Contract extension for Utley? Sure feels like it

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Contract extension for Utley? Sure feels like it

ST. LOUIS -- Are the Phillies nearing a contract extension with Chase Utley?

The hunch here is that they might be.

Something seems to be brewing.

Again, it’s just a hunch, but we thought we’d share it anyway.

The Phillies are always super quiet when it comes to contract matters -- sometimes they even fib -- and Utley is intensely private.

So this hunch is based on observations, conversations and signs.

To wit:

• A person with knowledge of the situation says the Phillies have had recent talks with Utley’s representation about a contract extension.

• Word in well-placed baseball circles is that the Phillies are not listening to trade offers for Utley.

• The decision to broaden second-base prospect Cesar Hernandez’s utility skills by having him play some outfield shouldn’t be underestimated, especially upon further review of the comment that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. made to CSNPhilly.com on Sunday.

“If we’re fortunate enough to keep Chase in our uniform, which we hope to do, Cesar becomes a utility piece,” Amaro said Sunday.

• In the same conversation, Amaro was asked point blank if he’d begun to speak with Utley’s representation about an extension.

“We wouldn’t discuss it even if we did,” he said.

He didn’t say no. Amaro isn’t always forthcoming when it comes to matters of negotiations, but he has a way of shooting down the ridiculous. He didn’t shoot this one down.

There are other signs:

• Wednesday on the team’s official website, an advertisement promoting next week’s three-game series against the Giants featured a picture of Utley. Two of those games come after the trade deadline. Would the Phils use a player they were planning to trade to promote a series that comes up right after the trade deadline? Doubtful.

And don’t think the trade deadline is not significant. Utley can be a free agent at the end of the season. The best way to get value for him would be to deal him before waivers would be needed between Aug. 1 and Aug. 21. Utley gains full no-trade rights on Aug. 22 when he reaches 10 years in the majors and five with the same club.

It is difficult to imagine the Phillies would risk having Utley walk and get nothing for him. If they’re not trading him, they’re probably committed to extending him.

• The Phils will give out posters of Utley on the next homestand. That could be a sign that they plan to extend the relationship, though last year they followed through on a long-planned Hunter Pence Bobblehead giveaway after the outfielder was traded.

Around the time Pence was traded, the Phils announced a contract extension for Cole Hamels. So even as the Phils were dumping players -- as could happen next week -- they were sending a message to their fans that they intended to keep their best and most recognizable talent. It might make marketing sense to send this message again soon as the Phils have 34 home games remaining. They want to sell tickets regardless if they stay in the race or not.

And finally, there is this sign that the Phillies and Utley might be nearing a contract extension:

• Amaro, the man who has said he wants to make Utley a Phillie for life, and Utley, who as far back as spring training said he’d like to stay with the club, have recently been spotted huddling for private conversations at the ballpark.

Bet they’re not talking about sushi restaurants, though there is a good one right around the corner from Busch Stadium if this hunch proves to be a whole lot of bunk.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Hoskins and Williams still impress as losses mount

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Phillies-Giants 5 things: Hoskins and Williams still impress as losses mount

Phillies (43-76) at Giants (49-74)
10:15 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

What had the makings of a successful week out west has not come to fruition for the Phillies, who were swept by lowly San Diego and dropped Game 1 of their four-game series to the San Francisco Giants last night.

Aaron Nola's run of dominance came to an end — he's human, after all — and the Phillies fell just short against Jeff Samardzija and the Giants' pen.

But still, there was a lot to like last night.

1. Hoskins getting comfortable
After homering three times in San Diego, Rhys Hoskins found other ways to produce Thursday in San Fran. 

Playing in the toughest outfield in baseball, Hoskins made an impressive running catch in front of the left-center field warning track on a ball in the gap. He looked like a natural leftfielder on that play. Later in the game, he threw out Buster Posey trying to go first to third on a single.

Hoskins also singled twice and finished the night 2 for 3 with a walk. The lone out he made shouldn't have even been an out. Hoskins opened the eighth inning with a line shot down the third-base line that appeared to bounce over the bag in fair territory but was called foul. That type of play is not reviewable, so instead of an inning-opening double, Hoskins eventually popped out to shallow center.

Hoskins looks like the real deal, not just because of the power but because of the patience he continues to show at the plate. The Phillies don't have enough players who work counts and don't let pitchers get away with mistakes.

2. Williams keeps hitting
Last night was Nick Williams' 40th game and he continues to show no signs of slowing down. He crushed a solo home run to right-center field off Samardzija last night for his sixth homer and 25th RBI.

Williams is hitting .291/.348/.507 — better numbers than he had in the minors.

The 431-foot home run really stood out because of how difficult it is to go deep at AT&T Park. Entering last night, there had been 23 fewer homers hit there than any other park in the majors and 70 fewer homers than the league average.

Williams runs well, defends all three outfield positions well, has hit for average and power and held his own against lefties. What's not to like? Williams is 10 for 33 (.303) off lefties with a triple and two homers.

There are a whole lot of question marks about the Phillies' future but their outfield appears to be set with Odubel Herrera in center and Williams and Aaron Altherr in the corners (once everyone is healthy).

3. Which Eflin will we see?
Zach Eflin makes his 11th start of the season tonight, matching his total from 2016. He's 1-4 with a 5.76 ERA this season and 4-9 with a 5.65 ERA in his career.

Eflin is coming off an uneven start against the Mets in which he mostly pitched well but was hurt by two home runs. He just didn't command the ball low in the zone, as evidenced by the career-low three groundballs he generated.

The last time Eflin pitched in spacious AT&T Park, he allowed just an unearned run over six innings. 

Current Giants have gone 7 for 21 (.333) off Eflin with two doubles (both by Nick Hundley) and a homer (Brandon Crawford).

The Phillies have some decisions to make this winter with the starting pitching staff. Nola is obviously a lock, as is Jerad Eickhoff in the back of the rotation. Nick Pivetta has enough stuff to warrant a long look again in 2018. But beyond that? The Phillies don't know if they can rely on Vince Velasquez, who has struggled with injuries and inefficiency. They don't know about Eflin's long-term outlook; some nights he's brilliant, some nights he doesn't look like a viable starting pitcher. Jake Thompson has taken steps back. Ben Lively has flashed some things but does he have a sustainable repertoire?

It would seem to behoove the Phillies to add a few veteran starting pitchers this offseason via trade or free agency. I don't mean a Clay Buchholz-type, either. We talk a lot about that flashy 2018-19 free-agent class, but the top guys aren't going to want to come here if the Phillies are still a 70-win team. Improving the starting pitching staff as these young position players continue to grow would be a way to move the needle forward.

4. Moore disappointment?
The Phillies face struggling Giants left-hander Matt Moore, who enters 3-12 with a 5.71 ERA. 

Moore was once one of the most intriguing young pitchers in baseball, but he hasn't been good since 2013. Walks are always an issue, and he's on track this season to allow more home runs than ever before. Moore has walked 50 and allowed 22 homers in 135⅔ innings this season.

The Phillies hit him around back on June 4, scoring five runs and chasing him after four innings. They also faced him last season in his very first start with the Giants. On that day, Moore walked six men in six innings but allowed just two runs.

Moore lacks an out-pitch against lefties, who have hit an insane .386/.448/.641 off of him this season. So don't expect Pete Mackanin to try to load up the lineup with righties, who have hit .259/.318/.455.

The only Phillie to ever take Moore deep is Freddy Galvis. Cesar Hernandez is 3 for 7 with two doubles, a triple and two walks. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 6-21 against the NL West. Again, that's the worst record for any major-league team against any division in 2017.

• The Phils are 19-45 on the road. That .297 winning percentage is their third-worst on the road since 1940.

• The Phillies are 2½ games worse than the next-worst team, the White Sox at 45-73.

• In 36 career games against the Phillies, Buster Posey has hit .394 with a .943 OPS. It's Posey's highest batting average against any team, but at least 45 of his 56 hits have been singles.

Best of MLB: Gary Sanchez's 5 RBIs help Yankees beat Mets

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Best of MLB: Gary Sanchez's 5 RBIs help Yankees beat Mets

NEW YORK -- Gary Sanchez homered and matched a career high with five RBIs, Luis Severino got right back on track and the New York Yankees made it a four-game sweep in the Subway Series with a 7-5 victory Thursday night over the Mets.

Sanchez hit a three-run homer off struggling starter Steven Matz in the first inning and a two-run single in the fourth. Brett Gardner broke his 3-for-29 slump with a two-run double, and the Yankees won twice at Citi Field just as they did back home in the Bronx earlier this week.

Four games behind first-place Boston in the AL East, the Yankees begin a three-game series Friday night at Fenway Park. The Red Sox took two of three last weekend when the longtime rivals played at Yankee Stadium.

Curtis Granderson hit his seventh career grand slam off Bryan Mitchell in the ninth, pulling the Mets to 7-5. Dellin Betances was immediately summoned and got three quick outs for his eighth save (see full recap).

Zimmerman's homer lifts Nationals to win vs. Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Ryan Zimmerman homered with two outs in the eighth inning to lift the NL East-leading Washington Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday night.

Zimmerman homered to right field on 1-1 pitch from Kirby Yates (2-4), who struck out the first two batters of the inning. It was Zimmerman's 29th. Yates then struck out Adam Lind to end the inning.

The homer was one of just four hits for Washington and made a winner of Edwin Jackson (4-2), who pitched for the Padres for part of last season. He allowed one run and eight hits in seven innings, struck out four and walked one. Jackson had been 0-6 lifetime against the Padres.

Sean Doolittle pitched the ninth for his 10th save.

The Padres were coming off a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, the NL East cellar dwellers who have the worst record in the majors (see full recap).

Corbin goes 8 1/3 innings, Diamondbacks beat Astros
HOUSTON -- Patrick Corbin came within an out short of his first career shutout and first complete game since 2013 in the Arizona Diamondbacks' 4-0 victory over the Houston Astros on Thursday.

After allowing a two-out double to Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the ninth, Corbin was pulled by Arizona manager Torey Lovullo. Archie Bradley took over on the mound and struck out Marwin Gonzalez.

Corbin (10-11) allowed four hits and one walk, struck out seven and threw just 105 pitches. After blanking the Chicago Cubs in 6 2/3 innings in his previous start, Corbin has 16 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

After scoring a combined 18 runs in consecutive wins over Arizona on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Astros' bats went cold in the final game of the four-game series, which was split between Arizona and Houston.

Arizona second baseman Daniel Descalso hit an inside-the-park home run off Astros starter Mike Fiers in the fourth inning on a deep drive that sailed over the head of center fielder Jake Marisnick and bounced off the wall away from him (see full recap).