Second-guessing the second-guessing: Part II, Utley and Howard

In addition to an observer, recorder, and analyzer of history and the human condition, a writer is also a therapeutic device, the disembodied equivalent of dry wall. Rather than punching a hole through the actual source of one's discontent, an individual can punch a hole through the words of the person who chronicles it, thus limiting the chance of physical harm or public shame or prison time. I enjoy the role, but I also like to make sure that the displaced aggression is grounded in some form of reality. For instance, the Phillies' rough start has produced a rash of allegations from emailers and commenters to this blog that writers like myself are guilty of second-guessing, that we spent all offseason and spring training singing glorious psalms of inevitable success for this team and are now little more than bandwagon deserters. It is a serious charge, but it is one that I dispute. So I spent part of a recent morning reading back through the archives of the newspaper and the blog and highlighted some pertinent excerpts. We'll take a periodic look at these excerpts, which I have grouped together in categories.

Earlier, we looked at our initial look at what was then the upcoming offseason. Today, we'll look at the various things we wrote about the uncertain health of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

ON UTLEY, OCT. 2011: "Has Utley's OBP dropped in each of the last three seasons because of his approach? How about Ibanez's? Or have those numbers dropped because Ibanez is now 39, and Utley is now 32, and both of them have battled wear-and-tear injuries since 2009? It's an important question for a couple of reasons. First, if the Phillies really believe that an improved approach at the plate will bring drastic results, they risk underestimating the need to supplement their existing personnel this offseason. Second, if Manuel and Gross feel pressured into making drastic philosophical changes, they risk compounding the struggles of 2011 by forcing their hitters into an approach they are unable to execute."

ON UTLEY, DEC. 7: "The second baseman, who turns 33 next week, missed the first 2 months of last season with tendinitis and other related ailments in his knee, a condition that has the potential to remain with him throughout his career. But Manuel said he still views Utley as a bona fide No. 3 hitter who can power an offense."

ON UTLEY, Jan. 31: "Howard isn't the only question mark. Last year at this time, none of us knew just how bad Chase Utley's knee was hurting him. The Phillies gave no indication this offseason that they were concerned about the condition of the knee, which required rigorous treatment throughout the season to combat tendinitis. But Utley's health certainly bears watching."

ON UTLEY, Feb. 17: "The knee condition isn't going away. Utley said he has talked to plenty of players who have dealt with it. In addition to tendinitis and bone bruising, doctors diagnosed him with a condition known as chondromalacia, which causes chronic knee pain. But with the help of various doctors and trainers, Utley developed a stretching program that helped alleviate the pain to a point where he could still perform at a high level, even if that level wasn't at its usual place in the stratosphere. Can he definitively rule out ever needing surgery? No."

ON HOWARD, FEB. 17: "Last we heard, general manger Ruben Amaro Jr. was saying that he would be happy if Howard returned sometime in May. The reality is, nobody knows when his body will allow him to endure the rigors of regular-season baseball. Some athletes have returned from Achilles' injuries in just over 6 months. Other recoveries have taken closer to a year. Rehabilitation is a day-by-day process, one that requires careful progression, and careful monitoring of the results of that progression. The last thing the Phillies want is to rush their $25-million-a-year first baseman back onto the field before the injury is fully healed. Truth is, we might leave Clearwater in 6 weeks without a clear idea of when to expect Howard back." 

ON UTLEY, MAR. 10: "Utley appeared to be wholly intact before Thursday's game against the Pirates, standing behind the batting cage and stretching out his left leg without any obvious assistance from man or marionette string. For the time being, the world is safe from Weekend at Bernie's: Clearwater Chaos. But even if the condition of Utley's knee remains the same as it was at the start of spring training, his absence from the lineup provides a good indication of the organization's concern about the speed at which that status can change. If we are indeed witnessing The Plan, then The Plan suggests that we should be paying close attention to Ty Wigginton and Freddy Galvis, who spent time at second base Thursday. The Plan suggests that we should be watching hitters such as Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, whose performance over the second half of last season helped make up for the dropoff in production the lineup received from second base. On the other hand, does The Plan really suggest anything we did not already know? That chronic knee tendinitis is something that never fully heals? That Utley's condition is something that will always have to be managed? That caution is the new side on which the hardest of noses must err?"

ON UTLEY, MAR. 10: "Maybe there was a little part of all of us that thought we would arrive at spring training and see Utley stealing bases and bowling over catchers and sprawling after balls hit just out of reach. Maybe there was a little part of us that thought some offseason rest was all he'd need. The reality is, Utley has entered the final chapter of his career, a chapter whose narrative will be shaped not just by his performance against opposing pitchers, but by his performance against a rare and painful knee condition that can flare up without the slightest warning. It also means the Phillies have entered a new chapter, one in which they no longer have the luxury of counting 30 home runs and a .380 on-base percentage as a given at second base. . .So as we look at this first week of Grapefruit League play and spin our worst-case scenarios, we must also acknowledge that April 5 is the goal. The 25 games that remain before opening day present more than enough time for a veteran hitter such as Utley to get the at-bats he needs. With Ryan Howard's rehab on hold because of an infected foot, the Phillies know they cannot afford to enter the season with another critical piece on the disabled list. The Plan, regardless of how it came into being, makes sense. It also speaks volumes."