Results tagged ‘ Chase Utley ’

Cesar’s Time: Utley Is No Longer No. 1 Second Baseman

Chase UtleyChase Utley is the greatest second baseman in Phillies history, but it appears Cesar Hernandez’s time has come.

Hernandez, 25, entered tonight’s game against the Dodgers hitting .302 (54-for-179) with 10 doubles, one triple, one home run, 19 RBIs and a .771 OPS in 71 games. Meanwhile, Utley is on the disabled list with an injured right ankle. He is hitting .179 (39-for-218) with seven doubles, one triple, four home runs, 25 RBIs and a .532 OPS in 65 games.

But is the iconic Utley, 36, still the primary second baseman when he returns from the DL?

“Not for me he’s not,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “Cesar Hernandez is our best second baseman.”

So whenever Utley returns …

“I would assume that Cesar will be our second baseman,” Amaro said. “Chase’s situation will kind of dictate itself, how he feels. There’ll be time for him to play, I think. He could play some first base. He could play some second. But as far as I’m concerned, just like what our plan has been for a long, long time, that’s to give opportunities to young men who could be part of our future. Cesar Hernandez has been one of our best players on the field right now in a variety of ways.”

Not surprisingly, Utley had little reaction about Amaro’s comments.

“Well, I think Cesar has done a really good job,” Utley said. “There you go.”

Pete Mackanin seems to be on board with Amaro. Asked for a health update on Utley before the game, Mackanin said, “I haven’t heard a word. But with Cesar playing so well, it’s not really a big deal for the simple reason that Utley has not played and seen pitching, so when he does come back … you really can’t count on him. How long has it been? Two weeks. And by the time he starts taking BP and all of that stuff, it’s probably going to be a month before he comes back in and then what do you do? I don’t know.”

Utley’s ankle has improved since a cortisone injection. He could begin baseball activities before the end of the road trip.

He also said recently he could be back on the field before the end of the month.

Utley to DL, Ryno Surprised

Ryne Sandberg, Chase UtleyChase Utley is down.

The team announced late Tuesday night it has placed him on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right ankle. It is the same ankle that Utley badly sprained in January during offseason workouts, and the same ankle the forced him to miss the beginning of Spring Training.

“It’s hard to tell,” Utley said, asked how much the ankle has affected him at the plate. “Obviously, it’s been bothering me for a little while. Most players have aches and pains through the year. So I’m not shocked with that. It’s really showing no improvement. So I think it’s a good time to get it right. We will have a cortisone shot tomorrow. We’ll take a little time off and hopefully, that will get it squared away.”

Utley is hitting .179 (39-for-218) with seven doubles, one triple, four home runs, 25 RBIs and a .532 OPS in 65 games. His batting average and OPS are last among 163 qualified hitters in baseball.

The Phillies almost certainly do not mind Utley’s trip to the DL because he has a $15 million club option for 2016 that automatically vests if he reaches 500 plate appearances. He has 249 through the team’s first 73 games. Depending on how much time he misses and how well Cesar Hernandez plays as his replacement, the option could no longer be an issue upon his return.

“Talking to the doctor today, the more time I can lay off it the better chance it has to heal properly,” Utley said. “I don’t have an exact time frame. It will be at least 15 days.”

Utley said his knees, which have been an issue in the past, are healthy.

Ryne Sandberg said he was surprised by the news because he said Utley told him he had been fine.

“My communication with Chase throughout this season about playing is that he’s been up and willing to go and no really reports of anything holding him back,” Sandberg said. “I was a little bit surprised by it in some regards.

“I don’t know if it’s affected him, but to get it taken care of with a stint on the DL is the next step to see if that helps him get that behind him. But the way that he’s moved around and run the bases and run hard and played defense, I don’t think it was holding him back all that much, in my opinion. But to have it bothering now, as he said it has kind of crept up on him to the point of getting it rechecked and re-evalutated. That’s what he feels.”

Sandberg’s comment that he was unaware of any issues with Utley’s ankle is interesting because the Phillies said Utley had a MRI on May 16, which showed some inflammation and swelling.

“It was present on the bone itself,” Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan said. “Most of the ligaments on the outside are healing pretty well. The ligament on the inside still had some healing to still go. He has some symptoms that we want to take care of. So we’ll place him on the DL and try to get him healthy.”

Utley’s Playing Time to Begin Dwindling?

Chase UtleyChase Utley did not play today at Citizens Bank Park.

It was the fourth time in seven games he had not started at second base, although in two of those games he served as the Phillies’ first baseman and designated hitter. Utley’s playing time is being monitored closely these days because he is hitting .182 with a .539 OPS in 244 plate appearances through June 21.

Utley has a $15 million club option for 2016 that automatically vests if he reaches 500 plate appearances this season.

He has 91 games to attain the remaining 256.

Utley declined to discuss his future with the Phillies or his option this morning at Citizens Bank Park, but Ryne Sandberg said after a 9-2 victory over the Cardinals that he would like to see Cesar Hernandez play more in the future.

“I’ve been trying to get him in there,” Sandberg said. “He does a nice job so going forward … wait and see.”

“I definitely feel like I could be the second baseman of the future and I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunity I am getting right now,” Hernandez said through translator Juan Samuel.

Asked about Utley’s future with the organization, Phillies president Pat Gillick said today, “Chase probably is disappointed in his performance to this point. I think he’s a little bit frustrated with his performance. I think maybe we just have to wait and see. Unfortunately, he got off to a bad start in Spring Training with his sprained ankle. But right now he’s not performing up to his standards and certainly we can’t be satisfied with what he’s doing, either.”

But would it be negligent for the organization to have Utley reach the 500-plate appearance mark if he continues to struggle? Utley is hitting .217 with 19 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs, 70 RBIs and a .617 OPS in 602 plate appearances over 150 games in the last calendar year.

“That’s up to the manager,” Gillick said about Utley’s playing time. “We don’t have anything to say about that.”

Really?!

Ruben (Amaro Jr.) to my knowledge and myself, we’ve never dictated to any of the managers their lineup,” Gillick insisted. “They’re free to make their lineup and play whomever they wish.”

If that is truly the case, then it seems Sandberg is already on his way to playing Hernandez more in the future.

But like Sandberg and Gillick said, wait and see.

Utley’s Head Back Above Mendoza Line

Chase UtleyChase Utley finally has his head above the Mendoza line.

It has been a long climb since his batting average dropped to .099 on May 8, which was the lowest batting average among qualified hitters through a team’s first 30 games since 1914. But Utley went 3-for-4 with a home run in last night’s 5-4 victory over the Reds at Citizens Bank Park to raise his average to .207.

It was the first time his batting average had hit .200 since April 14.

“Obviously the first month didn’t go as planned,” Utley said. “But you can’t really change that. You’ve got to continue to move forward. The last month or so has been a little better. You just try to build on it.”

Utley has hit .347 (25-for-73) with six doubles, one triple, one home run, eight RBIs and an .908 OPS in 22 games since May 8.

Perhaps Utley’s luck has finally turned in his favor.

His batting average on balls in play had been .079 through May 8, which was easily the worst BABIP in baseball. But his .393 BABIP since seems to be evening things out.

“It became a little frustrating at times,” Utley said. “Because you know you’re putting some decent at-bats together hitting balls, maybe not perfect, but well enough where you feel like you may deserve a hit here and there. For whatever reason, they weren’t really falling. You try not to change too much, but mentally it can be tough.”

Utley started last night’s game with a bunt single down the third-base line. The Reds had employed the defensive shift with Reds third baseman Todd Frazier essentially playing shortstop. Ryne Sandberg had been begging his hitters to drop a ball down the line to beat the shift, and Utley finally did it.

“I figured I’d try it,” he said. “I think over the course of a year guys should try it. Whether it works out or not, at least it’ll get the defense thinking a little bit.”

Utley singled to left in the third before homering in the sixth. It was his first homer since May 1 in Miami.

“They say they all even out,” Utley said. “We’ll see if that happens.”

Playing Howard and Utley Could Help Phillies’ Rebuild

DENVER, CO - MAY 20:  Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies is congratulated in the dugout by Manager Ryne Sandberg of the Philadelphia Phillies after he hit a solo home run during the second inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 20, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

DENVER, CO – MAY 20: Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies is congratulated in the dugout by Manager Ryne Sandberg of the Philadelphia Phillies after he hit a solo home run during the second inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 20, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

This is why the Phillies didn’t bench or release Ryan Howard just two weeks into the season.

Remember? That’s what many fans wanted. Howard was hitting .175 (7-for-40) with three doubles, two RBIs, two walks, 15 strikeouts and a .464 OPS though April 19. They wanted Darin Ruf. They wanted Maikel Franco. They wanted Chase Utley.

They wanted anybody other than Howard.

But Howard is hitting .292 (28-for-96) with five doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 18 RBIs and a .961 OPS in 27 games since April 19. Only four players have hit more home runs than Howard since he hit his first homer of the season April 21: Bryce Harper (11), Giancarlo Stanton (10), Ryan Braun (nine), and Todd Frazier (nine). Howard’s OPS is 19th out of 191 qualified hitters in baseball in that span.

If he maintains the pace he has had since April 21 he will finish the season with 35 home runs.

Think a contending team could use somebody like that?

The Phillies had nothing to lose by continuing to play Howard, just like they have nothing to lose continuing to play Utley, despite his struggles. If Howard maintains his pace and if Utley picks up offensively — he has hit well over the past week — the Phillies might be able to trade one or both of them before July 31.

If they don’t, they didn’t lose anything.

Remember, this season is about the future. Benching or releasing the greatest first baseman and second baseman in franchise history based on a couple bad weeks (Howard) or six bad weeks (Utley) is short sighted. There is plenty of time to see Cesar Hernandez and Ruf.

But what about Utley’s $15 million club option that vests if he reaches 500 plate appearances? Relax. Utley is on pace for 555 plate appearances, but even if the Phillies play him at his current pace and he is hitting .150 through July 31, the Phillies could make up the difference the final two months of the season.

So consider the big picture with Howard and Utley. Sticking with them through the trade deadline is the best plan for the future.

Utley Heads to Bench

lineup 2015Ryne Sandberg issued an interesting lineup for tonight’s game against the Braves.

First, Chase Utley is on the bench. He is hitting .103 this season and .215 with a .610 OPS in 555 plate appearances since May 29, 2014. Let’s see what Sandberg says in the dugout, but if I’m the manager I tell Utley to take a seat tonight and tomorrow night. There is an off day Thursday, so Utley could have three consecutive days to relax and clear his head. Jeff Francoeur said a weekend off benefited him Monday, when he went 4-for-5.

An extended rest has benefited other struggling hitters in the past. It might help. It might not. But it’s something to at least try.

Second, Ben Revere is playing right field for the first time since 2012, when he played 84 games there with the Twins. I think this is a precursor to Maikel Franco‘s promotion from Triple-A, which could happen as early as May 15. Whenever Franco is promoted the Phillies will want him to play regularly. That means plenty of time at third base, which means Cody Asche moving to left field.

Is It Just Bad Luck for Utley?

Ryne Sandberg, Chase UtleyChase Utley continues to hit third for the Phillies, despite the fact he entered tonight’s series opener against the Cardinals hitting .121.

Utley’s April batting average is the third-lowest in Phillies history among hitters with 40 or more plate appearances. Bill Kelly hit .119 in April 1928. Roy Sievers hit .114 in April 1962.

“He’s just a series or two away from getting hot and getting to where he wants to be,” Ryne Sandberg said.

Utley has been hitting the ball hard throughout the month, but he has had little to show for it. Some of it is bad luck. He has a .104 batting average on balls in play, which is the second-lowest BABIP in baseball. The average Major League player this season has a .290 BABIP. As FanGraphs explains: “For hitters, we use BABIP as a sanity test of sorts that tells us if their overall batting line is sustainable or not. Virtually no hitter is capable of producing a BABIP of .380 or higher on a regular basis and anything in the .230 range is also very atypical for a major league hitter. In other words, BABIP allows us to see if a hitter seems to be getting a boost from poor defense or good luck or getting docked for facing good defenses and having bad luck.”

“There’s something to that,” Sandberg said. “He’s stung the ball.”

Utley has a career .302 BABIP, including a .295 mark last season and a .305 mark in 2013. So expect Utley’s numers to improve at some point. When? That’s an entirely different question.

Worst Start Ever for Utley

Chase UtleyRyan Howard takes the heat, but Chase Utley is struggling worse than Howard through the Phillies’ first seven games. In fact, this is the worst start of Utley’s career through the team’s first seven games.

Rk Year #Matching PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS ▾
1 2014 6 Ind. Games 28 24 3 11 3 0 2 6 3 2 .458 .536 .833 1.369
2 2008 7 Ind. Games 32 26 8 9 2 0 3 6 5 0 .346 .438 .769 1.207
3 2010 7 Ind. Games 34 26 8 9 2 0 2 6 8 1 .346 .500 .654 1.154
4 2009 7 Ind. Games 31 25 7 10 1 0 1 5 5 3 .400 .516 .560 1.076
5 2013 7 Ind. Games 30 27 5 10 2 1 1 7 2 5 .370 .400 .630 1.030
6 2005 5 Ind. Games 16 15 2 5 0 0 1 5 0 3 .333 .313 .533 .846
7 2007 7 Ind. Games 35 31 4 8 4 0 1 3 2 7 .258 .314 .484 .798
8 2006 7 Ind. Games 29 27 2 6 3 0 0 3 1 5 .222 .276 .333 .609
9 2015 7 Ind. Games 26 22 1 2 0 0 0 3 2 6 .091 .154 .091 .245
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/14/2015.

“It’s just a matter of time with Chase,” Ryne Sandberg said after yesterday’s 2-0 loss to the Mets. “I have no worries there. He gets quality at-bats. Chase will be fine. We just need to create some opportunities with men on base for those guys in the middle of the lineup.”

I’m not sure if Sandberg is saying Utley and Howard are struggling because the No. 1 and 2 hitters aren’t getting on base enough, but that should not affect Utley or Howard at the plate that much. Will Utley be better than he has been? Yes, although he has not homered since Aug. 10. It is the longest homerless drought of his career, stretching to 175 at-bats. But he posted a 1.297 OPS in Spring Training, so he was swinging the bat well recently.

Is he the only reason the Phillies are struggling offensively? Absolutely not. But he is a big reason why the team has scored just 16 runs in seven games.

Sandberg said he is not considering any significant changes to the lineup. I think that could come in time, but seven games into the season is not the time to bump Utley and Howard. I know nobody likes to hear this, but a big part of managing is managing people. You don’t take two long-time Phillies and in one day move them out of the spots they have been hitting their entire careers. They deserve a little more time. How much time? I’m not sure, but certainly more than seven games.

Utley’s Ankle Is Better, But Not 100 Percent

Chase UtleyThe Phillies hope today  represented just another step in Chase Utley’s chances to be in the Opening Day lineup.

He played in his first Grapefruit League game today in a 2-1 victory over the Rays at Bright House Field. Utley has been slowly recovering from a sprained right ankle, which he suffered in January when he stepped on a baseball.

“It feels pretty good,” Utley said about the ankle. “Still making a little progress on it. It’s not perfect yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Utley was a designated hitter for four innings, striking out swinging in the first inning and singling to right-center field in the fourth. Aaron Altherr pinch-ran for Utley, and Altherr scored on Ryan Howard’s two-run home run.

“It felt good to get out there in front of the crowd, get some at-bats off an opposing pitcher,” Utley said. “It was nice.”

“I thought Chase looked great,” Ryne Sandberg said. “I thought he laid off some pitches. His swing was good, with the base hit, and ran well.”

Of course, the next step is playing in the field. Sandberg and Utley offered no timetable for that.

“I think we have to talk about it,” Utley said. “I think there might be another DH in there, but yeah, I’d like to play the field soon.”

Utley Could Play Friday

Chase UtleyChase Utley could play in his first Grapefruit League game tomorrow.

Ryne Sandberg said today that Utley could be the Phillies’ designated hitter against the Rays at Bright House Field. Utley has not played in a game this spring because of a sprained right ankle, which he injured in January when he stepped on a baseball. Utley’s ankle has made incremental progress over the past several weeks, and apparently he has made enough to step into the batter’s box and potentially run the bases.

Utley’s health is worth following. First, the Phillies desperately need his bat in the lineup. Second, he has a $15 million club option for next season that automatically vests with 500 plate appearances.

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