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Thoughts on Chase Utley

(Photo: AP)

After witnessing Chase Utley move about the infield with seemingly the same lateral quickness and the same Chase Utley-burst we’ve all come to enjoy, it seems as though a comeback is not too far off. When that day is, the Phillies and Utley will not say, and of course it’s better that way. By stamping a date on it, you’ll only set yourself, and the fans, up for disappointment.

On Sunday, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro addressed the media and said “It’s literally still just a day-to-day thing.” When asked if Utley could head to the Florida State League for extended Spring Training, Amaro used cautious optimism. “I guess it’s possible, but we’re not putting any timetable on it.”

But which Chase Utley will we see when he does come back? Is it the Gold Glove caliber, 30 home run hitting, 100-RBI producing, .900-OPS guy? Or will he return a step slower with his legs and with his bat? Time will tell, but if Chase has anything to say about it, he’ll be out to prove that his skill set has not diminished in the wake of a fairly major injury.

Our naivete would be apparent if we believed he would come back and not be afforded the occasional hiccup. Then again, our hearts and minds think differently; we long for the Chase of old, which is not that far off in the distance. Patience here is key; perhaps the Chase of old will reappear in time.

In 2010, Utley dealt with injuries, limiting him to 115 games. His final numbers would suggest a bit of a letdown; . 275/16/65 with an OPS .832. Thirty to forty more games would have given Utley the opportunity to boost those lower-than-normal figures, although nothing is certain, of course.

Admonish me for saying this – and I have no empirical evidence supporting this claim, obviously – but I feel as though we’ll get a less-than-Utley Chase Utley, at least in 2011. That’s not to say with a full, healthy offseason he can’t get back to being one of, if not the top second baseman in the game. Just think about the rigors of the game; there are 162 of them per season, there is traveling from coast to coast on a weekly basis, there is the weight of the media (although Utley doesn’t really deal with that part too often). Add to that a rehabilitation schedule that is likely sucking out every ounce of Utley’s sweat and tears, and you could very well see something closer to 2010 Utley than 2009 Utley.

Then again, to be fair and play both sides of the fence, the rest for the rest of his body could do an Utley good, which is exactly what he’s getting.

If you’re asking me for a time frame, I’d say Utley could be back in the final week of May. That all depends on when he can finally play in extended spring training games, which Charlie Manuel said could happen very soon. After that, he’ll need plenty of at-bats against live pitching before being summoned to the majors once again.

Luckily, the Phillies have been afforded the time to wait for Utley. Plus, at 80-90 percent, he’s better than the Wilson Valdez’s and Pete Orr’s of the world – no offense. So even though we are seeing Utley move about in simulated games and fielding drills the same way we have the past eight-plus years, it’s best to put a lid on the expectations. Once as certain as death and taxes, a healthy, uber-productive Chase Utley is no longer a certainty.

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