By Harry Allison
If you are Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg you had no choice.
Legendary second baseman Chase Utley is hitting .103 and he is hurting the team.
So he rested him last night in Atlanta and will continue to rest him today.
It cannot hurt to try.
The Phillies do not play Thursday, which means Utley could have three consecutive days away from the game.
Utley’s .103 is the lowest batting average among 183 qualified hitters in major league baseball. His .389 OPS is 182nd.
“I’ve experienced that,” Sandberg said about prolonged slumps. “Sometimes you take a little mental break, get away from the mental grind of things. As much mental work and effort and everything Chase puts into a daily routine of his and not having any luck along with it, that’s the way that I’m leaning right now.”
But are Utley’s struggles just a matter of bad luck? Utley has a .082 batting average on balls in play, which indicates some degree of poor luck. The average big league player has a .293 BABIP this season.
Utley had a .295 BABIP last season and has a .301 BABIP in his career, so more than a 200-point differential in BABIP hints that something is afoot.
But Utley, 36, also has hit .215 with a .610 OPS in 555 plate appearances since May 29, 2014, which indicates his struggles are more than just luck related. Utley’s ground ball-to-fly ball ratio this season is 1.57, which is much higher than his career 0.97 average.
In other words, Utley is hitting fewer line drives and fly balls than in the past.
“It’s hard to gauge that when you see him hitting the ball and hitting the ball to the gaps like he has that have gotten caught,” Sandberg said. “Sometimes it’s said about his lower half and using his legs and all that. But he’s very healthy, the way that he runs the bases and slides all over the field and on defense.
“So whether that’s just a little mechanical thing in the box as far as really getting his legs underneath him and using the strength in his legs in his swing, I don’t know. But he has hit the ball very hard right on the nose.”
Sandberg said Utley’s knees and right ankle, which forced him to miss the first few weeks of Spring Training, are healthy.
“He has no complains there,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg spoke with Utley on Tuesday at Turner Field about sitting him the final two games of the series. He said Utley was open-minded about it.
Utley declined comment.
“You really feel for the guy just because of everything that he does put into it,” Sandberg said. “Just to see the results with the bat on the ball, but sometimes not get credited for hits. That’s where it starts to get a little bit on the mental side of things. But he shows no signs of that.
“Just take a little break. Start fresh and hopefully that’ll change on the luck side of things.”