PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has unofficially crossed the line from “struggling" to “lost” five weeks into the season. He’s hitting .099 (9-for-91) and hitless in his past 19 at-bats, and manager Ryne Sandberg parked him on the bench again Saturday night against left-hander Jon Niese and the New York Mets.
The depth of Utley's slump, at age 36, prompted some Philly media outlets to haul out an interesting historical parallel this week: In 1989, Phillies great Mike Schmidt was hitting .203 through 42 games when he abruptly decided to retire.
Although the comparison made for great talk-radio fodder in Philadelphia, Schmidt isn’t even remotely interested in going there. He told reporters before Saturday’s game at Citizens Bank Park that Utley still has a lot left and should turn things around soon.
“I would have never dreamed Chase could have the results he’s had with his hitting ability," said Schmidt, a special consultant and broadcaster with the Phillies. “I admire the way he seems to have handled it. Every day is a new day for him -- trying to figure out a way to help the team win a ballgame. He’s a mentally tough guy.
“I don’t think it’s time to start thinking about Chase Utley being at the end or anything like that. I put money on him being Player of the Month next [month]. It’ll turn around that fast. A couple of scratch hits, a couple of balls find holes, and the whole aura of the season can change."
Sandberg also sat lefty hitters Ryan Howard and Cody Asche against Niese -- giving the Phillies a stunningly nondescript lineup for a team with a $146 million payroll. Darin Ruf, Jeff Francoeur, Cesar Hernandez and Carlos Ruiz were hitting in the 3-4-5-6 spots in the order Saturday night.
Utley’s recent travails are more alarming given his problems at the end of last season. He hit .355 in April 2014, but his production continued to dip each month, and he batted .235 with a .350 slugging percentage after the All-Star break.
Money is also a significant factor in any conversation about Utley’s future with the Phillies. He’s on a two-year contract extension that includes a $15 million option for 2016 that vests if he reaches 500 plate appearances this season. He has similar vesting options for 2017 and 2018.
Schmidt was 39 years old coming off shoulder surgery and playing for far less money when he decided to walk away in 1989. So if there’s a parallel to be drawn between him and Utley, someone else will have to make it.
“I don’t see any reason to even think in those terms," Schmidt said. “Count me out of that conversation."