By Michael McCarthy
It has been a brutal start to the 2015 season for Phillies legendary second baseman Chase Utley.
Utley is hitting .116 so far this season – and that’s after he had a hit both Saturday and Sunday to raise his average a bit.
It’s early, but it’s also rare for a regular starter to be hitting that poorly. Utley easily has the lowest average of qualified hitters right now. The next worst belongs to Rougned Odor of Texas, who is 28 points higher at .144.
Since 2010, only four players have finished the season hitting under .200 while still qualifying for the batting title – Carlos Pena (twice), Mark Reynolds, Dan Uggla and Chris Davis. Those players have two things in common:
They all hit with enough power to make a low batting average a bit more acceptable, and they were all established players who were less likely to be benched even while hitting poorly.
That’s what makes this a tough situation for Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. There’s a chance Utley will emerge from this slump and be a productive player again, but how long can the team wait?
”I just take it a day at a time. With him, I’ve been thinking about a lot of things,” Sandberg said. ”He’s also a guy I want up there with a guy on third base situation, in a game-hitting situation.”
Utley did not start Saturday, but he singled as a pinch-hitter. He returned to his normal spot at No. 3 in the batting order the next day.
Other prominent hitters with low averages so far include Chris Carter (.151), Jay Bruce (.167), Jimmy Rollins (.171) and Mike Napoli (.172).
Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison, who hit .315 last year and nearly won the National League batting title, is languishing at .173 right now.
”I think the game can speed up on players,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. ”I think Josh is right now continuing to work and find that rhythm.”