Out of Left Field: Utley's Role is to Play Less

When Ed Wade traded Ricky Ledee to the Giants and followed that move by not dealing Placido Polanco to Oakland for Ricardo Rincon, he inadvertently sealed Chase Utley's fate. Utley will now waste away on the Phillies bench for the remainder of the season (or at least until somebody – <I>anybody</I> - fires Larry Bowa) despite the fact that he is hitting .275 with nine homeruns and 37 RBI in just 54 games. He is caught in Larry Bowa's world, a world that is all about roles: rigid, rigid roles.

In Larry Bowa's world, there are strict roles to fill on every team. For instance, Todd Pratt is the backup catcher. That's it. Pratt can't play first base to try to get him more at bats, and he definitely can't pinch-hit, because what would happen if Mike Lieberthal got injured after Pratt pinch-hit in a game? The sky would fall in Larry's world, because there is only one guy filling the role of backup catcher.

That's why Bowa kept running Roberto Hernandez out there to blow so many leads in the seventh inning, because that was his established role coming out of spring training, and Larry Bowa can't get his head out of his…world. Understanding Larry's world helps to explain why Chase Utley is now getting less playing time than he was before the trade of Ricky Ledee. You see, Ledee filled the role of "primary left-handed pinch hitter," and even though Ledee was mostly starting in center until the trade, Larry still saw him in that role.

Prior to the trade of Ledee, Larry saw Utley as the future second baseman of the franchise, a guy with a little pop in his bat and an aggressive attitude that appealed to the Phillies aggressive manager. He would give him an occasional start in place of veteran second baseman and glove man Placido Polanco, and I believe even Larry assumed that Utley would be his everyday second baseman beginning August first, after Polanco was traded away for pitching help.

Instead, Wade traded Ledee away for pitching and was unable to move Polanco, even though the Phillies have no intention on resigning the soon to be free agent. This sent Larry's world into a swirling vortex of confusion as his mind tried to assign everyone to those rigid, rigid roles. When the music stopped, Utley was no longer a second baseman who would make a perfect platoon with Polanco, he was now filling Ledee's role of PLPH (primary left-handed pinch hitter).

So, on Sunday, while the Phillies took on right-hander Greg Maddux and his 299 career victories, there was Placido Polanco (with his .248 batting average and .654 OPS against right-handed pitching) in the starting lineup, while Utley (with his .300 batting average and .865 OPS against right-handed pitching) was sitting at the far end of the bench.

In the eighth inning of that game, with the Phillies behind 6-3 in a game that they desperately needed to win, Larry Bowa must have thought the god's were smiling on him. Right-handed relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth had loaded the bases with Phillies and had only recorded a questionable strikeout of Mike Lieberthal. With Marlon Byrd due up next, this was a perfect time to call on the PLPH, Chase Utley.

Never mind that Dusty Baker had left-hander Mike Remlinger warming in the bullpen. Never mind that Utley has been horrible against left-handers this year (hitting a paltry .148 with an anemic .475 OPS). Never mind that switch-hitter Tomas Perez was available, which would have placed all of the pressure on Dusty Baker to decide whether to leave the struggling Farnsworth in, or go to Remlinger and let Perez hit from the right side, where he has more power. Nope - the situation called for the PLPH, who promptly struck out on three pitches from Remlinger.

I'd like to think that there was some debate amongst the coaches in the dugout over this move. I'd like to think that at least one of them walked up to Bowa and said, "Have we mentioned that Remlinger is ready in the Cubs bullpen and Utley can't hit lefthanders?" But I doubt they did…because that's not their role in Larry's world.

On Tuesday night in San Diego, the Phillies again faced a right-handed pitcher in the Padres Brian Lawrence. Once again, there was Placido Polanco in the starting lineup and Chase Utley on the bench, each of them filling their roles. Never mind that Polanco has exactly 56 games left in his Phillies career (assuming that the Phillies season ends on October 3rd, which at this point seems like a pretty safe assumption). Never mind that Utley has twice as many RBI as Polanco (in half the at bats) and that his OPS is over 100 points higher. Polanco cannot fill the role that Utley does. Polanco cannot be the PLPH. And, damn the season, that's everything in Larry's world.

DN Curry comes to you Out of Left Field every Thursday at PhillyBaseballNews.com. You can email him at dncurry@comcast.net .

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