By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun and CM Report
With all of their offensive struggles this season, the Phillies are hoping that having second baseman Chase Utley’s bat in the lineup will be like manna from heaven.
There’s a strong possibility that Utley could be back in the Phils starting lineup this Wednesday in the third game of their four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He will be in the starting lineup on Tuesday for another rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
“We’ll see if he passes the test the way we think,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “We want to make sure that he’s ready to play in the big leagues and he’s not going to have a setback. We want to make sure that he’s absolutely, positively ready.”
Meanwhile, Utley said he is pleased with the progress on his knees because of his rehab work down in Clearwater and is optimistic that he will be even better and pain-free.
“I’m definitley getting closer,” said Utley, who worked out with the Phillies on Monday. “I’m encouraged by the way things went in Clearwater and I’m excited to get back up here.”
Utley said that as long as his knees continues to respond well and that he is in a better place than he was about a month ago. He said that after playing Single A ball, he wants to get his timing back at a level one step below the majors.
“I wouldn’t be out there if I felt uncomfortable,” Utley said. “Defensively is where I think another game will be beneficial. Just trying to get more some more rhythm and get the flow of the game back. Playing at the Triple A will be a little bit quicker than Single A.”
Offensively, Utley said he is swing is getting better every time he gets a chance to get an at-bat. Witnessing the teams’ struggles over the past couple of months, it has been difficult for Utley to not rush rehab.
“It’s extremely tough for the past month not to rush things, but I’ve realized the more I rush it, the worse things can get,” Utley said. “I think we’ve been smart about and we’ve done things the right way. We’ve moved forward in a progressive manner. I like that it’s gone well.”
Utley said he believes that he can be the hitter that he was three or four years when averaged over 25 home runs and over 100 runs batted in per year before the troubles with his legs.
“I do believe that. I think having my legs under is an important part of that. Time will tell.” Utley said. “I don’t plan on changing how I play. I think play the game the way it should be played. Play hard every single day and that’s not going to change as long as I’m on the field.”
Manuel also believes that Utley is still capable of hitting in the three-hole in the Phillies lineup. He said Utley is the man until proven otherwise.
“I think he is the guy who works the count, I think he is the guy when he’s right, he’ll hit the 25 or 30 homers, I think he is the guy who will hit .300, I think he is the guy that knock in 100 runs and score 100,” Manuel said. “Until we find somebody I think can do better, more than likely he’s going to land in that three hole. He’s earned a chance to see if he’s that guy. In my mind, he’s earned a chance.”
Even though the Phillies are five games .500 and mired in last place, he believes the Phillies will be back in the hunt for a playoff berth before it’s all said and done.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s plenty of time,” said Utley. “I know that there’s some people who have given up me. There’s some people who have given up on this team, but I’ll be the first one to tell that I haven’t given up on myself and I know our guys haven’t given up on this year. We have strong-willed guys on this team. The majority of the games we’ve lost, we have had a legit opportunity to win these games. All it takes is one good bounce our way and things can change.”