While the Philadelphia Phillies have unexpectedly spent a good portion of the season in last place, they’ve retained hope that the season wasn’t yet lost considering the players rehabbing from injury. First baseman Ryan Howard will reportedly start a rehab assignment towards the end of this week but his return is still not expected until mid to late July. But the Phillies faithful was greeted by a familiar face in tonight’s lineup as Chase Utley made his much-anticipated season debut.
Utley wasted little time, homering in his first at bat of the game off of Pirates starter James McDonald before lining out to deep center in his second. Many wonder how quickly his ability to drive the ball would return but thus far, he seems to be right back on track.
For Philadelphia, however, it’s big news getting him back in the lineup. Utley has somewhat quietly been one of the lynch pins leading the Phillies to their string of division titles. Howard’s power numbers and Jimmy Rollins‘ speed have overshadowed Utley, to a degree. ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield actually argued today that Utley may have been the most valuable player on those Phillies teams and arguably one of the best in the league during a six year stretch spanning the 2005 to 2010 seasons.
Over his career Utley is a .290/.377/.505 hitter who’s averaged 27 HR and 101 RBI a year while providing stellar defense at second base. When healthy he’s a major asset for any team. When healthy. That’s the key part here and if he can remain healthy which, of course, is the great unknown here.
Utley, for what it’s worth, holds a career mark of .285/.388/.490 with 18 HR and 79 RBI in 123 games (534 plate appearances) against the Nationals. Washington and Philadelphia will play each other 12 more times this season.