Chase Utley is a crucial part of the Philadelphia Phillies success, in large part to being nothing but a bulldog when its time to play. And that is a characteristic any manager would love to have on his team.
But that bulldog mentality has contributed to putting Utley on the disabled list over the course of the past few years, not to forget the beginning of the 2011 season.
Utley is indefinitely on the shelf with patellar tendinitis in his right knee, and as a second baseman, Utley needs that knee for every part of his defense, using it to plant, to throw off of, to push himself to a ground ball up the middle, and a lot more.
And Utley needs his right knee for a lot more, especially his stellar offensive production. Since coming up with the Phillies in 2003 out of UCLA, Utley has played in 1006 games, not including the two deep runs into the postseason in 2009 & 2009.
The 32-year-old Utley is coming off a season where he played in the fewest games in his career since playing a full season with the Phillies, 115. The previous season-low was 132.
A sprained thumb shelved Utley in 2010, and a broken bone in his right hand in 2007 helped the all-star lose significant time during the season.
The way Utley plays, he goes all out, nothing holding him back, World Series Championship or bust, and that is an admirable quality.
But the Phillies need Utley.
The organization has not proven that it can replace him just yet, especially with three years remaining on the 7-year, $85 million contract extension he signed the day after he got married, Jan. 21, 2007.
It may seem that Philadelphia can do without his offensive numbers until he is healthy to return, especially with the starting pitching the Phillies have in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, but the numbers of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino will dip.
As baseball fans saw last year, the Atlanta Braves made their case in the NL East, holding first place into September, until injuries to stars of their own doomed hopes of a deep playoff run.
Baseball may not come off as a grueling game, but it is a marathon season, consisting of 162-games. Injuries happen, and there is nothing the casual fan can do but wait until that player returns, hopefully to his old self.
For now, it will be left to Charlie Manuel to find a suitable replacement for Utley in the lineup and on the field.
But for the rest of the NL East, the time is now to get hot and get out of the gates quick before the Phillies get rolling on all cylinders.