No letting up for Utley in Phillies' latest loss

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No letting up for Utley in Phillies' latest loss

BOX SCORE

There are a lot of reasons why the Phillies are about to announce a contract extension for Chase Utley (see story).

One of them is the all-out, all-the-time style of play that Philadelphia fans have loved since the days of Concrete Charlie, Bobby Clarke and Brian Dawkins, and Utley displayed it vividly in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s night game against the Chicago Cubs.

The Phillies lost the game, 5-2, after the Cubs’ Donnie Murphy smacked his second homer of the game, a three-run shot with two outs in the top of the ninth (see Instant Replay).

The Phils are 3-14 since the all-star break and dead in the standings, so the outcome really doesn’t matter.

What you look for these days are glimmers of hope for the future -- the bullpen offered none Wednesday night -- and some entertainment value.

Utley offered the entertainment in this game -- and possibly a glimmer of hope for the future if his gutsy style of play rubs off on the young players that will form this team’s future.

Not in the starting lineup because the Cubs had a lefty, Travis Wood, on the mound, Utley came off the bench in the bottom of the seventh inning and laced a pinch single up the middle to tie the game at 2-2.

Moments later, Utley made a bid to score the go-ahead run from second base on a single to right field by Kevin Frandsen. Cubs rightfielder Cole Gillespie uncorked a perfect throw to catcher Dioner Navarro, who blocked the plate and withstood a hard collision to get Utley at the plate.

It would have been easy for Utley to let up on the gas -- the guy does have a degenerative knee condition -- and take his chances sliding into the plate, but he did not do that. He crashed into Navarro, trying to dislodge the ball. Navarro hung on for the out, but was carted from the field with a right ankle injury. X-rays were negative and the Cubs absolved Utley of any wrongdoing. It was old-fashioned hardball.

“Obviously, I wanted to be safe,” Utley said afterward. “I tried to knock the ball loose. I give him a lot of credit for hanging in there as long as he did and hanging on to the ball. That’s probably a big reason why they won the game. I definitely tip my hat to him.”

Replays showed that Utley might have been able to sneak his foot in had he slid, but “unfortunately, when you’re out there playing as fast as you can you don’t have replay,” Utley said. “The play happened so fast. I didn’t feel I had many options.”

The Phils ended up leaving the bases loaded in the inning and they lost it in the ninth when rookie reliever Luis Garcia walked three batters (catcher Erik Kratz picked off one of them) and Justin De Fratus allowed a three-run homer to Murphy. Just up from the minors, Murphy homered twice in the game. He also homered Tuesday night.

“The game was there for us and we couldn’t do enough to get it,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “And all of a sudden Murphy becomes Babe Ruth.”

Manuel often uses closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning of a tie game at home, but he did not do so because of Papelbon’s heavy recent workload. Papelbon threw 30 pitches Tuesday night and pitched Sunday and Saturday.

“We were staying away from Pap,” Manuel said. “If we got the lead we would have put him in.”

Cole Hamels pitched well. He allowed just two runs over seven walk-free innings before leaving for a pinch-hitter.

Hamels did not get a decision. He is 4-13 with a 3.81 ERA. Over his last 12 starts, he has an ERA of 2.85. You can win a lot of ballgames with an ERA like that, but the Phils are just 6-18 in Hamels’ 24 starts.

Though he is not happy with this lost season, Hamels seems at peace just taking the mound.

“I’m trying to make it fun instead of stressing over things I can’t control,” he said. “I’m just going out and trying to enjoy myself on the mound.”

The Phillies and Cubs play the rubber game of the series Thursday afternoon. The Phils are trying to avoid losing their sixth straight series.

Best of MLB: Solo homers power Cubs to win over Giants

Best of MLB: Solo homers power Cubs to win over Giants

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist hit solo homers, spot starter Eddie Butler pitched five effective innings and the Chicago Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 5-1 on Thursday for their third straight win.

Mike Montgomery followed with four scoreless innings and allowed one hit in his first save.

Heyward went deep for the second time in three games and Zobrist added two singles as the Cubs took three of four games in a set with the Giants and finished a homestand at 7-2 (see full recap).

Cruz blast helps Mariners top Nationals
WASHINGTON -- Nelson Cruz greeted reliever Jacob Turner with a go-ahead, three-run homer in the sixth inning, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Washington Nationals 4-2 Thursday to stop a five-game losing streak.

Gio Gonzalez took a 2-0 lead into the sixth, when Jean Segura singled leading off and Guillermo Heredia took a called third strike. That prompted Seattle manager Scott Servais to complain from the dugout, which led to his ejection by plate umpire Adam Hamari.

Robinson Cano singled, and Washington manager Dusty Baker brought in Turner (2-3), despite Cruz having just one hit in 15 at-bats against Gonzalez. Cruz drove a belt-high slider over the fence in left-center for his 12th homer this season and a 3-2 lead. Cruz leads the AL with 40 RBIs.

Cano added an RBI single off Turner in the seventh. Seattle scored multiple runs for the first time since May 18 (see full recap).

Andriese, Rasmus help Rays blank Angels
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Matt Andriese allowed six hits over eight innings, Colby Rasmus drove in four runs and the Tampa Bay Rays salvaged a split of a four-game series with Los Angeles by beating the Angels 4-0 on Thursday.

Andriese (5-1) improved to 4-0 over his last five starts, holding the Angels to 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Los Angeles threatened in five innings against the right-hander.

Rasmus had a pair of key two-out hits with the bases loaded: a two-run single in the first and a fifth-inning double that made it 4-0.

Tommy Hunter got three outs to complete a six-hitter (see full recap).

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph is making the Phillies' situation at first base quite tricky.

Joseph on Thursday continued building on his red-hot month of May by going 2 for 5 with a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

He's hit .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

That'll hold off the eye-popping production of Rhys Hoskins for now (see Future Phillies Report).

Extending it further, Joseph has played 148 career games with 499 plate appearances in the majors. That's just a bit less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. He's provided above-average offensive production from first base.

Most Phillies fans know Joseph's story — big-time catching prospect acquired from the Giants in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade, series of concussions, position switch, hot start to 2016 at Triple A, promotion, production.

It was a long, winding road for Joseph, and when he was asked Thursday if he expected to be this solid 500 plate appearances into his major-league career, he brought up health.

"My goals were to be healthy, to be able to play in 162 games and that's all I really want to be able to do," Joseph said. "That's something I haven't been able to do in my career and it's something that I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to the challenge to go through the mental challenge and the physical challenge and I'd say that's my No. 1 goal, that's my only goal. Because if I'm able to stay healthy and stay on the field then I'm able to enjoy this great game and getting to share it with my teammates."

As for the May adjustments, Joseph said the standard things about communicating with hitting coach Matt Stairs, working in the cage and staying consistent with his approach. His timing wasn't there in April but it's certainly been there in May.

"There's no telling what clicks in a guy, it's just a matter of making a minor adjustment sometimes, possibly getting better pitches to hit," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's no telling what it is, but he just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate."

Bullpen bouncing back
It's been completely overshadowed by the Phillies' recent skid but the bullpen has pitched very well of late. The unit that was overworked and criticized in April has combined to allow just two earned runs in its last 22 2/3 innings. On Thursday, six Phillies relievers — Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez — pitched six scoreless innings.

Neshek made the play of the day, diving and landing on his head to snag a pop-up bunt attempt before turning and firing to first base for the double play.

"I said early on that I think it's one of our strengths," Mackanin said of the bullpen. "And after today you can see why I have a lot of confidence in them."

Neshek, who has pitched in the postseason for four different teams, said Thursday that he thinks this is one of the best bullpens he's ever been around. It's not lip service, either. The unit was terrible in April, there's no getting around that. But some of that really did have to do with the overuse. Setup men were entering in the sixth inning. Opportunities for holds and saves were few and far between. Roles were not defined.

Stuff-wise, repertoire-wise, there is a lot to like about the Phillies' bullpen. Neris, Benoit and Neshek all offer vastly different looks and have track records of success.

While Neshek didn't totally endorse Benoit's comments from a few weeks ago that everything would settle down once the relievers knew specifically which inning they'd pitch, he did say that he too feels most comfortable coming in during a hold opportunity.

"I think my numbers show that I'm best in those situations, coming into a hold opportunity when we're ahead," Neshek said. "We haven't had much of those lately."

The horrendous start to the season for the Phillies' relievers will skew their stats all season long, but it's nice to see that at least one aspect of this team is starting to get into a groove.