Phillies' Utley will bring plenty of questions north with him

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has been sidelined all spring with patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia, and bone inflammation in his right knee.
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has been sidelined all spring with patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia, and bone inflammation in his right knee.
Posted: March 28, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The tiny blue stepstool may have been added to the packing list for the Phillies equipment truck headed back to Philadelphia. It is, after all, one of the only ways Chase Utley has been capable of fielding ground balls this spring.

Utley will come with the team, but his opening-day activity will be limited to a light jog toward the first base line during pregame introductions. He will take batting practice, just as he's done all spring, and possibly lash a few of those lobs off the green Citizens Bank Park wall. If the stool doesn't come north, he'll find something else to sit on while taking grounders.

That is all Utley - sidelined with patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia, and bone inflammation in his right knee - can do.

Everything about Utley's spring has been nebulous, from the initial diagnosis to his visit to a mystery "rehab specialist." For two weeks, the second baseman has remained silent, refusing to comment on his health. On Monday, while the Phillies conclude Grapefruit League play, Utley will address reporters about his uncertain future.

There are likely no clear answers and in some ways, that explains Utley's reluctance to speak. The usual briefings from Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. result in some form of "status quo."

"I'm sure he's frustrated," Amaro said recently. "He should be frustrated. We all would. But actually his demeanor is pretty good. I know he's disappointed he's not playing, but he understands it, and he's being patient as he possibly can. He's not a real patient guy, but overall he's being pretty patient.

"He's not happy he's not playing, but he's not distraught."

The greatest emphasis has been placed on patience. Head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan said the team needed to do research on more conservative options to treat the chronic knee problems. Surgery, as Utley said earlier this spring, is not "cut and dried." The fact that the Phillies are willing to first exhaust all nonsurgical options explains the complex nature and uncertain prognosis surgery provides.

After the diagnosis, Utley was asked about possibly being ready for opening day. He began speaking of the three years left on his contract and how he has a whole rest of a career left to worry about.

That raised plenty of eyebrows.

Sheridan has emphasized the need for patience when implementing the conservative treatments, suggesting others have not devoted enough time to them. All signs point to Utley being out for a lengthy period, especially given his lack of improvement in the last month.

The question is: How long?

And then, even if Utley can rehabilitate the knee enough to return to action, will increased strain make it unplayable again?

Those questions and more have spawned melodramas such as Luis Castillo's delayed arrival to Phillies camp because of a "miscommunication" between him and his agent. Incredibly, Castillo - paid $6 million by the insolvent Mets to simply go away - stands a great chance of making the Phillies. He might even be starting at second on Friday.

Of course, Castillo is no Utley. But the one thing he does well is something Utley does well, too, and one the Phillies could miss most: He takes pitches. Without Utley and Jayson Werth - now with the Nationals - the Phillies lineup contains many free swingers. Both Castillo and Utley saw 3.99 pitches per plate appearance in 2010.

The 35-year-old Castillo will never match Utley's slugging, but he can get on base. It could provide some small solace.

Yet, if the Phillies' Four Aces deliver as expected and the offense regularly fails to support them, the absence of Utley will hang over a team with great hopes.

Unfortunately for the Phillies and their fans, progress will be immeasurable before Utley starts running and fielding on his feet. Until then, if the stepstool didn't make it north, there is always the lawn chair.


Utley's Career Statistics

Year, Team   AB   R   H   HR   RBI   AVG   

2003, Phillies   134   13   32   2   21   .239   

2004, Phillies   267   36   71   13   57   .266   

2005, Phillies   543   93   158   28   105   .291   

2006, Phillies   658   131   203   32   102   .309   

2007, Phillies   530   104   176   22   103   .332   

2008, Phillies   607   113   177   33   104   .292   

2009, Phillies   571   112   161   31   93   .282   

2010, Phillies   425   75   117   16   65   .275   

Career   3735   677   1095   177   650   .293   


Utley Among Phillies Second Basemen

At this point in his career, Chase Utley ranks behind only Fresco Thompson in career batting average on the all-time list of Phillies second basemen. Here are Utley's numbers compared to the other best-hitting second basemen.

   G   AB   R    H   2B    3B    HR    RBI    BB    SO    OBP    SLG    AVG.   

 Fresco Thompson 575    2332    369    700    141    32    12    219    186    126    .343   .404    .300

Chase Utley*    1006    3735    677    1095   237    28    177    650    423    669    .380    .514    .293

 Bill Hallman    850    3464    590    986    148    39    10    470    248    137    NA    .359    .285

Bernie Friberg    504    1620    191    452    81    12    11    155    195    195    .349    .364    .279

Manny Trillo    502    1860    197    516    85    14    19    160    111    195    .321    .369    .277

Mickey Morandini 965    3413    434    911    169    44    20    254    310    546    .334    .360    .267

Granny Hamner    672   2558    331    680    121    33    52    334    182    183    .313    .400    .266

Juan Samuel    801    3304    491    872    173    70    92    393    190    780    .309    .442    .264

Tony Taylor    1113    4066    537    1072    150    49    40    329    331    598    .325    .354    .264

Cookie Rojas    771    2764    321    713    94    8    27    222    149    228    .296    .327    .258

* active


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb.

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