Chase Utley rounds the bases after hitting a home run in his first at bat of the season.
On Monday, we talked about Ryan Howard's struggles at the plate since returning from the disabled list in early July, and how the fact that he was seemingly rushed back to the Phillies probably didn't do himself or his timing any favors.
But how about his fellow infielder, Chase Utley? Like Howard, Utley missed a significant amount of time due to injury to start the season, and only recently returned to action. It was on June 27th that he returned to the Phillies, after a ten-game rehab stint in the minors.
His return to the Phillies got off to the fastest possible start, as he homered in his first at-bat back in red pinstripes, on a night in which he would go 3-for-5 at the dish. After that, he faltered a bit, as he would hit a paltry .192 with one homer (and no other extra base hits) over his next 15 games.
But as Utley has proven over his career, it's hard to slow him down for too long. He proved that yet again, as he bounced right back over his next 15 games with an impressive line of .302/.439/.698 in 53 at-bats. He tallied five homers in that span, with four doubles, a triple, and 12 walks.
All told, Utley is sporting a .264/.364/.509 line through 31 games this season, with seven homers and 16 RBIs. It's not an impressive line, not by far, but considering that, just a few months ago, we were learning that he had a chronic injury in both knees? Not too bad, at all.
Fortunately, the one thing that Utley's injury hasn't done is slow him down on offense. While his lower half is crucial in generating bat speed to drive the ball, it's obvious that his swing is no worse for the wear. Of course, he's been playing for all of a month, so we need to see how he holds up at the end of the season before getting too excited.
For Utley, and for the Phillies, the rest of the season should be about preserving him as best they can. With nothing left to play for, it doesn't make any sense to run him out on a nightly basis, lest he wear down toward the end of the season like he did in 2011.
Because even though 2012 is lost, that doesn't mean that 2013 has to be, and if the Phillies are going to bounce back from this tough season, they are going to need Chase Utley to do it.