It was last season that Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley seemed to have figured the solution to his chronic knee problems. A new offseason program allowed Utley to play in 131, his highest total since he played 156 games during the 2009 season. It was not is best season, but the five-time all-star did better than his 2010 season, the last time he did not miss significant time. It was no doubt a good sign that the only injuries that caused Utley to miss time last season was a rib injury rather than his knees. However, the Phillies need Utley as healthy as possible this year, knees and all.
Obviously the Phillies need Utley healthy because of contributions, but more importantly it is because he is an irreplaceable talent. Neither Freddy Galvis nor Kevin Frandsen can give the Phillies the type of numbers that Utley puts up, but more importantly, losing Utley would be a loss of the team’s soft spoken leader. While Utley is in the dugout whenever he can, even when injured, it is more important for him to be out on the field where he can lead by example.
Utley did not play like a man with chronic problems last year, diving for ground balls and line drives like he always has. It shows a selfless player who is willing to give it all for his team, unlike the team’s more vocal leader Jimmy Rollins, who has been benched for a lack of effort before. However, there is no denying the chemistry that these two have as one of baseball’s top double play combos. Utley might not be the best defensive second baseman in the league, but his effort is more than enough to inspire his teammates to give it their full effort.
Last season may be a good indicator of what to expect from Utley going forward. While he was able to overcome his knee problems enough to consistently play, his knee problems will keep him from being the player he once was. Do not expect Utley to hit 30 plus home runs as he has before, although 20 home runs is certainly not out of the question. Even then, Utley is still one of the top second basemen in the game, something the Phillies should be thankful for.
It still ultimately comes down to whether or not his knees will hold up the way they did last season. Another season of mileage was added to his body after last season, and since he is the type of player to leave it all out on the field, it is reasonable to wonder whether he will be able to remain on the field. His actions will speak louder than his words as Utley is the last person to admit he is injured. He will no doubt be rested every once and a while to keep his legs fresh, but it is important that the Phillies do not give him too much rest, as they need him if they wish to contend.
In the end the Phillies and fans have to trust that Utley’s offseason program has allowed him to overcome his chronic knee problems enough to return to the consistent player he has been for the team.