Utley latest Phillie to compete in Derby
Howard to advise Major Leagues' leading home run hitter
PHILADELPHIA -- One of the more enjoyable moments from Chase Utley's first All-Star appearance in 2006 was him videotaping Ryan Howard's long drives out of PNC Park.Hopefully for Utley, who will participate in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby on July 14 at Yankee Stadium, he learned something from the big guy. Utley, however, readily admits he doesn't consider himself a home run hitter, despite his Major League-leading 25 home runs. "I have my work cut out for me," said Utley, acknowledging that he never imagined himself in this type of competition. "I was in one in [Class] A ball, in the Florida State League, and that didn't go so well. Nobody hit any home runs. Everybody was shut out, and the guys that advanced were the guys that had the league lead at the time."
That likely won't be the case this time, as confirmed participants Lance Berkman, Grady Sizemore, Josh Hamilton, Dan Uggla and Utley have quite a few home runs on their ledger. Utley likened the competition to a round of batting practice, and maintained his focus will be on hitting line drives.He'll bring catching instructor Mick Billmeyer with him to Yankee Stadium. Billmeyer threw to Jim Thome in Houston in '04, and the excited slugger didn't get out of the first round. Bobby Abreu and Ryan Howard won back-to-back titles in '05 and '06, respectively, and Howard returned in '07, but didn't advance out of Round 1. Utley will give the Phillies five straight years with a Derby participant. "Hit 'em hard and hit 'em far," Howard said, with a laugh. "I'll give him the rundown of what to do. I remember Lance Berkman told us not to swing at every pitch, then went out there and swung at the first four or five. I'm going to tell Chase to get in a rhythm. Don't swing at every pitch, because you'll get tired quick. "You get as much time as you need. Just get a good rhythm and if it's not a long ball, step out and regroup. Grab a Gatorade or whatever. I think he'll be fine. There's a short porch out there to right. Lefties have the advantage." Billmeyer agreed. Thome tired quickly after taking extra batting practice before the Derby, and swung at every pitch Billmeyer threw. The key for Utley will be to think of it as a line-drive contest. In that case, he'll win if he does. "He's like an assassin," said Billmeyer, who joked that he'll throw nothing but "splits and sinkers" to Utley. "He just stays through the middle of the field. He never tries to take one out in BP. Later this week he might try. He's going to try to win it, but he doesn't want a bagel." Utley's compact, short stroke is perfect for Citizens Bank Park, and he often peppers line-drive homers to right-center field. Twice this season, he's homered in five straight games, so he's been streaky, too. "Chase is a good line drive hitter," manager Charlie Manuel said. "When he hits home runs is when he's going though streaks where he's getting the ball in the air. He hits home runs by hitting the baseball correctly and being a smart hitter. "I'm not surprised he's leading the league. He's kind of slacking off. He hasn't kept the pace up he was on. The Derby is kind of compliment to him." Howard reminded Utley of the most important thing. "Enjoy yourself," Howard said. "That's what it's there for. Just to go out and have fun. Hit some home runs. Nobody wants to go out there and put up the goose egg. Once you get the first one, you start to get into that rhythm and you're good to go. Everything is downhill from there." If nothing else, he'll be prepared. A voracious connoisseur of video of opposing pitchers, Utley was asked if he would study Billmeyer's motion. "He throws a lot of fastballs," Utley said. "I make a pretty good batter's eye for him," Billmeyer said, patting his broad chest.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.