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.

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Plastered on a wall outside the press box in Coca-Cola Park is a sign — "Pigs to the Bigs" — surrounded by dozens of stars.

Each has upon it the name of a player who has made the leap from the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs to the parent Phillies since Lehigh Valley began operations in 2008 — everyone from outfielder Chris Snelling (April 30, 2008) to pitcher Nick Pivetta (April 29, 2017), the latter of whom has since returned to the IronPigs.

It is a study in the star-crossed, of guys who bounced up and down (Pete Orr, July 8, 2011), guys who flamed out (Domonic Brown, July 28, 2010), guys whose fate is yet to be determined (Maikel Franco, Sept. 3, 2014).

The point being that the path to major-league stardom seldom follows a straight line.

That has been demonstrated once again by the Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, who spent weeks in bounce-back mode earlier this season.

And now finds himself there again.

His 0-for-4 night in Thursday's 8-4 loss to Indianapolis left him hitless in his last 16 at-bats, his slash line for the season at .175/.291/.221.

Recall that Crawford, the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft, had exactly four hits in 48 at-bats over his first 14 games of the season, an average of .083.

Never before had the 22-year-old experienced anything like it, and he took a methodical approach to remedying the problem. He did some video work. He tinkered with his stance. He consulted with hitting coach Sal Rende and roving minor-league hitting instructor Andy Tracy. And slowly but surely, he began coming around.

The thinking at that point was that his slump might serve as a valuable lesson, a blessing in disguise.

As Crawford put it hours before Thursday's first pitch, "I'd rather struggle here than if I ever make it to the big leagues, God willing. I'd much rather have it [happen] down here than up there."

Though it will happen there, too. Baseball, everyone always says, is a game of failure. It's just a matter of how each player deals with it, works through it, minimizes it.

Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan has said repeatedly that he was impressed by Crawford's approach to his scuffling start, that he thought the youngster treated it as "a growing opportunity" that can only help him down the line.

It was all Wathan could have hoped for, for Crawford or anybody else.

"I think it's a good thing to be able to have some experience to look back on, later on," he said. "Now, when they're going through it they probably don't think of it that way, but those of us who have been around baseball and been in situations like that personally, too, know that it's going to get better."

Wathan, seated at his office desk in a T-shirt and shorts before Thursday's game, has been around the block. He previously managed Crawford at Double A Reading, and believes those 14 games in April represent a blip.

"We know that J.P.'s a great player," Wathan said. "I think [such struggles] can actually end up being a good thing for these guys."

If Crawford, a native Californian, had few previous failures to draw upon — "He hasn't really had any," Wathan said — he at least had a ready roster of big-time athletes in his family with whom he could commiserate. His dad, Larry, was a CFL defensive back from 1981-89. His cousin, Carl, was a major-league outfielder for 15 years, ending last season. His older sister, Eliza, played softball at Cal State-Fullerton.

Certainly it appears they have kept him grounded, because he is singularly unimpressed by his draft status or ranking with various scouting services.

"I [couldn't] care less about that," he said. "All that doesn't really matter. Once you get on the field, everyone's the same. Everyone's the same player."

Though he was somewhat less than that early on. He was admittedly frustrated, but far from defeated.

"You've got to stay on the positive [side] on everything," he said. "You can't get too down on yourself, or else you're just going to do worse."

Had it been a major-league situation instead of a player-development situation, it is entirely possible that Wathan would have held him out of the lineup a day or two, just to let him clear his head.

"Or maybe not, because he contributes every night, somehow," the manager said.

And as Crawford said, "You're not going to get better sitting. You've got to go out there and play."

He admitted earlier this month that while he had once been reluctant about video study, he found great benefit in it when he was looking for answers in late April.

He decided to raise his hands while at the plate, and the hits began to come. He batted at a .253 clip over 24 games, including a six-game hitting streak, bringing his average to a season-best .196 on May 20.

Now it's back to the drawing board. It is, after all, a game of failure. It's just a matter of dealing with it, working through it, minimizing it.

He has become well-acquainted with the concept.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).