Following last night's win against the Yankees--yay wins!--the Phillies announced that they had placed Chase Utley on the 15-day DL because of inflammation in his right ankle.
This news doesn't exactly come out of nowhere; Utley has played only once in the Phillies' last three games, and, in that one game (Monday night) he was in the lineup as the team's Designated Hitter. Although there had been no indication until last night that Utley was suffering from any particular malady, it is certainly possible that this red right ankle contributed to his limited usage.
The plan seems to be that Cesar Hernandez will start at second base. Hernandez has performed admirably in 151 plate appearances this season, slashing .248/.347/.341 for a 96 wRC+. ZiPS projects him to cool off slightly going forward with a wRC+ of 86 the rest of the way. Sadly, even Hernandez's expected sub-league-average production figures to be an improvement over Utley's .179/.257/.275 line so far in 2015. Of course, the Phillies goal for 2015 is not to maximize 2015 wins, but it is worth noting, and shedding tears over, the fact that replacing Chase Utley, Future Hall of Famer, with Cesar Hernandez figures to improve the team's on-field performance.
Looking a little farther down the line, this development might also--and I feel like an awful, craven human for writing this--benefit the Phillies beyond 2015. Through 73 games, Chase Utley has made 249 plate appearances in 2015. With 251 more trips to the plate--a feat he was likely to achieve if healthy--his 2016 option would vest, locking the Phillies in to paying him $15 million to play for them next year.
If Utley only misses 15 days, that option might still vest if he remains healthy for the rest of the season. Earlier this week, Ryne Sandberg told reporters that the presence of this vesting option would not affect his use of Utley. A conspiracy theorist might read some front-office mingling into this, especially following this tweets from Todd Zolecki:
Utley to the DL. Ryno surprised by the news. "I don’t think it was holding him back all that much, in my opinion." http://t.co/UMCI7sqm9k— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) June 24, 2015
Sandberg surprised by Utley's trip to DL. Said he saw "no real reports" about it and didn't think ankle affected him. http://t.co/KYSnURg2a8— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) June 24, 2015
Utley is 36 and is no stranger to injuries, so I certainly don't believe that the front office is exaggerating this injury to get themselves out of a $15 million commitment in 2016 without any additional information, but a less charitable reader than me might well speculate that to be the case.
Darin Ruf has been called up to take Utley's spot on the 25-man roster. In 78 plate appearances since being sent down to AAA, Ruf has produced the sort of minor league numbers that have had sports talk radio callers fawning over his potential superstardom for ages. In 7 games for Lehigh Valley, Ruf has slashed .308/.321/.346.
His call-up will add to the glut of mediocre outfielders already on the Phillies roster. My fear is that his presence will tempt Sandberg to cut into Dom Brown's playing time. Although Brown has not had great results since rejoining the Phillies, the patient approach that made him such a compelling prospect seems to have returned. In a tiny sample of 38 plate appearances, Dom has career bests in BB% (18.4%) and K% (10.5%). It would be a shame if Ruf cut into his playing time as Brown's recent patience is, at worst, intriguing, and, at best, encouraging.