Amaro on potential third baseman Utley

Ryan Howard connects on a double to rightfield that scored Chase Utley during the first inning of Friday's game in Houston. For game coverage go to www.philly.com/sports.    ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ryan Howard connects on a double to rightfield that scored Chase Utley during the first inning of Friday's game in Houston. For game coverage go to www.philly.com/sports.    ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: September 17, 2012

HOUSTON - For the fifth time in 2 weeks - and the third time this week - Chase Utley took ground balls at third base before the Phillies' game Friday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

With Triple A pitching coach Rod Nichols soft-tossing underhand throws to the plate, Triple A manager and Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg hit a couple dozen hard ground balls to Utley at third. Utley handled them with ease, tossing the balls into a bucket.

When it was over, Utley, Sandberg, Nichols, infield instructor Sam Perlozzo and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. converged in a small circle in front of the visiting dugout.

With the increased reps lately, are the Phillies prepping to place Utley at third in a game soon? What is the likelihood he opens next season at third base? Does it improve the team?

Amaro answered those questions and more in a Q&A with Sportsweek.

Sportsweek: Going into the offseason, you probably need to have some idea if this will work. Are next 3 weeks important? How can you gauge that?

Ruben Amaro Jr.: I think a lot of it depends on whether we even get the opportunity to have him play third base. It'd be great if we could. It would be tough to put him in that position when we're still trying to battle for one of those playoff spots. I don't think that's really fair to put him in that situation, or whether it's fair to the club to do that. But we'll see. A lot of it is just a testing ground for him, to see how comfortable he is with it.

SW: Let's say in 2 weeks he's comfortable with it. Can you go into the offseason and feel 100 percent comfortable he's the solution there?

RAJ: I don't know. A lot of it depends on how he feels, what he thinks he can do. He's the kind of player that, even if he doesn't get a chance to play in games, he might be able to will himself to work himself that he'll be an adequate third baseman. I don't know that yet. It's a risk obviously, without having seen him play at this level, to kind of hand that over to him. It would probably behoove us to have some kind of backup plan if in fact we don't acquire or decide to go with another everyday, regular third baseman. But it's good to have him as an option.

SW: Don't you have to cover yourself, though, in the event that next March you figure out it's not going to work?

RAJ: [Kevin] Frandsen has done a nice job there . . . Michael Martinez is a pretty good defender there, I don't think he's an everyday third baseman. There may be some internal candidates that can give us some depth there. We may be out there acquiring somebody. There aren't any decisions that have to be made today. Having him as a possible option is a good thing. And the more possible options we have . . .

I can't sit here and say it's a slam dunk that Chase Utley is going to be our third baseman in 2013. That's not necessarily fair to him. But as I've said before, if he feels comfortable enough to make that transition, I can't put it past him that he can put himself in position to do that and be adequate over there because of the way he goes about his business. It's not totally foreign to him, he has played the position before [Triple A, in 2002; 28 errors in 123 games]. It's been a long time . . . but he's not walking into a whole new position. Everyone was questioning why we'd sign [Placido] Polanco to play third base, and then he was the best third baseman in the league.

SW: In the end, does Utley at third make you a better team? You'd lose offense at second base.

RAJ: It makes us better defensively. Because I just think Freddy [Galvis] is a Gold Glove-type second baseman. No disrespect to the other guys who have been playing there longer, but Freddy in my mind is as good a second baseman as there is in the league. And I guess people sometimes don't understand the importance of that. I think just having him play there, with the energy he has, the ability to play the position the way he played it, it helped us win a lot of games."

SW: Is it fair to grade Galvis' offense [he hit .226 with a .617 OPS and 24 RBI] on 58 big-league games?

RAJ: He's not going to be a .300 hitter. But Freddy had some productive at-bats. He had more RBI than a lot of guys hitting in a position where he wasn't expected to have RBI. He did a nice job of doing what he needed to do to hit in the eight-hole, he did a nice job there. You have to have young players step up and play and he's a candidate to do that. I don't think we're going into the offseason saying this is our infield, but it's a good option to have.

SW: Do you need to add an impact bat this winter regardless?

RAJ: I think we need a run producer in the middle of our lineup. I'm not happy with our offense. I think that's something we probably need to address.

Trivial pursuit

Jimmy Rollins stole his 400th career base Thursday in Houston. He needs three more to have at least 30 in eight of his last nine seasons.

Can you name the six active players with more career steals than Rollins?

Former Phillie file

The Baltimore Orioles, chasing down their first division title in 15 years, began a 10-day, nine-game road trip through Oakland, Seattle and Boston on Friday. According to a report from MASNsports.com beat writer Roch Kubatko, the Orioles could activate Jim Thome at some point during the trip.

Thome, traded from the Phils to Baltimore on June 30, has been on the DL with a herniated disc in his back since July 31. The 42-year-old is hitting .261 with two home runs and six RBI in 18 games with Baltimore.

Future Phillie file

When Arizona Fall League play begins in less than a month, outfielder Zach Collier is a name worth following.

Collier was selected by the Phillies with the 34th overall pick (supplemental first round) of the 2008 draft. The Phils must decide whether to place him on the 40-man roster or risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft this winter.

The 22-year-old Collier had been hobbled by injuries in his first three seasons in the minor leagues and then had to serve a 50-game suspension at the start of this season for failing a drug test. The drug was Adderall, which Collier was taking for ADHD (attention deficit disorder).

When he returned to the field this summer, Collier showed promise: He hit .269 with 22 extra-base hits, including six home runs, and 32 RBI in 78 games at Class A Clearwater.

Trivial answer

With 400 career stolen bases, Jimmy Rollins ranks 72nd all-time and seventh among active players.

The six players with more career steals than Rollins: Omar Vizquel (404), Jose Reyes (405), Johnny Damon (408), Carl Crawford (432), Ichiro Suzuki (443) and current teammate Juan Pierre (588).


Contact Ryan Lawrence at rlawrence@phillynews.com.

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