LOS ANGELES - Chase Utley continues to work his way back from the ankle inflammation that landed him on the disabled list two weeks ago. The Phillies are hoping he will resume baseball activities this weekend in San Francisco, where the team plays a weekend series.
But even upon Utley's eventual return to the lineup, all indications are that Cesar Hernandez will continue to play as the Phillies' primary second baseman. On Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. deemed the 25-year-old Hernandez the team's "best second baseman."
"I would assume that Cesar will be our second baseman" when Utley returns, Amaro said before the game against the Dodgers.
If that's the case, it could seal this as the final season of Utley's decorated Phillies tenure. The 36-year-old franchise icon needs 251 more plate appearances this season to trigger his $15 million option for next year. That number would prove difficult to reach without regular at-bats.
Hernandez has impressed since taking over the everyday duties. The switch-hitting Venezuelan entered Tuesday on an 11-game hitting streak, and his 28 hits since June 21 were five more than the next-highest total in that span among all major-league hitters. His third consecutive multihit game on Monday raised his average to .302 over 179 at-bats.
"Chase's situation will kind of dictate itself, how he feels," Amaro said. "There'll be time for him to play, I think. He could play some first base. He could play some second.
"But as far as I'm concerned, just like what our plan has been for a long, long time, and that's to give opportunities to young men who could be part of our future. Cesar Hernandez has been one of our best players on the field right now in a variety of ways - running the bases, playing defense, playing with energy. He can switch-hit. He can run. He's doing a lot of the things that we want to see out of our young players."
Utley hit a major-league worst .179 in 218 at-bats before landing on the disabled list. Asked his thoughts on Amaro's comments, Utley said simply, "Well, I think Cesar has done a really good job."
Amaro spoke on an array of topics. Asked if the trade market has developed more slowly than anticipated, the embattled GM said he "didn't really have an anticipation one way or another."
Ahead of a crucial July 31 trade deadline, the Phillies have debated internally, Amaro said, about when their assets exhibit the greatest trade value. "A lot of it depends on who's going to step up," he added, "and who's going to satisfy some of the things that we're trying to do in a trade. If someone does, and we feel like it's the right thing to do, we'll do it. If not, then we won't."
Amaro also made a bold declaration regarding a Phillies farm system often regarded as being in the bottom third in baseball. Top to bottom, from triple-A Lehigh Valley and double-A Reading to the short-season single-A Williamsport and Gulf Coast League affiliates, Amaro said, he would stack the Phillies organization up against any other.
"We have players. We have more players since I've been here . . . 17 years," Amaro said. "When you can move players from low A to high A and not skip a beat, that's when you know you're starting to build depth in your organization."