Amaro plays it cautiously with Utley

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has been rehabbing with the Clearwater Threshers. (Photo by Tim Boyles)
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has been rehabbing with the Clearwater Threshers. (Photo by Tim Boyles)
Posted: May 19, 2011

U need 2 come home. Now. Plz. LOL. RAJ.

 You know it is there somewhere in Ruben Amaro Jr.'s BlackBerry, the text message he so desperately wants to send Chase Utley down in Florida but knows he cannot. Not yet. Not now. Utley needs time. He needs to turn more double plays. He needs at-bats. He really needs to play a full nine innings; and then do it again; and then maybe, just to be sure, do it again.

But if the Phillies' offensive woes get much worse, if Ben Francisco and Michael Martinez and Dane Sardinha have to play again, heaven forbid in the same game, well, let's just say Amaro is not making any promises.

The Phillies ended their four-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rockies, but it is not like they put on an offensive assault. The Phillies managed five hits, two from Wilson Valdez, but they leaned on another strong night by Cole Hamels and another successful close by Ryan Madson.

The home run derby this was not.

"You don't like to lose that many games in a row," Hamels said afterward. "We have tremendous pitching, and we're going to have to go out and stop the bleeding."

The Phillies seem to think that the answer to what is ailing their bats is two-pronged: They need their money players to return to the lineup so that they are not playing three, four, or five bench players as starters; and they need Utley back to give the team a presence it so desperately is missing early in the lineup.

Maybe they are right. Maybe this recent cold stretch is not symptomatic of a bigger problem like the one that bit them in the playoffs last season. Maybe it is as simple as getting a couple of players back, of avoiding lineups that looked like this one in St. Louis on Tuesday night: Rollins, Martinez, Polanco, Howard, Mayberry Jr., Francisco, Valdez, Sardinha, Oswalt.

But relying on Utley's returning from missing the entire season with patellar tendinitis in his right knee to be the Utley of old is an awfully risky proposition. Utley is not going to be automatic when he returns, which very well could be before this nine-game homestand is over. It is going to take Utley a while to catch up. And if anything, it would be nice for him if the Phillies had figured out their offensive problems so he doesn't have to press from the jump.

Amaro said that while he is tempted by the idea of rushing Utley back from Florida, where he continues to rehab his right knee and play for single-A Clearwater, he is planning for the long haul. The Phillies will need Utley in September and October. There is no reason to risk a serious setback for a problem in May.

But the Phillies could use a hot bat. Those have been scarce lately.

Maybe, depending on how things go in June and July, the Phillies will make a trade for a bat. But they are not in a rush. They are going to wait until they have their starting lineup together for a while before they make any rash decisions, because they do not think their problems are that serious. Amaro said getting Utley back will be akin to getting a player in a trade, whether you believe that or not.

Entering last night, the Phillies had lost four straight games on the road. In those losses, they had gone 17 for 120 (.142) with seven total runs. They failed to get more than five hits in four consecutive games for the first time since 1974.

"I'm not saying our team is in a sort of a slump," Charlie Manuel said, "we just don't have what we call our regular players in, the guys that we pay the money to put in the lineup to hit."

The Phillies have gone through this before. Last year after 41 games, they were 26-15, one game better than record this year after 41. They lost 14 of their next 20 games. Six of the losses were shutouts, including that awful series on the road against the Mets when they were outscored by 16-0.

There was also a 2-6 streak in late June/early July, and a 1-7 streak in mid-July that dropped the Phils to seven games back in the standings, their largest deficit of the season.

And they still finished with the best record in baseball.

It is May, and there will be plenty of problems in the middle of the summer that will overshadow this one. But the Phillies need to be careful if they are planning to rely on Utley to be the savior. That's a lot of pressure on the 32-year-old second baseman. He will have enough of that under the best of circumstances when he finally takes the field with that bum right knee.


Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/AshleyMFox

 

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