While every story at this time of the year should probably have a gigantic “it’s only been four games” disclaimer across the top of the screen in size 72 font, Chase Utley would like to let you know that he is feeling pretty good.
Even though the Philadelphia Phillies have started the year 1-3, Utley has been a bright spot in an otherwise less-than-exciting start for his team. He has seven hits in his first 15 at-bats, including four extra-base hits and six runs batted in.
No, his 1.404 OPS isn’t going to hold up, and he’s not going to keep pounding the ball the way he has been early on, but Utley is making the case that his knees are feeling a heck of a lot better than they were last year, and maybe better than they’ve ever felt.
Take Thursday’s game in Atlanta for example. With Utley on first base and Ryan Howard batting with one out, Howard crushed a ball deep to center field that on many June or July nights leaves the ballpark. Alas, with April weather in the air, the ball died right around the warning track.
Utley found himself caught around second base, and knew he would have to hurry to get back to first. He took a sharp cut to re-touch second base and darted back to first, playing at the high-octane style we have grown accustomed to seeing Utley play at.
Last year, that type of play from Utley just wouldn’t have been possible with the condition his knees were in. Utley did have some signs of life last year after his return, but he seemed to struggle in the final weeks of the season.
To be frank, Utley probably just didn’t have the energy and lift in his knees. In his final 17 games, Utley had just a .689 OPS and didn’t drive the ball the way he did early in his return. If he looked like he was laboring in the final weeks, it’s because he was.
There are plenty of questions as to whether or not Utley’s hot start is just a mirage, and plenty of questions as to whether or not he will look this way in say, July or August.
For now, however, the bright spot in the Phillies’ lineup has been Utley, and they wouldn’t want it any other way.