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From David Laurila’s Prospectus Q&A with Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes:
David Laurila: You’ve received a lot of credit for the team’s improved baserunning in recent years. What have you done in that regard?
Davey Lopes: Actually, just getting them to pursue going first to third, and the guys that we feel have base-stealing ability—getting them to utilize their speed more. Over the last few years, it’s been pretty successful, but this year we’re a little bit slow for whatever reason.
DL: Slow in what way?
Lopes: The numbers. Mainly the stolen-base attempts are just not there like they have been in the last three years that I’ve been a part of the organization. One reason is that Jimmy Rollins is hurt and he’s our main guy as far as attempting to steal bases. Vic [Shane Victorino] is starting to pick it up. And Jayson [Werth]—and I use the term loosely—is not very aggressive at all, for whatever reason, this year. Chase [Utley] has been hampered by a little bit of a knee injury. That’s more than likely why our numbers are down, but it’s still confusing to me as to why they haven’t been as aggressive in attempting to steal.
DL: You mentioned that the team isn’t running as well this season. Is that reversible, or indicative of a team that is maybe getting a bit older and slower?
Lopes: Well, I wouldn’t say that it’s not reversible, but the only way that it’s going to get any better is to, a) Get Jimmy Rollins back and he’s healthy; b) The other guys that aren’t attempting to run need to start putting pressure on the defense by running. Now, I can’t force them to run. All that I can do is point out certain things, and then it’s up to them. But Victorino is starting to come along, and right now he is really the only one running, or attempting to steal, because Jimmy is hurt. Chase has had some problems with his knee, and Jayson has had a horrendous slump for the last month or so. So I think that once they just get back to hitting, and back to winning—these things help us win. When you get on base and the opposition presents you with an opportunity to steal a base—if we don’t capitalize, we’re only defeating what we’re built around.
Since May 25 (21 games), Utley is 12-for-76 (.158) with two extra-base hits (two doubles) and a .270 OBP/.184 SLG. A knee problem would certainly explain Utley’s offensive woes. However, by all accounts, he has played fantastic defense. His UZR/150 is at 16.3, just a bit higher than his career average 14.0. If Utley’s knee was truly problematic, we would expect it to also translate into poorer defense, no?
Perhaps the knee injury has simply forced Chase to alter his swing mechanics. From a Jayson Stark article at ESPN on June 4:
Once again this week, let’s check in with some of America’s most brilliant scouting minds:
On Chase Utley: “He looks like he’s not seeing the ball. He’s shooting the bat out like he’s just trying to make contact, instead of firing the bat out to try and drive it. It just looks like he’s not seeing it out of the pitcher’s hand, and that’s what’s always made him so good, why he hits left-handers so well. He just sees the ball so well. But not right now.”
The big difference in the spray charts (thanks, Texas Leaguers!) before and during his offensive slump are pitches he pulls down the right field line.
Also notable is that, in the smaller span of games, Utley has a similar amount of ground balls to the right side of the infield.
That Utley is nursing an injury should come as no surprise to anyone as he is well-known for hiding his wounds. Unfortunately, as bad as he has been hitting, the Phillies can’t afford to give him an extended period of rest as a lineup consisting of both Juan Castro and Wilson Valdez is begging for a shut-out.
UPDATE: GM Ruben Amaro disputes Lopes’ claim that Utley is injured. Via Jim Salisbury:
Amaro had a sharp response to Lopes’ comment on Friday afternoon.
“Davey Lopes is not a doctor. He’s not our spokesman. He has given out wrong information,” Amaro said in a telephone interview with CSNPhilly.com. “Chase is not injured. There is no injury. I will dispute what Davey says. That is false and incorrect information.”
Amaro, for the first time, did admit that Utley has dealt with some soreness in his knee. Amaro was not sure which knee was affected.
“He has had some intermittent soreness like any other player has over the course of a season,” Amaro said. “Guys get soreness in their wrists, their ankles. Pitchers get soreness in their shoulders after they throw. That does not mean they are injured. Every guy who puts an ice pack on is not injured.”
Amaro was asked if the team had administered an MRI on Utley’s knee.
“No,” Amaro said. “There is no injury. It is not an issue. I don’t even think he’s on our injury report.”