Short break for All-Star Utley

Posted: July 18, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS - When the Annual New York Yankees Midseason Retirement Party - er, Major League Baseball All-Star Game - came to an end on Tuesday night, Chase Utley became the final Phillies player to get a mid-July break.

Utley packed his things and, like everyone else in greater Minneapolis, headed for the airport. He didn't have to be anywhere until tomorrow, when the Phillies open a three-game series at Turner Field in Atlanta.

"No matter how you're doing I think it's important to be able to take this time and step back a little bit, give your body a break and give your mind a break because it's a grueling season," Utley said. "We're playing pretty much every single day and it can wear on you, so I think these 3 or 4 days are important for everybody."

Some seasons are more grueling than others. Losing certainly adds to the wearing-on-you part.

At least publicly, Utley doesn't look at it that way, despite the fact that his team is in last place in the National League East, with a double-digit game deficit behind the first-place Braves and Nationals, and with the fact that the Phillies team he last played with last weekend could look a heck of a lot different between now and 2 weeks from today, when the trade deadline arrives.

Utley, 35, who went 1-for-1 with an RBI double in Tuesday's All-Star Game, has said repeatedly that he wants to stay in Philadelphia regardless. He re-signed for at least 2 more years last August, despite the downward direction the franchise has taken since reeling off 102 wins three seasons ago.

He's OK with whatever Ruben Amaro Jr. and Co. end up doing - or not doing - in the season's final 2 1/2 months.

"I personally want to win as many games as possible," Utley said. "So however the front office feels is the best way to go about it, I'm OK with that. The goal is to win and try to improve. If that's adding young guys, if that's keeping old guys. To me, it doesn't matter."

The reality is the Phillies probably haven't hit rock bottom yet. And it's close to impossible for them to get any older.

If and when they're able to trade away some of their aging veterans, like Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Jonathan Papelbon, etc., the team won't be any better this year. So for Utley and those others most likely to stay, the losing will continue when July turns to August and August gives way to September.

But, in the long run - and Utley could stay in Philadelphia for 4 more years if he remains healthy - change in the next few weeks could be beneficial.

"I think energy is important," Utley said when asked if new, young blood could infuse life into the roster. "Energy on the baseball field creates excitement, it creates confidence. It gets the fans into it. Any time you can add energy to the field, it's a good thing."

And is there enough of that on the current team?

"I think there could be more," Utley said. "Definitely."

But Utley also hasn't given up on 2014.

There are 67 games remaining in the season, which doesn't seem like a whole lot, but Utley has been on teams that have made up deficits in a lot less time. Of course, those teams only had to leap-frog over one team, not four.

"There are plenty of games to make up that ground," Utley said. "We have to play better baseball, there is no doubt about that."

After a couple days of rest and relaxation, Utley hopes to lead some kind of second-half resurgence. The All-Star break - a vacation for last-place teams - is ending and the reality of the 2014 season will return.

Manager Ryne Sandberg said he wasn't pleased with the season's first 3 1/2 months, but voiced optimism with what's to come. Cliff Lee returns to the rotation on Monday, and Carlos Ruiz begins an official minor league rehab assignment today in Clearwater.

For the third straight year, the Phillies have not played up to expectations; they have a rising payroll and a declining roster. But for players like Utley, it doesn't do any good to look back.

He can only look forward, and hope.

"There's nothing I could put my finger on on why we haven't won as many games as we should have," Utley said. "We just have to try to improve. I say that a lot, but that's the mentality we have to have - wanting to improve and trying to improve on a daily basis."

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