Chase Utley says rehab outing 'went really well'

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Chase Utley says rehab outing 'went really well'

READING, Pa. — It doesn’t look like much in the box score, but for Chase Utley, Wednesday night’s rehab outing for Double A Reading at First Energy Stadium was exactly what he needed.

On the disabled list since May 20 with a strained oblique muscle, Utley cut loose for the first time in nearly a month. The All-Star second baseman played eight innings at second base, had four plate appearances and even got a chance to run the bases even though he went 0 for 4 with three fly outs.

“I could have slid, dove -- I was all in,” Utley said.

“It went well. I played eight innings, got four at-bats and I played with no reservations, which is a good feeling to have. Initially I was scheduled to play seven, but I wanted to get that extra at-bat, so I played an extra inning on defense and I thought it went really well.”

Utley admitted his timing was a little off when at the plate, but the rust wasn’t evident in his swing. As quick and smooth as ever, Utley saw 11 pitches in his four plate appearances and hit the ball solidly.

In the first inning, Utley hit a 1-1 pitch to the warning track in deep left-center. He hit a 2-0 pitch to short center for the third out in the third inning and grounded into a fielder’s choice on a 1-1 pitch in the fifth.

With two outs, Utley went from first to third on Jim Murphy’s looping single to short right field. He took a big turn around third base and appeared ready to head to the plate when Reading’s manager Dusty Wathan threw up the stop sign.

Imagine the explanation from Wathan if Utley had to barrel over the catcher on a play at the plate.

Utley’s night ended in the eighth when he led off the inning with a fly out to right field on a 0-1 pitch.

It was an oh-fer, but it felt pretty good to Utley.

“I felt like I was swinging 100 percent. Obviously, I haven’t seen live pitching in a month. My timing was a little off, but overall it went pretty well,” said Utley, noting that he has been swinging a bat and taking batting practice since Sunday. “The last four or five days I’ve been letting go pretty good and not holding back.”

So is Utley ready to return to the lineup for the Phillies? Probably. However, in a recent update about his injury, Utley said he wanted to take his time and make sure he was healthy before he got back to action.

Though Utley did not commit to another rehab outing for Reading on Thursday night, it seems more than likely that he will suit up in the minors for one more game before returning to the Phillies.

“I don’t [know]. I’ll talk to Charlie (Manuel) and to Ruben (Amaro) and kind of put a game plan together and go from there,” Utley said about his impending return to the big leagues. “But most importantly, feeling good and not holding back was something I wanted to accomplish and I feel pretty good about that.”

Utley seemed downright giddy about playing an actual baseball game for a change. After all, Utley has missed 29 games already this season and 185 games in the last three years.

Headed into this season, Utley appeared in just 62 percent of the Phillies’ regular-season games. So, yes, eight innings at Reading sure beats watching from the dugout and doing strengthen exercises for yet another injury.

“It was nice facing someone other than a BP pitcher,” Utley said. “Their guy tonight [Portland right-hander Anthony Ranaudo] was pretty good. It was good to see a pitcher with some velocity and a breaking ball.”

There’s something else, too. In 73 games this season, the Phillies have had their regular starting eight in the lineup for just five games. With catcher Carlos Ruiz returning this week from a hamstring injury, Utley is the lone holdover.

When Utley returns?

“It means we’re back,” he said.

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

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