Phillies Notebook: Sidelined Phillies star Utley hopes to carry added strength into September

Utley
Utley
Posted: August 09, 2010

TURNS OUT, there is a small silver lining to the thumb injury that has sidelined Chase Utley since late June. Not only has it forced him to spend less time burning calories during games, it has enabled him to spend more time in the gym building the type of muscle mass that usually requires an offseason.

The result is a bulked-up second baseman who looks destined to enter September with more physical strength than he has had in either of the last two seasons.

"I've been able to lift a lot more, both legs and upper body," said Utley, who is still holding out hope that he can return before the 8-week prognosis the Phillies gave after his July 1 surgery to repair a torn ligament. "So I guess there's a positive in all this, maybe."

Utley isn't exactly the incredible shrinking man (or, for that matter, the incredible shrinking Charlie Manuel), but the high-motor second baseman does tend to lose a significant amount of weight over the course of a season. Most years, he'll drop 5 to 10 pounds from April through September. Yesterday, however, Utley estimated that he has added 3 or 4 pounds since his surgery.

Three or 4 pounds might not sound like a lot of weight, but the difference is noticeable. Two hours before the series finale against the Mets, Utley ran a series of timed sprints from first to third under the supervision of stopwatch-toting strength coach Dong Lien. Wearing gym shorts and a tight-fitting T-shirt, he looked very much like the player who reported to spring training wearing what looked like an extra layer of lean muscle from his chest down to his calves.

"I don't think it will hurt," said Utley, who was hitting .277 with an .849 OPS and 11 home runs when he hurt his right thumb sliding into second base against the Reds on June 28. "I think it will help, just being a little bit stronger at this point of the year . . . Last year I lost 5 pounds. In years before I've lost up to 10 pounds. So right now I'm about the same weight I was breaking spring training."

Statistically, Utley's most productive (and most powerful) month is April, when his body is still reaping maximum benefit from his rigorous offseason conditioning program. His two least productive (and least powerful) months are August and September, when the everyday grind of the season has melted away some of the muscle mass from his 6-1, 192-pound frame.

It's hard to say there is a definite correlation between his statistics and weight. But in the first month of the season over the course of his career, Utley has posted a .996 OPS and averaged one home run every 13.9 at-bats. In the last month, he has posted an .825 OPS and averaged one home run every 25.0 at-bats.

One exception was 2007, when Utley hit .321 with a .916 OPS in the final 32 games of the season. Although he hit just five home runs in 131 at-bats, his .519 slugging percentage was 50 points higher than his career average for the month of September.

That season, Utley missed a month with a broken hand, returning to the lineup in the last week of August. Three years later, he is once again aiming for a late-August return. The Phillies hope he comes back just as strong.

Victorino eyes Friday

The schedule Shane Victorino spelled out for himself yesterday has him returning to the lineup on Friday, 1 day after he completes a three-game rehab stint at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Victorino, sidelined since July 28 with what has officially been called a strained oblique, expects to play for the IronPigs tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday. He is eligible to return from the disabled list on Thursday but doesn't expect to be activated until Friday, at the earliest.

Victorino, one of three regulars on the DL, has had an inconsistent year at the plate, hitting .250 with a .311 on-base percentage - both of which are about 30 points below his career averages - yet slugging a career-high 15 home runs.

Power hour

You know you are in a home-run hitter's park when 40-year-old Kevin Stocker is sending balls flying over the outfield wall with regularity. The former shortstop, who hit 14 home runs in 545 games with the Phillies from 1993-97, slugged four homers to help lead his team to victory in yesterday's alumni batting challenge.

Phillers

Outfielder John Mayberry was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley after the game. The Phillies will make a corresponding roster move tomorrow . . . Jamie Moyer will have to pitch well into his 50s if he hopes to play a major league game with his son. Dillon, the oldest of eight children and a middle infielder, has decided to attend UC Irvine on a baseball scholarship rather than sign with the Twins, who drafted him in the 22nd round out of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) in June . . . Ryan Howard was walking better on his sprained ankle yesterday, despite some noticeable swelling in the joint. The first baseman, sidelined since being injured on Aug. 1, expects to be ready to return by Aug. 17, when he is eligible to be activated from the DL . . . The Phils are off today. Pitching probables for the three-game series against the Dodgers that starts tomorrow at Citizens Bank Park: Vicente Padilla vs. Kyle Kendrick tomorrow; Chad Billingsley vs. Roy Oswalt on Wednesday; and Clayton Kershaw vs. Joe Blanton on Thursday.

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