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.

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Drew Anderson remembers his telephone ringing in November. He remembers hearing Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan congratulate him and tell him that he'd been placed on the team's 40-man roster.

Anderson was elated.

"It was awesome," the right-handed pitcher said the other day.

So awesome that Anderson celebrated in an unusual way.

"I busted out 50 pushups," he said. "I had so much adrenaline."

The internal discussions that teams have when considering which players to protect on the 40-man roster and which ones to risk losing in the Rule 5 draft are often long and detailed and decisions are not always reached easily.

But in Anderson's case ...

"It was not a long conversation," Jordan said. "The feeling was, 'Put him on the roster. Don't lose him. Let's talk about the next guy.'"

"Across the board," minor-league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves said. "And that's not common for a kid that pitched in A-ball."

Anderson, who turns 23 on March 22, will get his first taste of Double A ball in April.

Clearly, the Phillies are high on him.

But how high?

"We've got scouts who will tell you that he might be our best pitching prospect," Jordan said.

Given some of the power arms that the Phils have collected in the low minors, that's quite a statement.

If it seems as if Anderson has flown below the radar since being drafted by the Phillies in 2012 it's because, well, he's done just that.

For a while.

He received little interest from four-year colleges coming out of Galena High School in Reno, Nevada and was headed to Mesa Community College in Arizona before the Phillies selected him in the 21st round that year.

"My name never really got out there," he said. "Really only the Phillies looked at me. (Area scout) Joey Davis saw me and he said he liked that I had a fluid arm and he liked the way the ball jumped out of my hand. He saw me as a sleeper pick. I just wanted to play ball so I said, 'Yeah, I'll give it a shot.'"

Jordan recalled seeing Anderson pitch at Single A Lakewood early in the 2014 season. Anderson had added strength to his 6-foot-3 frame and his fastball velocity had jumped from 90-92 mph to 93-95 mph.

"It was just a matter of physical maturity, his body getting stronger, and we were really excited," Jordan said.

Anderson did not make it through that season, however. He came down with an elbow injury and the following spring became a statistic — a pitcher who needed Tommy John surgery.

Anderson missed the 2015 season. He came back in May of last year and made 15 starts between Lakewood and Clearwater. At Clearwater, the Phillies' advanced Single A stop, Anderson posted a 1.93 ERA in 32⅔ innings. He struck out 37 and walked 10.

The rehabilitation process after Tommy John surgery focuses on more than just the elbow. Special attention is paid to the shoulder and the legs. Working under Joe Rauch, the Phillies' minor-league rehab specialist, Anderson gained much strength in those areas and it showed in his fastball velocity last summer.

He got it up to 97 mph.

He also has a good breaking ball and an improving changeup to go with a classic pitcher's body. He has long arms and weighs 205 pounds.

"We just felt some team out there would have taken him even if they had to stash him in the bullpen," said Jordan, expounding on the Phils' decision to add Anderson to the 40-man roster in November. "He's too big an asset."

Anderson is excited about making the jump to Reading this season. He's never pitched more than 76 innings as a pro and now that he's healthy needs to start racking up mound time and experience.

Anderson mentioned how hard he worked this offseason to get ready for his first trip to big-league camp and what lies beyond when he heads to Double A.

The hard work started with those 50 pushups that he busted out upon learning that he'd been placed on the 40-man roster.

"After hearing that it was time to kick it in gear," he said. "I was like, 'Let's do this.'

"I've had some ups and downs, but I feel like I'm on track now."

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Hector Neris racked up 102 strikeouts, the second-most ever by a Phillies reliever, during his breakout 2016 season.

The right-hander did it basically with a two-pitch mix — a power fastball and a darting splitter that manager Pete Mackanin likes to call “an invisible pitch.”

After last season, Neris reflected on his success, which included a 2.58 ERA over 80⅓ innings, the third-most among NL relievers.

Neris determined that he would need to diversify his pitch repertoire if he’s going to continue to have success.

So during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, he dusted off his seldom-used slider and threw it more. He’s polishing it up in this camp and plans to use it in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and during the regular season.

“I think it’s something that can make me better,” Neris said. “I’ve never had the confidence in it that I had in my other pitches, but I’m working hard on it. It will give me a third option for the hitter to think about.”

Neris threw a slider 2.9 percent of the time in 2016, according to MLB Statcast. He threw more than 49 percent splitters and 46 percent fastballs.

“In the big leagues you have to respect the hitter,” Neris said. “The hitters know me now and they know I throw fastballs and splitters. I need to have that third pitch for them to respect. When I throw it, I want them to say, ‘What is that?’”

Neris’ splitter darts down and in to a right-hander hitter. The slider will break the other way.

Neris has talked about different grips on the pitch with guest spring-training instructor Larry Andersen, who threw a million sliders in his career.

“He threw some nasty ones today,” Andersen said after Tuesday’s workout. “The pitch will help him.”

McLaren to WBC
Bullpen coach John McLaren will leave camp on Wednesday and travel to Japan as Team China assembles for the World Baseball Classic. McLaren will manage that club. He also skippered the club in 2013.

Asked if he spoke more than seven words of Chinese, McLaren quipped, “That would be pushing it. I’m still trying to conquer English.”

Team China will provide a translator for McLaren, though there is a universal element to baseball communication.

“This is my third time going to the WBC,” McLaren said. “I love it.”

Almost game time
The Phillies will play their annual exhibition game against the University of Tampa on Thursday. The Phils are expected to play many of the young players that will make up their Triple A Lehigh Valley roster. Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr., who pitched at Double A Reading last season, will come over from minor-league camp to make the start. Pitching coach Bob McClure said he expected to get several projected big-league relievers work in the game.

Alec Asher will start the Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees on Friday in Tampa and Adam Morgan will start Saturday’s games against the Yankees in Clearwater.