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Phils manager convinced Utley’s hitting numbers will improve

ATLANTA - The thought crossed Charlie Manuel's mind, too.

Since May 16, Utley is hitting .164. Manuel said he "can't wait to see him when he comes out." (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)
Since May 16, Utley is hitting .164. Manuel said he "can't wait to see him when he comes out." (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)Read more

ATLANTA - The thought crossed Charlie Manuel's mind, too.

Chase Utley batted .114 (4 for 35) on the nine-game road trip. His current .270 batting average is the lowest it has been after June 1 since 2004.

So is it possible the Phillies second baseman is not healthy?

"You know what?" Manuel said. "I do think about it."

But Utley hasn't said as much to his manager. And even if he was injured, Utley has been known to keep it private and play through whatever ails him.

He continues to do his daily video work, the Phillies player who spends the most time watching his at-bats before and after games.

After Wednesday's game, he said there is little in his swing he is unhappy with.

When asked if there is something specific he needs to work on, Utley said: "Try to find more holes."

Manuel, for one, is optimistic.

"I can't wait to see him when he comes out," Manuel said.

Utley's batting average is low, but there are encouraging signs about his performance. He is walking at a higher rate than his career average and striking out at a lower one. His on-base percentage is slightly above his career numbers. And he is hitting line drives 19.7 percent of the time, barely off his career rate of 21.2 percent.

Like anyone, Utley has been through cold streaks before. The most notable came in 2008 when he went hitless in 24 at-bats during June. In the 10 games following that skid, Utley hit .357.

Manuel rejected the notion this streak is anything more than a few weeks of bad play.

"I would never say that," Manuel said. "I've seen us play before. I know Utley is going to hit and I know [Ryan] Howard is going to hit better. I know Jayson Werth is going to hit better and in the last couple days, he has hit better."

Since May 16, Utley is hitting .164 (9 for 55). He was asked if at this point in the slump, players begin pressing.

"At this point, probably," Utley said.

The second baseman said the one key to overcoming a slide like this is staying positive regardless of the statistics.

Manuel said he has faith in that philosophy.

"If you look, every year, it doesn't matter what team you are, you get tested; and I'd say this is a good test for our team," Manuel said. "If you look at it, this is a good measuring stick. If you pass the test, you get better and you start wining games. You might get tested a couple times, but this is definitely one. This will prove how good we are."

Taveras signs. The Phillies signed outfielder Willy Taveras to a minor-league deal Thursday. Taveras, a major-league veteran of seven seasons, will report to triple-A Lehigh Valley on Friday, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

Taveras, 28, will replace outfielder Dewayne Wise at triple-A. Wise had an out clause in his contract for June 1 and exercised it, making him a free agent. Wise hit .272 in 36 games with Lehigh Valley.

Taveras began the season on the Washington Nationals roster and appeared in 28 games. He hit .200 with four RBIs and seven runs scored in 35 at-bats.

Taveras led the majors with 68 stolen bases in 2008.

But since hitting .320 for Colorado in 2007, Taveras has hit .244 with the Rockies, Reds and Nationals.

Figueroa clears. Righthander Nelson Figueroa cleared waivers and accepted a minor-league assignment with the Phillies. He will report to triple-A Lehigh Valley. Figueroa, 36, was designated for assignment Monday by the Phillies and had indicated it was unlikely he would return to the organization in the minors. He was 1-1 with a 4.82 ERA in nine games.