Utley: There’s Still Time
Is it too late for the Phillies?
“There’s no doubt in my mind there’s plenty of time,” Utley said before Monday’s game against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. “I know there are some people that have given up on me. And there are some people that have given up on this team. But I’ll be the first one to tell you that I definitely haven’t given up on myself, and I know our guys have not given up on this year. We have strong-willed guys on this team.”
Those were uncharacteristically strong comments from Utley, who has been on the disabled list since the season started because of chondromalacia in his left knee. He worked out with the team Monday and will play a rehab game Tuesday with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Assuming he feels OK, expect Utley to be activated and hitting third in the Phillies lineup Wednesday.
The Phillies certainly could use him in the lineup, in the field and in the clubhouse, which has been noticeably more blasé than past seasons.
Charlie Manuel is looking forward to Wednesday.
“Utley is our three-hole hitter,” he said. “I think he is the guy that works the count. I think he is the guy that when he’s right he’ll hit 25-30 homers. I think he is the guy that’ll hit .300. I think he is the guy that can knock in 100 runs and score 100. That’s what I picture Utley to be. I think until we find somebody I think can do better more than likely he’s going to land in that three-hole.”
And Manuel still believes Utley can be a productive three-hole hitter?
“I think he’s earned a chance to see if he’s that guy,” Manuel said.
“I do believe that,” said Utley, asked if he can be the hitter he was a few years ago. “There’s no doubt that (his legs) are stronger than they were last year. Having my legs under me is an important part of that. But time will tell.”
Utley would not say he is completely pain-free in his knees, but “I’m in a much better place than I was a month ago and I’m encouraged by that. I wouldn’t be out there if I felt uncomfortable.”
Utley hit .156 (5-for-32) in nine rehab games with Class A Clearwater, but it is difficult to read much into that. For example, he went 1-for-10 in a rehab assignment in Clearwater in 2007. He hit .332 that season for the Phillies.
“Every day, it seemed to get a little bit better,” Utley said. “I had some good swings and some bad swings, which was anticipated. But I’m optimistic of how things went.”
Manuel indicated Utley will be worked in slowly before they turn him loose, but Utley believes he should be eventually playing five, six or seven games a week.
No pressure, Chase.
“Anytime you add pressure to this game it will just make it more difficult. I understand,” he said. “I’ve been around here for a long time. We’ve had successful years here. I’m just as excited as the fans are to get back on the field.”