Utley shouldn't be too hard on himself

Chase Utley said Thursday, "I haven’t come to the conclusion that I need to change things." (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Of the 14 second basemen who logged at least 400 plate appearances in the National League last season, Chase Utley finished fourth with a .344 on base percentage, fourth with a .425 slugging percentage, and tied for third with 14 stolen bases (in 14 attempts). 

Get into the more esoteric stats like Wins Above Replacement and Runs Created and Utley is valued even higher. 

All this in what statistically was the worst season of his career, a season that was delayed two months as he attempted to alleviate the painful tendinitis and bone bruising in his knee. 

Spring is a time for optimism, so there is your foundation. Last year at this time, Utley's entire focus was trained on getting back on the field, an objective that was in doubt for most of spring training. This year, he is coming off an offseason workout routine that he adjusted with the knee condition in mind. Remember that long warning track fly ball late in Game 5 against the Cardinals? Utley admitted that, in previous seasons, the same swing might have resulted in a game-tying home run.

"I think there’s no doubt that the things I was doing didn’t allow me to strenghthen my legs," Utley said. "I don’t think that… it had any benefit from not having stronger legs, but this offseason I was able to strengthen them, maybe not quite as much as in the past, but they’re definitely stronger than they were going into last year, my goal now is to maintain that, ideally it would be nice to make them stronger, but at the same time I have to keep them loose and take it easy."

Utley finished with 11 home runs, the fewest of his career. In a 650 plate-appearance season that would still leave him with under 16 home runs. 

Still, Utley isn't convinced that he must re-invent the way he approaches his at-bats. He still thinks he can be the player who hits .300 and 20-to-25 home runs in a season.

"I haven’t come to the conclusion that I need to change things," said Utley, who hit .298/.388/.523 while averaging 27 home runs and 15 steals from 2005 through 2010. "I think what I’m doing now is putting me on track to contribute like I have in the past.

"I think I can overcome this without a doubt. I have pride in how I play and the way I play and that’s not going to change."

The 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.

"I’m not totally convinced, but I’m not willing to take that chance at this point," he said. "I think we have something good going. I don’t see any reason to change at this point."

Heading into his 33-year-old season, Utley and manager Charlie Manuel are convinced he can still be an elite hitter. Even if he can't, he proved last season that he can still do plenty of things to help the Phillies win.