Utley bats sixth for first time since 2005
Sandberg hopes 'change of scenery' sparks second baseman's swing
PHILADELPHIA -- Chase Utley could not hit third forever, not at his current pace.
So, manager Ryne Sandberg dropped his struggling second baseman to sixth in the Phillies' lineup for Friday night's 4-3 victory over Arizona at Citizens Bank Park. Utley went 1-for-3 with a double. Sandberg said he will consider Utley's lineup spot on a day-to-day basis.
Translation: If he hits, he could return to the top third of the lineup. If he does not, he might remain there.
It is the first time Utley has hit lower than fifth since June 30, 2005, and the first time he has hit lower than fourth since April 21, 2006.
"Just a little change of scenery for him," Sandberg said. "Maybe change his mindset a little bit, change his luck. Change the whole surroundings of who's hitting in front of him and behind him. Just a change for Chase."
Utley entered the series hitting .118 (13-for-110) with one double, three home runs, 15 RBIs and a .403 OPS. It is the lowest batting average and OPS out of 181 qualified hitters in baseball.
Utley was not in the mood to share his thoughts before the game, but Sandberg said he had a good talk with his second baseman before posting the lineup.
"He understands," Sandberg said. "It doesn't have to be a complete negative subject or topic to talk about. If he can get going there and get some hits, it's an RBI situation at times in the six spot, so if he can come up and connect on some balls and come up with some hits and help us win some games, that could go a long way with him right now."
Utley's current spot in the lineup will give him fewer plate appearances over the course of a 162-game season, if he remains there. That is noteworthy because he needs 500 plate appearances to automatically vest a $15 million club option for 2016.
Utley had 124 plate appearances entering Friday, meaning he is on pace for 558.
It seems unlikely the Phillies would significantly reduce Utley's playing time in the near future, because they want to see if he can turn around his fortunes. If he can, great. Perhaps the Phillies can coax him into a trade in July.
If he doesn't, then they could work Cesar Hernandez into a regular role later in the season.