In second rehab game, Utley feels '100 percent'

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In second rehab game, Utley feels '100 percent'

READING, Pa. — Headed into Thursday night’s contest at First Energy Stadium, Chase Utley had appeared in just four previous games for the Reading Fightin’ Phillies.

For a homegrown player like Utley, who spent parts of three seasons at Triple A, this fact is a little quirk in his development, though it doesn’t seem to have hindered Utley’s career in baseball. Even that 2002 season spent playing third base in Triple A instead of playing second base at Double A didn’t slow him down.

“It went by pretty fast at the time. I knew no different,” Utley said of those halcyon days. “I enjoyed my time at Scranton and I missed out in playing [in Reading] and it seems like they have a great fan base. It’s a lot of fun playing here, but that was the road they wanted me to take.”

Meanwhile, Utley’s latest incarnation with Reading doesn’t appear as if it is going to last too long, either. Though he went 0 for 5 on Thursday night following an 0-for-4 for Reading on Wednesday in his first rehab games since suffering a strained oblique muscle on May 21, Utley likely will rejoin the Phillies for this weekend’s series against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“I think it’s a possibility,” Utley said when asked if he will be joining the Phillies for Friday’s series opener against the Mets. “I have to talk with [general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel] to see what we all want to do.”

Though Utley didn’t get any hits in his rehab outings for Reading, that’s kind of beside the point. With an oblique injury, Utley simply wanted to give it a vigorous test to see how he stood up to the wear and tear of a ballgame, and he definitely got that the last two nights in Reading.

Utley played all nine innings where he grounded out twice, flied out twice and struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning on a tricky off-speed pitch from Portland Sea Dogs starter Keith Couch.

Utley also faced a lefty reliever as well as Portland’s closer in the ninth.

More important to Utley, he was tested in the field. In the fourth inning, Utley had to leap in order to snare a would-be line drive base hit. He also made the turn on a 6-4-3 double play and slapped a tag on a runner at the end of a peculiar, 7-6-4 double play/sacrifice fly.

After the game, Utley was pleased that he was able to play his normal game with nothing to worry about.

“I jumped for a ball that possibly could have given me trouble and there was no problem whatsoever,” Utley said of his leaping catch. “I got to face a lefty, which was nice. I got five at-bats and saw some pitches and it went pretty well.”

Utley didn’t come out and declare himself ready to jump back into the Phillies’ lineup, but he certainly seemed to be leaning that way.

“I think everything is good,” Utley said. “I didn’t get any hits, but the main goal was to feel comfortable out there and I felt 100 percent.”

And Utley got to spend a couple of days in Reading, Pa., too. Counting a rehab assignment in 2007, Utley is 1 for 19 with three strikeouts in five career games for Reading. Incidentally, during that rehab assignment in 2007, Utley and Reading manager Dusty Wathan were teammates.

This time around, Utley, 34, was the big-league veteran offering advice to the kids.

“I don’t feel that old, but these guys are a lot younger than I am,” Utley said. “It’s good to talk with them. They all seem to work hard, which is No. 1 in my book.”

This time Utley played alongside two of the Phillies’ top prospects in lefty starting pitcher Jesse Biddle and third baseman Maikel Franco.

Biddle, the top-rated prospect in the system, had a rough outing on Thursday. In six innings, the lefty allowed four earned runs on six hits and six walks. Though he struck out five, Biddle’s command was troublesome. Of his 104 pitches, Biddle threw 52 strikes and 52 balls.

Not the ratio a pitcher is shooting for in a start.

“He struggled a little bit with his command. His fastball command was good early on, but he seemed to lose it a little in the middle innings,” Wathan said of Biddle. “But to his credit, he stuck with it because we were a little short in the bullpen after a doubleheader the other day.

“He had to battle through it and it’s something a young pitcher has to do.”

Meanwhile, Franco went 2 for 4 in his Double A debut and even made a barehanded grab of a soft grounder hit down the line at third base.

A strong and sturdy third baseman, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Franco turned a lot of heads playing at Single A Clearwater this season. In 65 games with the Threshers, Franco had 16 homers and 52 RBIs. He also was batting .299 with a .349 on-base percentage and a .576 slugging percentage.

Franco looked like a big-time player in the field and at the plate on Thursday night.

“He’s a young guy with some bat speed and he plays a good third base,” Utley said of Franco. "I think he’s just 20 years old so he’s going to definitely improve and it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Maybe in a few years Franco and Utley will be teammates again, just like they were for a short time in Reading.

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies got the good health they were looking for from Aaron Nola this spring.

But the overall results weren't so good.

Nola struggled in his sixth and final Grapefruit League start Tuesday night. He was roughed up for seven hits, including two home runs, and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning in the Phillies' 10-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nola finished the Grapefruit League portion of his spring with an ERA of 8.38 after giving up 18 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He gave up 28 hits, walked seven and struck out 23.

"People say it's spring training but nobody wants to go out there and give up runs," Nola said.

While he wasn't happy with the numbers he put up in camp, Nola was pleased with his health. He missed the final two months of last season with an elbow strain. He said that is completely behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand really good.

"Tonight was the best I've felt all spring. I just left some balls up and they took some good swings. It was a tough night."

Manager Pete Mackanin weighed in on Nola's spring.

"One thing I like is that his velocity is way up," Mackanin said. "I think his arm is healthy and that's good to see more than anything.

"He hasn't shown the command that makes him a good pitcher, but I think that will get there."

Nola gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr.

Nola lines up to pitch the fifth game of the regular season a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

He only threw 51 pitches Tuesday night so he has room for a good bullpen session and another start before that outing. The start will come at the minor-league complex on Sunday. He will then join the team in Cincinnati for Monday's season opener.

Murray injured
Reliever Colton Murray ran his scoreless string to 10 1/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer in his third inning of work. Murray left the game with what looked like a lower back injury. He fell to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch. Earlier in the day, Murray was told that he would open the season in Triple A.

Minor matters 
Infielder Cole Stobbe, 19, the Phillies' third-round pick in last year's draft, and 18-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez were named winners of the Bill Giles and Larry Rojas awards for their standout work in minor-league camp. Both are among the organization's most highly touted young prospects.

Up next
The Phillies will split the squad and play two games on Wednesday. One team will go to Lakeland to play the Tigers. The other will go to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

The battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen will take center stage as Luis Garcia starts in Lakeland and Joely Rodriguez in Bradenton.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening-day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League Rookie of the Year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we're going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster, so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday, so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that, so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."