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.

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

A few Phillies thoughts between NFL playoff games:
 
Jerad Eickhoff was in town the other day putting smiles on the faces of some special kids at CSN Philly’s annual Shining Star Awards dinner, which benefits the March of Dimes.
 
Before the event, Eickhoff was a guest on Philly Sports Talk and he was asked about the possibility of being the Phillies' opening day starter April 3 in Cincinnati. The right-hander said all the right things, noting that there were several worthy candidates and that the decision ultimately would be made by manager Pete Mackanin, and he was right on all counts.
 
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who gets the ball on opening day. The goal of every starter is to stay healthy for a full season and if he does that he’ll end up with 33 starts and ample opportunity to pitch himself to the top of the rotation.
 
Still, starting on opening day is a big honor, even if a lot of folks won’t remember who got the ball for the opener much beyond Memorial Day.
 
The 2017 Phillies have two legitimate candidates for opening day starter: Jeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff. 

Hellickson got the nod last year and did nothing to suggest he does not deserve the honor again this year. The veteran right-hander pitched 189 innings over 32 starts and was a pro’s pro from the moment he stepped foot in the clubhouse.
 
But with all due respect to Hellickson, this early vote for the opening day assignment goes to Eickhoff for a number of reasons.
 
First of all, he’s earned it with his performance. He led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) in 2017. He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure constantly stress to the staff the importance of throwing strikes. Eickhoff responded in 2016. His ratio of 1.92 walks per nine innings was the fourth-best mark among National League starters in 2016.

In addition, he's earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.

All of this leads us to another reason that Eickhoff should get the opening day nod: The Phillies are a building team and Eickhoff, 26 years old and under team control for five more seasons, is going to be around for a while. Hellickson will likely depart for free agency after this season. Ditto Clay Buchholz. Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future. 
 
And as for the notion that holding Eickhoff back until the second or third game of the season would help keep him away from opposing teams’ top pitchers and get him better matchups and possibly more run support. Well, Eickhoff already knows what it’s like to face top rivals and keep his team in the game. Last year, he matched up against Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and twice against both Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke. Late in the season, he faced NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and lefty stud Chris Sale once. He pitched 19 innings in those three starts and allowed six runs. Pretty solid.
 
It’s certainly not the most important decision that Mackanin & Co. will face between now and April, but when it comes to opening day starter, well, we like Eick.
 
• Spring training is less than a month away, but the Phillies’ offseason roster construction remains in progress. You can pretty much bank on the club adding a bat, likely a left-handed-hitting outfielder, in the coming days.
 
Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders, both free-agent outfielders, remain the most likely targets, with Moss probably the best fit because of his ability to help out at first base.
 
The Phillies have had longstanding interest in Jay Bruce, who is on the Mets’ trading block, but sources say the price for him is two prospects. The rebuilding Phillies are committed to hanging on to their prospects. Moss or Saunders would cost just money, making them better fits on a short-term deal.

• The Phillies will officially open their new developmental academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The club has leased four different facilities since ramping up efforts in the DR in 1994. The new facility, built on 45 acres in Boca Chica, is co-owned by the Phillies and Minnesota Twins. The two teams have separate baseball facilities and dormitories for up to 78 players. The clubs share kitchen, dining and field maintenance costs.
 
Read more about the new facility here.
  
• Agreeing at the midpoint and avoiding a hearing is always the goal when a player and his team exchange salary figures during the arbitration process. Cesar Hernandez submitted a figure of $2.8 million and the Phillies came in at $2 million. Shake hands at $2.4 million and move on.
 
• We mentioned this recently, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so remarkable. At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
• Phillies prospect Carlos Tocci is a strong candidate for the rookie of the year award in the Venezuelan winter league. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .323 with a .403 on-base percentage in 59 games for the Aragua ballclub.
 
Odubel Herrera was rookie of the year and batting champion in the Venezuelan league two years ago.
 
• And finally, Phillies chairman David Montgomery was among the honorees at the 14th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation In the Spirit of the Game awards dinner Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California.
 
Montgomery received the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Executive Leadership Award. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Bo Jackson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a host of legendary scouts were among the other honorees at the event.
 
It was nice to see an organization dedicated to scouting recognize Montgomery, who served as Phillies president from 1997 to 2014. As leader of the Phillies, Montgomery always realized the importance of scouts in building a successful organization, and in his typical style built personal relationships with every member of his club’s scouting staff, right down to the area guys who drive around baseball’s backstreets in search of young talent. Winning the 2008 World Series was the highlight of Montgomery’s time as club president and that team was built on the back of good scouting.
 
So congratulations to one of the classiest and most respected men in the game on a most fitting honor.