Chase Utley: 'I feel pretty damn good'

Chase Utley: 'I feel pretty damn good'

February 15, 2013, 3:45 pm
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CLEARWATER, Fla. – Chase Utley uttered some promising words Friday.

“I feel pretty damn good right now,” he said.

Of course, Utley made a similar statement last year and ended up on the sidelines until late June.

So why is this year different?

Well, there’s no guarantee it will be different, but Utley is confident it can be. He believes he has his chronic knee problem under control. He believes he has come up with a maintenance program that will allow him to get on the field in spring training and stay on the field during the regular season.

“It was a very productive offseason,” he said. “I had no flareups. In the weight room, I made progressions I haven’t done in three or four years. I was able to get stronger. I wanted to get my legs stronger without irritating my knees and I did that.

“I think all the hard work I did this offseason will pay off.”

Utley missed all of spring training in 2011 and did not play until late May that year. He thought he had the condition under control in the offseason that followed only to have a flareup last spring training. He missed all of the spring of 2012 and didn’t play in the majors until late June.

To avoid similar start-up problems, Utley did baseball activities throughout this offseason. He did strength training in the mornings then worked out with the University of San Francisco baseball team in the afternoons.

“Last year’s program didn’t work for me,” Utley said. “It was disappointing. It was difficult to handle. But I wasn’t going to let it get me down. I knew I had lot of baseball left in me. I wasn’t willing to let this stop me. I’m just happy we put together a good program and now things are looking good.

“This offseason, I trained to play baseball, not just take pressure off my knees. It’s worked. I have strength in my legs, and I can feel it taking ground balls and swinging the bat. There’s something there where the last couple of years there hasn’t been.”

Utley has averaged just 100 games the last three seasons. (He tore a thumb ligament in 2010.) He was asked Friday whether he believed he could play 140 games in 2013.

“I think so,” he said. “I’ve done it before. The last couple of years haven’t been ideal, but this is a new year.”

Utley felt good enough to start 81 of the final 86 games last season. He hit .256 with 11 homers and 45 RBIs.

Utley responded so well to his conditioning program (stretching, strength-building and baseball activity) this offseason that he texted manager Charlie Manuel around the holidays and told him: “If you behave yourself, maybe Santa will bring you a healthy second baseman.”

Only time will tell if the maybe will be a definite, but Utley clearly believes he is in a good place. Though he won’t play every spring training game – no one does – he plans on getting the innings and at-bats he needs to be ready to open the season on time.

This could be Utley’s last season with the Phillies. At 34, he is in the final year of a seven-year, $85 million contract. His ability to stay on the field, as well as his performance, will dictate whether the Phillies try to re-sign him. Utley is essentially in the same situation as Roy Halladay, another aging star trying to ward off injury and father time in the final year of his contract.

“I’m aware of that,” Utley said of his contract situation, “but it doesn’t change anything. I’ve approached every season the same way. I enjoy the game and feel I have a lot still to do in the game. Who knows? I’d like to play more than this year for sure.”

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