Utley the all-star: 'It is nice to be back'

A big hit in all-star balloting, Chase Utley hasn't been as hot at the plate as he was in March and April when he hit .355. YONG KIM / Staff
A big hit in all-star balloting, Chase Utley hasn't been as hot at the plate as he was in March and April when he hit .355. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: July 08, 2014

PITTSBURGH - Chase Utley usually shrugs off individual achievements, but the Phillies second baseman couldn't hide his pride Sunday at being named the National League's starting second baseman for the All-Star Game. The game will be played July 15 in Minneapolis.

Fans chose Utley as a starter in a landslide: He received 2,866,529 votes. Dee Gordon of the Los Angeles Dodgers finished second with 2,090,882 votes.

It has been a long, tough road back to Utley's first all-star selection since 2010. In 2011 and 2012, he was slowed by injuries to both knees and limited to a total of 186 games.

"Obviously, you guys know I have had some issues over the past couple of years," Utley told reporters at PNC Park after a 6-2 loss to the Pirates. "I think that all the time and hard work I have put in paid off."

Utley appeared in 131 games last season, missing about a month with an oblique strain. This season he has been healthy throughout, having appeared in 84 of the 88 Phillies games.

He is batting .286 with six home runs and 40 RBIs. He leads NL second basemen in doubles (24) and extra-base hits (33).

Utley said that being named an all-star for the first time since 2010 made him appreciate the honor even more.

"Absolutely," he said. "Obviously, your first All-Star Game, you really appreciate it, but after the issues I have gone through the last two or three years, it is nice to be back."

This is Utley's sixth all-star selection, and each time he has been chosen as a starter. Utley earned all-star honors in five consecutive seasons from 2006-10. He was unable to play in the 2010 game because of a thumb injury. He was the only Phillie named this year.

The only NL second basemen who were voted in more times as starters were Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg (nine) and Joe Morgan (seven). Mike Schmidt is the Phillies' career leader, winning the fan balloting at third base nine times.

Utley has tailed off at the plate since his hot start in March and April, when he batted 355 with three home runs, 14 RBIs, and a .978 OPS. Through the end of May, he was hitting .320. Even with the slide, he is third among NL second basemen in runs (46), second in RBIs, and fourth in average.

Sandberg said the key has been Utley's regimen in staying healthy. He stretches religiously.

"He has figured out a system and a routine that agrees with him," Sandberg said. "The way he plays hard and runs hard, I would say his range has picked up on defense with his legs being healthy."

Utley, 35, has the reputation as one of baseball's hardest workers and is among the most respected players.

"He is a professional player and plays the game the right way," said Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, who finished third in the voting. "He plays good defense, hits in the middle of the order, and does a little bit of everything, and that is what makes him so special, in my opinion."

Being on a last-place team (37-51) has worn a bit on Utley.

"Ideally, it would be better if we had more wins in the win column, but obviously I am honored to represent the Phillies and National League, and it is going to be a lot of fun," he said. "It has been a few years since I have been able to participate, so I will try to enjoy it."


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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