Chase Utley is back!
He'll be activated from the DL before today's game, where he's been since late June with a sprained ankle. But he's back now! And right when we need him most! Cole Hamels is gone, Alumni Weekend is over, and Jimmy Rollins has left town with the Dodgers because that's who he plays for now. But Utley is a franchise legend who still plays for the team! Not every vestige of the Phillies' recent glory days is gone! Let us all cling tightly to Chase Utley! We don't know when he could be taken away from us!
As Todd Zolecki mentioned in his tweet above (thanks for using that picture, Todd!), and in the accompanying piece, Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin is going to try and get Utley into the lineup four days a week. That would displace Cesar Hernandez, who has been playing second since Utley's injury. Since June 15, Hernandez has played in 43 games and hit .322/.376/.404 with ten doubles and two triples. (And an above average BABIP of .401.) In that time, he raised his average from .218 to .283! Utley has hit .179/.257/.275 this season while injured (not to mention a shockingly low .186 BABIP).
So how is that all going to work? Well, when Utley plays, he'll displace Hernandez. Hernandez can ride the bench, or displace someone else on the field, like Freddy Galvis at shortstop. Galvis could then sit or take Odubel Herrera's place in center field. Galvis has never played center, but with his defensive abilities the Phillies seem game to try him out. Hernandez could also take a few reps at third base, giving Maikel Franco a day off but also taking a few more at-bats away from Andres Blanco, who has been with the team all season though you may not have noticed.
Thankfully, Pete Mackanin has recognized that this situation is complicated and difficult. So he tried something that was novel and rare during the Ryne Sandberg era: talking to his players. From Zolecki's article:
"It isn't easy," Mackanin said. "But I've already had a meeting with Cesar, Freddy and [Maikel] Franco. And even with Whitey [Andres Blanco]. They're all aware of the situation and the need to get Chase at-bats."
Mackanin doesn't just want Utley to get at-bats because he's a franchise legend who needs to shake off the rust. Utley is waiver trade candidate this month, so he needs to get back on the field and up to speed ASAP to entice interested teams.
Utley went 6-for-11 in his three rehab games at AA Reading. To make room for Utley on the 25-man roster, the Phillies optioned outfielder Jordan Danks back to AAA. In the same breath, the Phillies also did a little reliever switcharoo, optioning RHP Dalier Hinojosa and selecting the contract of LHP Adam Loewen from AAA Lehigh Valley.
I'll admit that I have weirdly and unexpectedly mixed feelings about Utley's return. I love Chase Utley, but I've gotten used to watching this team without him. And what's more, it's been a cosmic relief to not have to watch him struggle through unsuccessful at-bats over and over again every day. It's depressing to watch him like that, since memories of his awesomeness are so clear in my mind.
More than anything, I think my feelings are a sign that I'm ready for the team to move on. Losing Cole Hamels was like ripping the band aid off of a horrible, ugly scrape. But now the wound is exposed. Why not do more painful things to it before covering it up again so it can heal properly?
No matter what, it'll be good to have him back. Even for just a little while.