Sandberg has tough task with struggling Utley
Phillies manager also trying to get a look at Hernandez, who scored three runs Monday
NEW YORK -- Ryne Sandberg can relate to Chase Utley better than anybody in the Phillies' organization.
He is a Hall of Fame second baseman, while Utley had a Hall of Fame-like run from 2005-13, with the best OPS (.884) and WAR (59.0) among qualified second basemen. But Utley's future with the Phillies is uncertain, as he finished Monday's 11-8 victory over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium hitting .179 with a .532 OPS in 249 plate appearances.
"I know the grind that he puts into it and the effort," Sandberg said before the game. "I see the ability in pregame. I see him being healthy and I see him being upbeat, and I'd just like to see the most out of what he can do. On the other hand, I want to see what a young player [Cesar Hernandez] can do, so that's the challenging thing."
Hernandez went 2-for-5 with a double, two RBIs and three runs scored in the victory. He is hitting .273 with a .697 OPS in his last nine games.
Utley, who went 0-for-4, needs 500 plate appearances this season to automatically vest a $15 million club option for next season. Utley is on pace to reach that. Asked Sunday if it would be negligent for the organization to allow Utley to hit that mark if his struggles continue, Phillies president Pat Gillick maintained that the front office will have no say in how Sandberg makes out his lineup.
Sandberg said Monday he has received no directive about Utley's playing time.
"I know that he has [the vesting option], but I won't operate [with it] in mind," Sandberg said.
Hernandez started at second base Monday, while Utley served as the Phillies' designated hitter. Hernandez has started five of the last eight games at second base, although Utley has been a DH twice and a first baseman once.
"It's a daily challenge," Sandberg said about handling both Utley and Hernandez. "You know, from this point it's watching the games and making judgments on who should be out there. Probably would fall under the category of what's best for both players. For Chase to play well and to show what he can do, and to play well is important. And to see Cesar play, he can get experience, that's important. There's two sides of it that are important going forward, and that's the challenge."
So what's up with Utley's struggles? Utley's batting average of balls in play is .189, which indicates he has run into some bad luck. But Utley is also not squaring up balls like most hitters. According to Statcast™, Utley's batted ball velocity average is 87.95 mph.
That ranks 119th out of 181 players, which means nearly two-thirds of big league hitters hit the ball harder more consistently than Utley.
Utley is 36. Sandberg retired at 38. Asked when he knew it was time to walk away, Sandberg said, "I'd say the daily grind of second base every day and not wanting to be a part-time player. When it was getting close to that or it felt like it was getting close to presenting that, that's when I was used to being a regular and I hated sitting on the bench. I made that call myself."