Chase Utley's Return Should Make Everyone Better, Including Charlie Manuel

Chase Utley's Return Should Make Everyone Better, Including Charlie Manuel

As happy as Phillies fans are to see Chase Utley's name on the lineup card this evening, Charlie Manuel was just as happy to write it there.

"Felt good to put Chase's name in there," Manuel said. "I've been looking forward to the day he comes back and plays."

In fact, Chase Utley's mere presence makes Manuel a better manager by default.

"I feel like I got a little bit better, yeah," Manuel said with a smile.

Much of the talk before this evening's game was around how Utley will adjust to the stresses of playing in Major League games. This isn't Clearwater. These games count in the Phillies quest to return to the World Series.

Before tonight's game, Chase talked about what it was like being away from his teammates and watching this Phillies offense struggle as of late.

"It's pretty frustrating not to be able to go out and
help your team win, but I'm proud of my teammates," Utley said. "They've done an outstanding job these first two months. The pitching staff has
been outstanding. I know there's been a lot of negative talk recently on how
our offense has been struggling, but that's why we play for six months. It's an
up-and-down game."

Utley and Manuel both said that communication between the two will be key to Chase staying healthy and contributing on a regular basis. Utley says he now realizes he'll need to take occasional off-days to stay healthy longer term.

"Charlie and I will talk on a daily basis and see
where we're at every single day, but I definitely want to be out there,"
Utley said. "I think I know my body better than anybody else. I know what
I can deal with and I know what I can't deal with. I've had to show a little patience throughout this whole process, which I think has been beneficial."

Charlie believes Utley's communication will be candid, knowing No. 26 has to put the team first.

"I think he's going to be very honest with me," Manuel said. "I've got a schedule but I'm not going to show it to you."

It's in Charlie's desk if you were wondering.

Manuel once again spoke glowingly about Utley's quiet leadership, noting his telepathic-like looks. Seriously. Manuel also said that it won't be Utley's production alone that impacts his club.

"I think he definitely has an impact on our lineup, it's definitely gonna help us as far as the way we think," Manuel said. "He's a leader on our team. He's what I like to call a silent leader. He don't have to say nothing. He's probably one of the most respected players I've been around, someone like a Harmon Killebrew, somebody like that. He can just look at you, guys know him, and they know what he's thinking. That's one of the best leaders a person can be. They carry a lot of respect for him."

"His attitude and what he brings is very special to us."

Hopefully, for the sanity of the fans, he'll bring his bat too.

*

Tonight's pitching matchup puts Cole Hamels (5-2, 2.92) up against right-hander Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 4.11) for the Reds. You can see a bit more on the Phillies lineup this evening here.

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers at Bucks
3:30 p.m. - CSN/CSNPhilly.com/streaming live on the NBCSports App

The Sixers (12-26) look to get back in the win column when they face the Milwaukee Bucks (20-19) at the Bradley Center in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.

Let's take a closer look at Monday afternoon's matchup:

1. Back on the Embiid express
The Sixers have started to show flashes of coming together and finally turning the corner on their massive rebuild. However, they are nowhere near the point that they can remove the biggest piece of the puzzle and still expect to win games.

The Sixers found that out again on Saturday night, as they were pummeled during the second half of a 109-93 loss to the Washington Wizards with Joel Embiid sidelined for rest.

The team didn't want to use the rookie phenom's absence as an excuse, but it was clear his presence was missed.

“We didn’t have that extra oomph,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the loss. “Obviously, the omission of Joel Embiid clearly is impactful, but that’s the challenge. We just didn’t have it tonight.”

Embiid and his 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game will be back in the lineup against the Bucks.

2. Freak of nature
The Sixers won't be the only squad with a star in the making on the court Monday afternoon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has shown plenty of potential since he was selected by the Bucks 15th overall in the 2013 draft (Anthony Bennett, who was recently released by the Brooklyn Nets, was taken No. 1 overall that year, for those of you keeping track at home). But the man known as "The Greek Freak" has taken his game to new heights this season.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.4 points on 53.5 percent shooting in addition to 8.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals per game this season - all career highs. He's also coming off a 33-point, eight-rebound and six-assist performance in the Bucks' 111-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

With Antetokounmpo playing point guard full time now and the Bucks' starting five boasting players all above 6-foot-7, it's hard to determine how the Sixers will match up on defense. Whatever the plan is to slow down "The Greek Freak," it will have to be a total team effort.

3. Protect the paint
All of that size and athleticism for the Bucks is a big reason they attack the rim so much. Milwaukee is tied with Oklahoma City for the league lead in points in the paint with 50.6 per game.

The Sixers were dominated on the low block for 54 points by the Wizards on Saturday with Embiid out. For the season, they rank 14th in the league in points in the paint allowed at 42.3 a night.

One thing that might help the Sixers is their shot blocking. They swat 5.6 shots a game (sixth in the NBA), which could deter some of those romps to the rim by the Bucks.

4. Injuries
T.J. McConnell (right wrist), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Khris Middleton (hamstring) is out for the Bucks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 12 of their last 14 games to the Bucks.

• Ersan Ilyasova spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Bucks (see story on his return to Milwaukee). This will mark the fourth time he has faced his former team.

• Jabari Parker, selected No. 2 overall in the 2014 NBA draft right before Embiid, has emerged this season with 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

The Sixers will get Joel Embiid back in the lineup when they meet the Bucks on Monday afternoon in Milwaukee, but they'll be without their starting point guard.

T.J. McConnell will miss Monday's game with a sprained right wrist suffered in Saturday night's loss to the Wizards in D.C., the Sixers announced Monday morning.

McConnell reportedly did not travel with the team to Milwaukee and is back home in Philadelphia.

The 24-year-old McConnell has been a presence this season for a Sixers team that desperately needed something from the point guard spot. In 38 games this season, McConnell has averaged 4.8 points, 5.8 points and 4.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists a night in an average of 22.3 minutes a game.

The highlight of McConnell's season, of course, came last week when he nailed the game-winning shot at the buzzer to give the Sixers a 98-97 victory over the Knicks.

Sergio Rodriguez is expected to start in McConnell's place Monday against the Bucks.