TRENTON, NJ- Playing defense in a game for the first time in six weeks, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley looked solid in the field for Double-A Reading in a rehab appearance on Tuesday night.
In the Fightins’ 7-1 defeat of the hosting Trenton Thunder, Utley, who has been sidelined since June 22nd with a right ankle injury, went 1-for-4 with a strike out and two runs scored.
On the bases, Utley didn’t miss a beat, going from first to third on a Brock Stassi RBI single in the 7th. In the field, the six-time National League All-Star had seven balls hit to him and fielded each one cleanly, including three grounders in the opening frame of the contest.
“I think when you’re playing defense you always want the ball hit to you. Three ground balls in the first inning was a nice challenge,” Utley stated.
On a night that saw his long-time double play partner Jimmy Rollins return to Philadelphia for the first time since he was traded to Los Angeles last off-season, Utley acknowledged missing the event. He asserted, however, that after one more rehab outing with Reading on Wednesday that he could have a chance to see Rollins before the series against the Dodgers is through.
“Obviously, we spent a long time together, but I imagine I might have the chance to see him on Thursday, or so,” Utley said, suggesting he is likely to return to the big league club at that time.
With a brand new partner in the middle of the infield, Phillies top prospect and 2013 first round draft selection J.P. Crawford, Utley turned two double plays for Reading. Of the youngster’s talent, Utley, who was also a Phils’ first round draft pick (2000), had some positive feedback.
“J.P.’s a young, exciting player,” Utley asserted. “But, just tonight, you can see that he’s gifted defensively and he has some bat speed and he knows what he’s doing with the bat, so it’ll be fun to see him improve.”
The 36-year-old veteran went 2-for-3 as the designated hitter for Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Sunday and according to him, the time spent rehabbing isn’t necessarily about results.
“I was just trying to create some timing. A few at bats I had some timing, a couple at bats I was a little off. So, it’s a work in progress, trying to improve every at bat,” Utley said.
For Reading, the debuting Jake Thompson, acquired in last week’s trade that sent Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman earned the win with seven strong innings in which he allowed one earned run on six hits while striking out one and walking none. Also making his debut with Reading following that trade was outfielder Nick Williams, who went 2-for-5.
Crawford spoke of Utley- “He’s a great guy. He’s taught me a lot. I mean, just looking up to him, and especially playing with him today and turning some double plays, he’s a great guy to be around and I love playing up the middle with him.”
Manager Dusty Wathan spoke on his double play combination of Crawford and Utley- “It’s not bad. I think the guy at short’s got a good future ahead of him and I think the guy at second’s had a pretty good career so far.”
I asked Utley about being the guy that prospects look up to and if he had a guy that left similar impression on him when he was a prospect-
“Obviously, I’ve been around a little bit. I’ve had a little success. I’ve been on some bad teams and I’ve been on some pretty good teams, so I think I have some experience to pass on to the young guys. But at this stage, at the Double-A level, it’s all about trying to continue to improve and if they do that, obviously, there’s a lot of talent on this Reading team, I imagine you might see a few of these guys in the big leagues in the future.”
“I was fortunate enough to play with Jim Thome. He was an idol of mine in high school. So, I had the opportunity to play with him for a few years and spend some spring trainings with him and pick his brain. As anyone who knows Jim, you know he’s a great guy. So, he comes to mind first, for sure.”
Thompson, who was also part of a deadline deal swap from Detroit last summer, spoke of his successful outing- “It was good. I went out there and threw strikes. I got a lot of easy ground ball outs and the defense worked behind me.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been traded. My debut with the Rangers, I was really, really nervous and I went out there and I didn’t throw very well. So, (this time) I tried to stay calm and stay within myself and I think I did a pretty good job of that.”
Check out footage of Utley’s single against Thunder hurler Caleb Smith in the media player below-