Utley says he's ready to come out hitting

Cliff Lee will start the Phillies' opener against the Rangers on Monday - his first return to Texas since 2010. YONG KIM / Staff
Cliff Lee will start the Phillies' opener against the Rangers on Monday - his first return to Texas since 2010. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: April 01, 2014

Chase Utley's statistics were not good this spring, but the Phillies second baseman shrugged off the numbers and talked more about the process.

Utley said he wasn't bothered in the least that he had to go 3 for 3 in his final exhibition game during Friday's 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park just to raise his final spring average to .217.

Utley entered the game with one extra-base hit all spring and departed with two hard-hit doubles.

"The whole goal going into the season is trying to feel as comfortable as possible," he said before the team departed for Arlington, Texas, and Monday's season opener against the Rangers. "You try different things over the course of spring training and you want to go into the season feeling good."

And Utley, 35, enters the season with a positive vibe about his swing and his team. "So far so good," he said.

Utley, who doesn't complicate things, had a simple explanation for his optimism after last season's 73-89 record.

"I like our pitching staff and think we will have an opportunity to score runs," he said.

"We have speed at the top, power in the middle, and guys who can really handle the bat at the bottom of the order. So it is going to give us an opportunity to score runs on a daily basis."

Utley isn't worried about the Phillies' .222 spring average. He thinks that all the experimenting has enabled him to recapture his stroke.

An 0-for-4 game Tuesday against the New York Yankees was an example of Utley's finding his groove. He hit the ball hard all four times, including three that were caught by centerfielder Ichiro Suzuki.

"Chase is a perfect example why we don't worry as much as everybody worries" about the offense, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg have noticed how well Utley's stroke has come along, especially in the last week or so.

He will get his first chance to test the stroke against Texas righthander Tanner Scheppers, who will make his first career major-league start after two successful seasons as a reliever. Scheppers was 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances last year.

The Rangers are a banged-up team with a patchwork rotation. The other starters the Phillies will face are lefthanders Martin Perez and Robbie Ross Jr.

This spring, the Rangers lost second baseman Jurickson Profar (shoulder) and catcher Geovany Soto (knee surgery) for extended time. First baseman Prince Fielder, acquired in a trade with Detroit, and free-agent outfielder Shin Soo-Choo are the new big-ticket items on the offense.

Texas is expected to contend in the competitive American League West. The Phillies have generated far less buzz.

Rollins on baby watch

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins did not fly with the team Saturday, according to a source, but is still expected to be in Monday's lineup.

Rollins' wife, Johari, is due with the couple's second child. The Phillies can place Rollins on the paternity leave list and replace him with a player from the 40-man roster for up to three days.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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