CINCINNATI — Chase Utley might not play third base anytime soon for the Dodgers. Fact is, he doesn’t know if or when that will happen at all.
But if every journey begins with a single step, Utley is maybe a couple steps closer to playing third base than he was when he joined the Dodgers a week ago. Third base coach Ron Roenicke hit ground balls to Utley at third base, with bench coach Tim Wallach watching closely and Don Mattingly receiving the ball at first base, for less than 10 minutes before Wednesday’s game.
“It went fine,” Utley affirmed. “That’s my first time taking ground balls over there in probably a few years. It was short and sweet. Just talked with Wallach a little bit about his ideas on playing the position. Made a few throws. We’ll continue to make progress.”
It wasn’t a polished practice, as you might expect from a 36-year-old who hasn’t played a game at third base since he was in Triple-A 13 years ago. Some throws looked better than others. One ball got past him entirely.
Utley said his goal was “completely just to get a feel. They probably wanted to get a feel as well.”
“That’s kind of the first day of starting that process,” Mattingly said. “While he’s playing second, you want to be careful of him not doing too much. It’s definitely a different throw. Trying to build him a little bit.”
The Dodgers lost their primary backup third baseman when they designated Alberto Callaspo for assignment to make room for Utley. Alex Guerrero can play third as well, though Mattingly’s preference has been to use Guerrero off the bench.
Utley will be out of a position once second baseman Howie Kendrick returns from the 15-day disabled list from a strained left hamstring. Kendrick is running “90, 95 percent” according to Mattingly and is targeting a minor league rehab assignment by week’s end. He’s expected back sometime in early September.
That’s the optimal timeframe for Utley to get comfortable at third.
“I’ll probably do that a bunch more times,” Utley said, “just try to make some progress on it and move forward with it and see what happens.”