Phillies have their doubtsUtley can transition to third
By ROB MAADDI
The Associated Press | August 30,2012
Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley fields a grounder hit by the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Lombardozzi during a recent game.
PHILADELPHIA — Ten years later, Chase Utley is considering the hot corner again.
Utley, the Phillies’ five-time All-Star second baseman, took grounders at third base several hours before Philadelphia played the New York Mets on Wednesday night.
It’s uncertain whether he’ll do it in an actual game.
“I figured I’d give it a try just to get back over there, get my feet wet, just get a feel for the position again,” Utley said. “It could be an option in the future. It’s way too early to have an opinion either way on how it’s going to go. I might take some more ground balls in the future. But I think if I’m able to play over there, it could create some more flexibility as far as the organization is concerned. It’s just something I wanted to give a try and I may do it again.”
While the idea is still in the early stages, it created quite a buzz around a team that’s used to preparing for the postseason at this point instead of looking ahead to next year.
Utley last played third base in 2002 at Triple-A. It didn’t go well. He made 28 errors in 123 games and moved back to second base the following season.
“He struggled with the throwing part of that, in the first 40 games or something, he had something like 15 or 20 errors,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “I guess he got much better toward the end. He improved quite a bit as the year went on. Who knows how it’s going to play out, or if it’s going to play out.”
Manager Charlie Manuel said the possibility isn’t “real serious” right now.
“He just went out there one day,” Manuel said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Some in the organization aren’t sure the 33-year-old Utley can make a smooth transition.
A team official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity, that he questions whether Utley has the “arm strength or athleticism” required to play third base and “doubts” he could do it as an everyday player.
If Utley could play third, it would be a major boost for the Phillies. Placido Polanco isn’t coming back as a full-time starter next year and the market is thin at third base. Freddy Galvis filled in nicely the first two months this season when Utley was on the disabled list, so he would be the starting second baseman.
“He’s proved — at least for part of the season — he’s a guy that, at the very least defensively, is going to be very, very good,” Amaro said of Galvis. “What kind of player he’s going to be later on, who knows? Frankly, when Chase mentioned it to me, maybe it makes some sense to take some ground balls.”
Amaro said he was surprised when Utley approached him with the idea a few days ago.
“But it was very cool,” Amaro said.
The transition from second to third might be especially tough for a veteran with bad knees. Utley missed the first 76 games this year because of a chronic problem in both knees and he sat out the first 46 games in 2011.
Mets six-time All-Star David Wright doesn’t think it would be less taxing for Utley at third base.
“It seems all the same to me,” said Wright, a two-time Gold Glove winner at third. “There’s probably different aspects of it. Obviously at second base, you have to turn the double play. But at third base, there’s a lot of charging on bunt plays. There’s probably less ground to cover side to side at third base. The ball comes at a different angle, almost the complete opposite. He seems like he’s a good athlete and he’s a hard worker. I’m sure he could do it if he wants to.”
Wright said Utley’s biggest adjustment would be reacting to the speed of the ball.
“It’ll be very difficult if you are used to having that extra split-second until the ball comes to you, but you don’t have that at third,” Wright said. “The ball is right in front of you. It’s a lot less mechanical. You have to be able to react, and make the right first step.”
Amaro said trying Utley in the outfield remains a possibility. The Phillies traded former All-Stars Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence on July 31 and will be looking for starting outfielders next season.
When asked about the outfield, Utley flatly said: “No.”
But Manuel said Utley has shagged some fly balls before games. Manuel also pointed out the Phillies won a World Series in 2008 with Pat Burrell in left field. Burrell was a below-average fielder.
When Burrell was here, however, the Phillies were an excellent defensive team. They had Victorino in center field and Jayson Werth in right. The left side of the infield with Jimmy Rollins at shortstop and Pedro Feliz at third was outstanding.
The Phillies could overcome Utley’s shortcomings at third or in left field if they had a better defense around him. Defense has hurt the Phillies this season, and it’s an area they must address.
“Playing outfield is more than judging fly balls,” Manuel said. “It’s knowing how to take the proper angle to a ball, holding runners and keeping them from going first to third or second to home. That’s probably cost us at least five games this year.”
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed to this report.
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