Utley passes the test
MIKE FEIFEL/TIMES NEWS Chase Utley takes a swing before stepping into the batter's box last night on a rehab assignment with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He went 2-for-5 and hit a home run in a 10-3 win over Rochester.
ALLENTOWN - "So far so good."
The first words uttered by Utley after the game were a bit of an understatement considering what had just occurred.
The 10,100 capacity fans at Coca-Cola Park represented all Phillies fans as they gave a standing ovation to their hero as he rounded the bases in the top of the fourth inning. Moments earlier, the slugging second baseman drilled a 1-2 pitch over the right field wall for a solo home run.
With one swing, Utley pumped faith back into the many disheartened Phillies fans who were thirsting for anything that could show them hope. On top of that, with the news that Ryan Howard could soon be rehabbing the season looks far from over.
"My whole mentality is come to the park with a winning attitude, prepare to win, and let the chips fall as they may," Utley said. "I think if we do that collectively we'll be in good shape."
Utley, who suffers a degenerative disorder in his left knee called chondromalacia, is optimistic that when all is said and done, the Phillies will be back on top. First, he has to jump through these hoops of strengthening his knee and rehabbing to the point where he can play in Philadelphia.
"I think I am little more confident," Utley said. "For me, I think the bottom line to me is keeping my legs strong without irritating them," Utley said.
In warm-ups, he impressed manager and Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg.
"I saw good quickness. A quick first step and it looked like Chase Utley to me," Sandberg said. "I think the test is to watch him during the game to see all the action he gets, to see his reads, the first steps, running the bases, and the timing at home plate."
Before the game, Sandberg took the opportunity to hit grounders to him with a fungo bat.
"It's fun and I got a kick out of hitting ground balls to him," Sandberg said. "He's a hard worker and he's dedicated to the game and dedicated to the organization. He's one of the top guys in the organization for what he can bring to a team and to a lineup."
What did he bring to the IronPig lineup. Chaos!
After going 4-4 on the recent road trip, Utley's presence stirred a buzz in the clubhouse that flowed out to the field. Lehigh Valley hitters lit up Rochester starting pitcher Brendan Wise. By the third inning they had racked up seven runs and 13 hits.
"I think the fact that he was here went a long way with our guys and it showed in the game," Sandberg said.
For Utley, a 2-for-5 night with a single and a solo homerun, the Phillies fans must be feeling the same 'buzz' in the air.
"I felt pretty good out there," Utley said. "It was nice to play in front of a big crowd. The Lehigh fans were awesome tonight. We scored some runs and swung the bats really well. It was a pretty exciting game."
Utley's fielding was also tested. The results were a resounding "PASS".
The most difficult of chances came in the fifth inning. Red Wing third baseman Danny Valencia chopped one over the pitcher. Utley had to maneuver behind the mound, field the ball and throw across his body to throw out Valencia.
"I didn't get too many opportunities down in Clearwater," Utley said.
At the plate, Utley was comfortable swinging the bat. He flew out to left field in his first at-bat. In the second inning he singled to set up the fourth-inning blast.
"It was a change-up that was left a little bit up I was able to put the barrel on it," Utley said.
The experience for Utley to play for a manager with Sandberg's credentials was also rewarding for the Phillies second baseman.
"Ryne Sandberg goes down as one of the greatest second basemen of all-time. It was an honor to play under him, take batting practice and fungos from him." Utley said. "I got a chance to pick his brain in Spring Training. He's a very intelligent baseball man."
The choice on whether or not he stays in Lehigh Valley or moves on to Philadelphia is now in the hands of Ruben Amaro and the rest of the Philadelphia brass. When he does return to the Phillies, Sandberg already knows what will take place next.
"He's a very valuable guy to the Philadelphia Phillies and I think he can give them a spark if all the things go well here."