Phillies to activate Chase Utley on Monday

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley walks across the field after taking batting practice before a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida, March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki tweets that the Phillies will activate second baseman Chase Utley (knee) from the disabled list before Monday’s game against the Reds.

Here’s the tweet:

Orr optioned. Utley activated tomorrow. Blanton on DL tomorrow. Worley will be activated.

Utley batted .281 with one home run in 36 plate appearances for High-A Clearwater during his minor league rehab stint. More importantly than the numbers was the fact that his knee has felt good.

It’s an understatement that the Phillies need this guy back in their lineup. They’re 23rd in runs scored, 22nd in on base percentage and 18th in batting average. In their last nine games, they’ve averaged less than two runs per outing (17 total). Over 107 at bats this season, Wilson Valdez is hitting just .231 with nine RBI and has an OBP of .259 filling in for Utley at second base. Simply put, that’s not going to get it done.

Utley may not come off the disabled list scorching, but as long as he stays healthy he’ll get his swing back. He’s going to need 50-plus at bats against major league pitching to kind of figure things out, but he’s the consummate professional. This is the shot in the arm that the Phillies’ offense has needed.

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How will Chase Utley’s injury affect the Phillies in 2011?

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley walks across the field after taking batting practice before a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida, March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The unsurprising happened on Thursday: Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. confirmed that second baseman Chase Utley will begin the season on the disabled list.

The thought of beginning the year without Utley is something the Phillies have been bracing for all spring. He hasn’t seen the field once yet in exhibition and with Opening Day only a week away, him starting the year on the DL was the most likely outcome.

Replacing Utley in the lineup is an impossible task. The Phillies recently signed Luis Castillo (formerly of the Mets), but he went 0-for-4 in his Philadelphia debut and may not even make the team if he continues to hit around .250 this spring. Of course, the other candidates to take Utley’s spot don’t look any better. Wilson Valdez is hitting just .239 is a 32-year-old journeyman who has only played in 247 major league games since making his first appearance in ‘04, while Josh Barfield has showed his versatility this spring but he’s still behind Valdez on the depth chart.

As of right now, the Phillies aren’t saying when Utley will return because quite frankly, they probably don’t even know. If he winds up missing the rest of the season, the loss of him and Jayson Werth (Nationals) gives the rest of Philly’s offense a small margin for error. Given that Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are coming off poor seasons and Placido Polanco and Rual Ibanez are in the twilights of their careers, this is going to be a huge year for Ryan Howard (who must carry the offense).

So what happens to the Phillies’ chances of winning the World Series? Thanks to their loaded pitching staff, they’re still the clear favorites in the NL. But the Braves are a big threat in the division and there’s a certain championship team out West that treated Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt like mortals in the postseason last year.

Of course, the Giants won the World Series last year with pitching and the Phillies have more offense than San Fran did – even without Utley. But the Giants’ hitters also got extremely hot at the right time and this is a Philadelphia club that has been known to come out of the gates slow before picking it up in the second half. Considering they might not have Utley all season, they better kick it into gear right away. Without Utley roaming second base in Philadelphia, the playing field certainly evens out more in the National League.

2011 Fantasy Outlook: What to make of Chase Utley’s knee

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Man, Chase Utley has become a yearly case study for fantasy owners, hasn’t he?

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley waits on a pitch against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 2, 2010 in Denver. The Phillies lead the NL Wild Card race. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Two years ago Utley was coming off offseason hip surgery and owners were afraid to draft him, even at a thin second base position. Last year, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained thumb at the end of June and for the first time in five years he failed to score at least 90 runs.

Now there are reports that the patellar tendonitis that he’s been battling in his knee may be worse than the Phillies initially thought. He recently received a cortisone injection and even GM Ruben Amaro said the knee hasn’t responded as the club hoped it would. The second baseman took batting practice over the weekend, but there’s no timetable for his participation in spring games and therefore, fantasy owners are left with yet another Chase Utley conundrum.

Assuming you were planning on targeting him before the knee injury became an even bigger concern, do you still draft him in the second round (which is what his ADP is in a 12-team league)? Do you pass on him altogether and target the next best options in Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla or Ian Kinsler? Do you hope he falls and then scoop him up later when he represents more value?

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