Chasing playing time: Utley could prove vital to LA

With Kendrick down, Dodgers could turn more to veteran

Chasing playing time: Utley could prove vital to LA

SAN DIEGO -- In one day, pre-game questions to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went from why he would bat 37-year-old Chase Utley at leadoff, to how many starts he could squeeze out of 37-year-old Chase Utley?

On Opening Day, Utley went 3-for-5, was hit by a pitch, lined out and scored the first of 15 Dodgers runs after starting the game with a double off Padres starter Tyson Ross. Not bad as the fill-in for injured second baseman Howie Kendrick.

"I just feel Chase gives us four good at-bats every single night," Roberts said before Utley went 0-for-4 from the leadoff spot in Tuesday's 3-0 win. "(Starting) every day is aggressive. We're going to have to give him a blow at some point. He had a nice at-bat against a lefty so there's a case to be made for that, but when there's a lefty out there, I'll reassess."

Roberts guessed that a healthy Utley might play 130 games, although if third baseman Justin Turner and Kendrick are also healthy, Roberts might be challenged divvying up the at-bats. He hopes to have that dilemma.

"Obviously, he's in fantastic shape and prepares well," said Roberts. "He'll be the first to say he doesn't expect to play 140 games. It's my job to kind of figure out when to give him a blow and when we don't. We'll play it by ear. I think I'm good at checking in on players to see how they feel. Chase and I have a pretty good relationship."

Roberts said Utley's seven-pitch at-bat in the first inning allowed his offense to quickly see what Ross had to offer.

"As a former leadoff hitter, I took pride in setting the tone offensively," Roberts said. "If you make the pitcher grind from the first pitch on, I think it sets a tone. The old school mindset, if you can see every pitch a pitcher has from the outset in that first at-bat, it sends a message. That first at-bat in the shadows against Tyson Ross and you're seeing sliders and the two-seamer, you're seeing seven pitches and you leg out a double, yeah, I think he set a tone that for me as a manager I like for our group."

Roberts said he plans to alternate A.J. Ellis (who started Monday) and Austin Barnes (who started Tuesday night) behind the plate until Yasmani Grandal returns. Grandal (strained right forearm) and Kendrick (strained left calf) participated in a simulated game in Arizona on Tuesday. Roberts said Grandal is scheduled to be activated for Tuesday's home opener, but it's unclear if Kendrick will be ready.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.