With eye toward long haul, Sandberg rests Utley

With eye toward long haul, Sandberg rests Utley

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April 22, 2014, 9:15 pm
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Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg gave second baseman Chase Utley the night off on Tuesday. (AP)

LOS ANGELES – Whenever Chase Utley is not in the Phillies’ starting lineup, the question has to be asked.

“I’m fine,” Utley said. “I’m fine. Just a day off.”

Utley, the National League's second-leading hitter, was not in the starting lineup for Tuesday night’s game against the Dodgers. Manager Ryne Sandberg has vowed to get Utley occasional days off to keep the 35-year-old second baseman fresh for the entire season.

But not seeing Utley’s name in the lineup for a game at Dodger Stadium was remarkable nonetheless.

Utley grew up going to games in Chavez Ravine and he loves hitting in the place. In 142 career at-bats in Dodger Stadium, he carries a .324 batting average and his OPS is an eye-popping 1.019. He has eight homers and 24 RBIs in the ballpark.

On top of all this, Utley is 2 for 4 with a pair of homers lifetime against lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers’ starter Tuesday night.

None of this stopped Sandberg from using Freddy Galvis at second base. Cody Asche sat for the second night in a row against a lefty. Jayson Nix got the start at third.

Sandberg said he was aware of all the numbers – Utley’s history in Dodger Stadium and against Ryu – but still wanted to get his second baseman a day off before the Phillies faced right-handers Zack Greinke and Dan Haren on Wednesday and Thursday night, respectively.

Utley had previously started all but two of the Phillies’ 19 games. He missed those two with the flu.

“Chase is fine,” Sandberg said. “I’m just getting him off his feet for a day. We played some long games in Denver. We just want to make sure we keep everybody healthy for the full season. It’s about the long haul and the long season.”

Utley ranks second in the NL with a .391 batting average. Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon leads the league at .411.

With Utley out, Sandberg used Marlon Byrd in the No. 3 spot. Ryan Howard batted fourth and Carlos Ruiz fifth. Ruiz had two doubles, a homer and four RBIs as the cleanup man Monday night. The home runs and the RBIs were his first of the season.

Sandberg has pushed the right buttons recently. His use of John Mayberry Jr. as a late-innings glove at first preserved a win Sunday and resting Marlon Byrd and using Ruiz as the cleanup man Monday also paid dividends.

Maybe resting the league’s second-leading hitter in his personal hitting paradise will prove auspicious as well.

“Chase still has a chance to be a late bat off the bench,” Sandberg said. “That’s the one luxury of a day off -- guys become good bats in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.”

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