DETROIT (AP) Even a potential Hall of Famer can go through a truly horrendous stretch.
Just ask Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley, who is hitting .116 so far this season – and that’s after he had a hit both Saturday and Sunday to raise his average a bit.
It’s early, but it’s also rare for a regular starter to be hitting that poorly. Utley easily has the lowest average of qualified hitters right now. The next worst belongs to Rougned Odor of Texas, who is a full 28 points higher at .144.
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Since 2010, only four players have finished the season hitting under .200 while still qualifying for the batting title – Carlos Pena (twice), Mark Reynolds, Dan Uggla and Chris Davis. Those players have two things in common: They all hit with enough power to make a low batting average a bit more acceptable, and they were all established players who were less likely to be benched even while hitting poorly.
That’s what makes this a tough situation for Philadelphia manager Ryne Sandberg. There’s certainly a decent chance Utley will emerge from this slump and be a productive player again, but how long can the team wait?
”I just take it a day at a time. With him, I’ve been thinking about a lot of things,” Sandberg said. ”He’s also a guy I want up there with a guy on third base situation, in a game-hitting situation.”
Utley did not start Saturday, but he singled as a pinch-hitter. He returned to his normal spot at No. 3 in the batting order the next day.
Other prominent hitters with low averages so far include Chris Carter (.151), Jay Bruce (.167), Jimmy Rollins (.171) and Mike Napoli (.172).
Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison, who hit .315 last year and nearly won the National League batting title, is languishing at .173 right now.
”I think the game can speed up on players,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. ”I think Josh is right now continuing to work and find that rhythm.”
Here are a few other recent developments from around the majors:
As odd as it is to see a hitter like Utley in a funk, there are a few pitchers off to eye-opening starts as well – and not in a good way.
AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber is 0-5 with a 5.04 ERA. Chris Sale has a 5.93 ERA, and Clay Buchholz is at 5.73. CC Sabathia is 0-5.
Nelson Cruz of Seattle already has 14 home runs – only three fewer than the entire Philadelphia team.
Aside from the big-name players mentioned above, here are some other buy-low candidates who might be possible trade targets after slow starts: Evan Gattis of Houston, Stephen Strasburg of Washington and Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers, homered twice and drove in eight runs in a 14-4 win over Milwaukee on Thursday. With apologies to Bryce Harper’s three-homer game, Grandal gets the nod for a performance in which he had four hits, scored three times and still found time to walk twice.
AP Sports Writers Rob Maaddi and Will Graves contributed to this report.