, we may want to re-evaluate that.

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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