Phillies second baseman Chase Utley voted to 2014 MLB All-Star Game
PITTSBURGH - Chase Utley, who has seen his batting average drop 50 points in 6 weeks, was held out of the starting lineup yesterday afternoon.
Before the game began, however, the slumping Utley learned he had been rewarded for his impressive first 2 months of the 2014 season with a trip to the All-Star Game.
Utley will start at second base for the National League All-Star team a week from tomorrow night (July 15) at Target Field in Minneapolis. It's the sixth All-Star selection of Utley's career.
"Obviously I'm honored to represent the Phillies and the National League in the All-Star Game," Utley said. "It's been a lot of fun. It's been a few years since I've been able to participate. I'm going to try to enjoy it."
Barring an injury replacement, Utley will be the only Phillies representative at the game.
Utley entered yesterday's series finale hitting .190 (4-for-21) without an extra-base hit in the first five games of the Phillies' current road trip. But Utley has been in a serious slide at the plate for more than a month.
Since the start of June, Utley entering yesterday hitting .232 with a .288 OBP, .584 OPS and four extra-base hits (two home runs) in 33 games.
Even with his current slump, Utley entered yesterday among NL second-base leaders in several categories, including hitting (.287, fourth), OPS (.778, second), OBP (.345, fourth), extra-base hits (33, first), runs (46, third) and WAR (2.5, first).
Utley got off to a monstrous start, which surely helped him with the voting populous. He entered June hitting .320 with a .381 OBP, .898 OPS and 29 extra-base hits in 50 games.
"He was outstanding all the way through May, through 60 games," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He was hitting .340 and tearing the cover off the ball. He tapered off some in June. His overall steadiness and his defense has picked up and been solid. It's hard to argue [with him being selected]."
Utley was a five-time All-Star from 2006-10. His 3-year hiatus from the Midsummer Classic coincided with Utley's 2-year battle with knee injuries.
From 2010 to 2012, Utley hit .254 and averaged 100 games per season.
"I think all the time and the hard work I've put in has paid off," Utley said. "Obviously your first All-Star Game, you really appreciate. After the issues I've gone through over the past 2-3 years, it is nice to be back."
Utley came into the final week of All-Star voting with almost 900,000 more votes than Pittsburgh's Neil Walker, the second highest vote-getter.
Four different second basemen have started in the 4 years since Utley started four straight: Martin Prado (2010), Rickie Weeks (2011), Dan Uggla (2012) and Brandon Phillips (2013). The last NL second baseman to start more than four in a row? Ryne Sandberg (eight straight, 1986-93).
Utley has been voted in as a starter in all six of his All-Star Games (he couldn't start in 2010 because of an injury). Only two NL second basemen have started more All-Star Games: Sandberg (nine) and Joe Morgan (seven).
"Over the course of my career I've had tremendous fan support, and I truly do appreciate that," Utley said. "I try to give back as much as I can when I'm on the field."
Barring an injury replacement, the 2014 All-Star Game will be the first with one Phillies player since 2003, when Randy Wolf was the lone Philadelphia player.
Lee starts, stops
Cliff Lee began an official rehab assignment with Class A Clearwater yesterday. But Mother Nature might have delayed his eventual return to the Phillies.
Lee threw just 24 pitches in two innings of the Threshers game at Brevard County. The game was suspended in the middle of the third inning after a lengthy rain delay.
Lee, who has been on the DL since May 19 with a left elbow strain, struck out two and allowed one hit in two shutout innings. But after Lee threw in a pair of live batting practice, simulated games with the Phillies, the team was hoping he would have an opportunity yesterday to build his pitch count beyond 60 pitches.
Rain altered those plans. Lee is unlikely to rejoin the Phillies' rotation until after the All-Star break.
Rest for the weary
Utley wasn't the only regular out of the Phillies' lineup yesterday in Pittsburgh; Ryan Howard also was on the bench. Howard entered yesterday in a 3-for-32 funk (with no extra-base hits) in his last nine games.
Yesterday marked the 2-year anniversary of Howard's return from his left Achilles' injury. Entering yesterday's game, Howard had hit .239 with a .734 OPS, 39 home runs, 150 RBI, 84 walks and 300 strikeouts in 236 games of that 2-year span.
Utley and Howard both came off the bench for pinch-hitting appearances in the eighth inning of the 6-2 loss. Utley flied out and Howard grounded out, continuing their respective slumps.
Yesterday marked the first time a healthy Howard and Utley were both out of the starting lineup since July 15, 2012 - 9 days after Howard's return to the lineup from Achilles' surgery.
Ty Wigginton and Mike Fontenot started at first and second, respectively, on that Sunday afternoon in Denver. John Mayberry Jr. and Cesar Hernandez started yesterday.
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21