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Chase Utley's Return and What It Means to the Philadelphia Phillies

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 17:  Chase Utley #26 of the Philadelphia Phillies at bat against the San Francisco Giants in Game Two of the NLCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Citizens Bank Park on October 17, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Tom MechinAnalyst IMay 22, 2011

It’s being reported that the Phillies plan on calling up franchise second baseman Chase Utley in time for Monday’s series opener against the Cincinnati Reds.  There has been speculation for a week now that Utley would return for this series, although General Manager Ruben Amaro has denied it.  However, it’s difficult to take Amaro at his word on anything as most of what he says turns out to be false, as he runs one of sports tightest lipped front offices—not sure if that’s good or bad for the fans.

What will Chase Utley bring to the table?  Will he be the Utley of old, the one who’s an offensive force and can carry a team on his back?  Will his knee hold up the remainder of the season?  What type of rest will it require to stay in the lineup through yet another long October run?

I’m a pessimist by nature and have a hard time seeing good in much (there are exceptions), but even I’m having a hard time envisioning how this is anything but fantastic news for the Phillies and their fans.  Utley is returning to the lineup at precisely the right time, when the team needed a moral booster and something positive to focus on.  

No one can, nor should, expect Utley to go out and play like the Hall of Fame-caliber second baseman we’ve seen throughout his career.  After not having played healthy, meaningful baseball at a high level for nearly an entire year (when he returned from his thumb injury last year he was not 100 percent healthy and it showed), he’s going to be rusty.  He’ll probably struggle offensively—and perhaps defensively too—for a while, until he fully tests his knee at the major league level.  

However, Utley’s return to the Phillies lineup is about more than just his own production or where he bats in the lineup.  (Although that itself is a good question also: Where does Utley bat?)  His return will take pressure off other members of the team.  Ryan Howard will no longer feel he is the only legitimate threat in the lineup.  Jimmy Rollins can stop trying to hit home runs to replace Utley’s, and go back to trying to hit home runs to show off what a 5'7" man can really do.  Raul Ibanez and Ben Francisco can stop trying to replace both Chase Utley and Jayson Werth—and start figuring out how to keep Dominic Brown from replacing them.

There will be a lot of questions the Phillies and Utley face.  No one can be sure how his knee is going to hold up, whether or not the injury will reoccur or when and how the damage will negatively affect his play.  And with Chase Utley there’s always the possibility that he will re-aggravate the injury and refuse to acknowledge it, thereby potentially hurting the team also.  

But nothing bad can come from this move right now.  It will all be smiles in Phillies-land tomorrow, and it should be.  Win or lose against Cincinnati, and the feelings around Citizens Bank Park will be warm and cozy—unless of course something disastrous happens, although I’m not allowing myself to go there.  Charlie Manuel, for the first time all year, will be able to write Chase Utely’s name into the lineup.  He will probably bat second, between Rollins and Polanco, and the Phillies will have two star offensive players in the lineup again.  

Utley will probably play well in his first game back—adrenaline and all—but will struggle afterwards for a while until he regains his footing and form.  In any case, this is excellent news for Phillies fans.  Chase Utely should be the spark this team needs to continue on in its quest for another World Series Title.  Welcome back, Chase Utley.

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