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NO SATISFACTION FOR UTLEY UCLA ALUM STANDS OUT WITH PHILLIES.

Byline: GIDEON RUBIN Special to the Daily News

SAN DIEGO - Four years into his major-league career with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chase Utley has established himself as one of baseball's best all-around players.

But to hear the 27-year-old UCLA product describe himself, he could easily be mistaken for a journeyman minor-leaguer, not an All-Star second baseman entering his prime.

``I'm never really that satisfied with how I play,'' said Utley, the Phillies' second baseman. ``Whether you play really good or really bad, you can always improve. Last season I tried to improve on the year before, and now I'm trying to improve on last season.''

Utley left minimal room for improvement after a breakthrough 2005 season in which he batted .291 with 28 home runs and 105 RBIs (all career bests). But he's on pace to be even better this season, batting .317 with 16 homers and 58 RBIs.

Utley has a career-best 22-game hitting streak. He is batting .404 (38 for 94) with 15 extra-base hits, including four homers, over that stretch.

He has been an exceptionally proficient situational hitter, batting .338 (27 for 80) with runners in scoring position and .444 with the bases loaded.

Utley's meteoric rise is no surprise to former Phillies scout Matt Lundin, who signed the five-tool prospect after watching Utley since he began to distinguish himself Long Beach Poly High.

His propensity for running out routine groundballs impressed Lundin as much as his ability to drive the ball with authority to all fields.

``His bat was the obvious great thing about him, but the makeup sold me,'' Lundin said. ``You talked to his teammates and they all loved him. He's just such a hard worker, and his makeup was off the charts.''

Originally drafted by the Dodgers in the second round out of high school in 1997, Utley boosted his draft stock in two seasons at UCLA, batting .382 with 22 homers and 69 RBIs as a sophomore. The Phillies made him the 15th overall pick in 2000.

Utley believes playing at UCLA under former Bruins coach Gary Adams was pivotal in his development.

``They let you grow as a player, they didn't try to mold you,'' Utley said of his UCLA days. ``They just kind of let you progress at your own pace, and that helps tremendously when you get to pro ball.''

The ultra- intense Utley's playing style has made him a favorite among the notoriously demanding Philadelphia fans, and with teammates.

``He's not a pretty-boy style flashy player, he's old school,'' Phillies outfielder Aaron Rowand said. ``He just goes out and plays hard and continues to get better. It's nice to have guys like that on your team.''

Utley's ability and his propensity to push himself have the Phillies believing their scrappy superstar might just be scratching the surface of his potential.

``He's a quality front-line player who plays the game the way it's supposed to be played and who just keeps getting better each year,'' Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever said.

But as Utley's career progresses, don't expect the person to change much.

``I've always been taught to play the game hard,'' Utley said. ``Baseball is such a tough game, it really humbles you at times, you just have to try not to get too high or too low.''

gideon.rubin@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

CAPTION(S):

photo, 2 boxes

Photo:

Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley, a UCLA product, has a career-best 22-game hit streak.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Box:

(1) LOCALS IN THE MAJORS

(2) LOCALS IN THE MINORS
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 23, 2006
Words:590
Previous Article:UCLA BASKETBALL: BRUINS GET MIXED NEWS ON RECRUITS.
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