Let’s forget for a moment that Chase Utley is one of the most popular athletes on the planet.
Let’s imagine he’s a fictional character on Fox’s just-ended TV series, 24—and that he’s withholding some kind of information.
Mr. Utley being interrogated by government agent Jack Bauer?
Well, Chase would prove to be one tough nut for Jack to crack. To the public eye, Utley has always appeared the master of stoicism. No emotion. Totally even-keel all the time.
If Chase has a weakness, he never lets on. If Chase feels pain, he never admits it. If Chase has a secret, well, then good luck trying to get it out…or flush it out, choke it out, burn it out, or cut it out, Jack.
Yeah, that Chase Utley is one tough guy to read…or break.
He’s also a gamer, and never one for making excuses. But his struggles at the plate this season have led this writer to suspect that Chase could be suffering from an injury that he is choosing to bury from the press.
Seems like Utley also has a pretty high tolerance for pain.
Of course, this is all speculation. My next conversation with Chase will be my first ever. But of all the Phillies stars who have struggled in the past three weeks, Utley’s shortcomings are nearly impossible to rationalize.
Ryan Howard has always been a perennial slow-starter. Jayson Werth has certainly shown that he is not the $20 million per-year performer everyone insisted he was just five weeks ago. Raul Ibanez has hit like Raul Mondesi’s grandmother for the past calendar year now.
But Utley, the Phillies' best all-around player and most consistent performer for the past five years, has been this impotent cluster of Phillies’ weakest link. And his struggles are by far the most concerning.
Chase hasn’t been himself for the better part of this year. As Jack Bauer likes to say, “something’s not right.”
Through June 10, 2010, Utley has a .262 AVG, 10 HR, and 26 RBI. Through June 10 last year, he was hitting .303 with 15 HR and 41 RBI. His 2010 slugging percentage (.520) and OPS (.862) are each his lowest since he became a starter back in 2005.
Utley, like most of his teammates, has been in a total freefall for the past month. After hitting .315 through May 15, Chase is hitting .171 (13-for-76) with just ONE home run and FOUR RBI.
Now, to be fair, some of Utley’s lack of production can be attributed to Placido Polanco missing nine games and Jimmy Rollins only playing in 12.
By the way, shortstop-sub Wilson Valdez has walked ONCE this season and hit into NINE double plays. But let’s not talk about Wilson.
Anyway, if Chase’s struggles were caused by a mechanical problem, it’s likely it would have been corrected by now. Everyone says Utley watches as much film and works as hard in between games as anybody.
On the other hand, if Utley is hiding an injury, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Throughout the second half of 2008, Utley continually dismissed the notion that he had a hip injury even though Phillies’ front office personnel suggested otherwise. "I feel like I do every year at this time," told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sept. 18, 2008. Chase wound up having hip surgery during the offseason.
As far as we know, Utley didn’t win up playing through any injuries last season, but his teammate Brad Lidge sure did.
Lidge spent most of last June on the DL, but pitched through elbow and knee ailments throughout the rest of the season and postseason. After the World Series, Lidge finally admitted he had never been fully healthy in 2009, partially explaining his 7.21 ERA and 11 blown saves during the year.
Lidge in ‘09, just like Utley in ‘08, was a real trooper. But acknowledging his ailments at a far earlier date may have benefited both him and his team.
There’s nothing the Phillies need more than a healthy and productive Chase Utley. Because as the listless offensive performances pile up with alarming regularity, the Philly fanbase has only been able to say one thing, the same thing agent Jack Bauer likes to say when things aren’t going too well for him: