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Utley 'looks like Chase,' so maybe he is headed for a big season

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
Chase Utley connects for a two-run home run against the Mets on Wednesday night. (AP)

PHILADELPHIA -- To be fair, the Phillies tried to tell us that Chase Utley would be good this year.

"No one believed us," general manager Ruben Amaro said Wednesday.

Maybe that's because the Phillies also tried to tell us that Roy Halladay would be fine. Halladay quite clearly isn't fine.

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Utley quite clearly is.

"He looks like Chase," former teammate Jayson Werth said this week. "And when he's like that, he's the best player in baseball."

For the last two or maybe even three years, Utley has not "looked like Chase." He's been hurt, he's missed games, and even when he has played, he's been nothing like the guy who received MVP votes five consecutive years.

"I hit a few speed bumps," Utley said. "Right now, the road is clear."

There were many times over the last couple of years that the road looked like a dead end for Utley. There were ominous reports about his knees, and it was fair to wonder if he would ever recover enough to be even a solid major-league player again.

It was hard to find anyone willing to predict that Utley would go back to being what he once was, one of the best players in the game.

But Charlie Manuel said it this spring.

"I always felt like both [Utley and Ryan Howard] would come back and have big years," the Phillies manager said.

Manuel said it again Wednesday:

"He's going to have a big season."

Now it's believable, and not just because Utley is off to a strong start. He came into Wednesday night's game against the Mets with a .998 OPS, and Wednesday he hit his second home run.

What's more significant is how Utley looks. The consensus among scouts who have watched the Phillies, both in spring training and in the first week of the season, is that Utley looks completely healthy.

"He's moving good," Manuel said. "He's playing hard, he's sliding hard, he's taking people out. He's having fun. I'm happy for him. I'm really happy."

"He's playing like a 28-year-old," Amaro said.

When he actually was 28, Utley had a .976 OPS, still the best of his career. The Phillies won the NL East that year, beginning a streak of five consecutive division titles.

Utley's knee problems were a big part of the reason the streak ended last year. The Phillies would love to believe that his revival can be a big part of the reason they make it back to the playoffs this year.

If he does, the story of his comeback will be told over and over in September and October, and perhaps for years to come. It's quite a story, in part because it goes against what you'd think would be the best way to recover.

Instead of resting all winter to allow his knees to get healthy, instead of staying away from baseball, Utley basically kept playing baseball.

"He was taking ground balls four days a week from November on," Amaro said.

Amaro was getting the reports, and he says it was because of those reports he believed that Utley was headed for a healthy -- and very good -- season.

"I was very confident," he said. "No one believed us."

Fair enough, Ruben. You were right. Chase looks like Chase.

Now, what do you really think are the chances that Doc will ever look like Doc?

 
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