Tight teammates: Utley, Asche formed bond in '13

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Tight teammates: Utley, Asche formed bond in '13

It was not a coincidence that Cody Asche ended up with a locker right next to Chase Utley in the Phillies’ clubhouse when he came to the majors in July.

Utley had gotten to know Asche in spring training and thought there was something special there. So he mentioned to the clubhouse staff that he’d give up the veteran’s perk of a vacant next-door locker as long as Asche was moving in.

“I know that when you’re a young guy, it’s nice to have someone who has been around to help navigate you in the right direction,” Utley said. “Pat Burrell did it for me. He took me under his wing and I always appreciated it.”

Asche, 23, had some ups and downs during his two-month audition in the majors, but the ups were impressive enough that he will come into spring training in February as the “lead candidate” -- manager Ryne Sandberg’s words -- to be the Phillies’ starting third baseman in 2014.

Before the Phillies’ season-ending game Sunday in Atlanta, Asche praised the 34-year-old Utley for mentoring him and making him feel comfortable during his two-month stint in the big leagues.

“Chase has been huge from a preparation standpoint,” Asche said. “Just seeing what he does -- video, [batting] cage work, getting his body ready … Everything has been helpful.”

Asche knows that Utley was behind his locker assignment in the home clubhouse and was flattered by it.

“That’s what a leader does,” Asche said. “They can sense people that need a little guidance and they do that stuff. That makes him a great leader, like Jimmy (Rollins), Cole (Hamels), Chooch (Ruiz).”

Utley is a stickler for preparation. He has to be. He has to constantly be on top of his physical regimen to ward off pain flare-ups in his knees. After missing significant time in 2011 and 2012 because of cartilage issues in both knees, he was able to stay on the field in 2013. He played in 131 games, his most since 2009, and hit .284 with 18 homers and 69 RBIs. His did spend a month on the disabled list, but it was for an oblique injury, not a knee problem. The knee condition will never go away, but Utley is confident he can manage it and remain on the field. So is Phillies management, which gave him a multi-year contract extension in August.

Utley has learned that restarting baseball activities after a layoff can be hell on his knees. That’s why he never stopped doing baseball work last offseason. He worked out year-round with the baseball team at the University of San Francisco and will do so again this offseason.

“I feel like the improvements we’ve made the past year have been significant,” Utley said. “I don’t anticipate any change.”

Asche also has some offseason plans.

He started his big-league career 1 for 17 but hit .304 with five homers, 19 RBIs and an .889 OPS in his next 32 games before tailing off and finishing with just three hits in his final 33 at-bats.

He would like to get stronger this winter.

“I want to be strong and in shape when I come into camp so I can make the most of those six weeks,” he said.

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has resisted anointing Asche as the team’s third baseman for 2014. Makes sense. He wants to keep Asche hungry. Besides, the Phils will have another promising third baseman in camp, slugger Maikel Franco. The 21-year-old combined to hit .320 with 31 homers and 103 RBIs at Single A and Double A in 2013.

“I frankly hope there is a great competition in spring training between Maikel and Cody,” Amaro said. “That can create a heck of a situation for us. They’re both very, very good young players.”

Asche knows Franco is coming hard. He will be ready for the competition. He is confident, but takes nothing for granted.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can play here,” Asche said on the final day of the season. “I have confidence in myself. That’s what I took away. But you can’t stop adjusting. I made some adjustments after I got here, the pitchers made some adjustments, and now I have to make another one.

“For me, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel all winter: Make the team, be part of a winning team.

“I don’t look at it as it’s my job to lose. I look at it as it’s a spot I need to get. I put it on myself to make the decision easy for them.”

For the record, Utley believes Asche will be the Phils’ opening day third baseman in 2014.

“I don’t see why not,” Utley said. “I think he’s going to be a good one. He’s got talent. I think he’s going to keep getting better. The fact that he wants to improve and get better is an encouraging sign.”

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.

Best of MLB: Padres score 4 off Papelbon in 9th, take series from Nationals

Best of MLB: Padres score 4 off Papelbon in 9th, take series from Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The San Diego Padres' three-city road trip didn't begin well. Earning their first series victory against the Washington Nationals since 2011 is helping to turn it around.

Alex Dickerson and Ryan Schimpf hit back-to-back homers off Shawn Kelley in the eighth inning and the Padres added four runs off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth to beat the Nationals 10-6 on Sunday.

"We've been on the road for a little bit, and it's definitely good to come here against a team like this and get two wins out of it," said Schimpf, whose team suffered a four-game sweep in St. Louis before winning two of three in Washington.

Ryan Buchter (2-0) pitched a scoreless eighth to earn the victory.

With the game tied at 6, Wil Myers drew a one-out walk off Papelbon and moved to second on a wild pitch before Yangervis Solarte's RBI single. The Padres added two more singles to load the bases, setting up Alexei Ramirez's three-run double (see full recap).

Matz earns 1st win since May as Mets beat Marlins
MIAMI -- Helped by a couple of small victories against Giancarlo Stanton, Steven Matz earned a big win for the New York Mets.

Matz pitched six innings Sunday for his first win since May, twice escaping trouble by getting Stanton to ground out with a runner in scoring position, and the Mets took the rubber game of their series against Miami, 3-0.

"It was good to go out there and put up zeroes and get a win," Matz said.

The Mets won two of three games in the series and returned home trailing second-place Miami by half a game in the NL East.

"This was crunch time for us," manager Terry Collins said. "We couldn't lose any more ground. This was a good series for us to win."

Matz (8-6) allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six. Pitching despite a bone spur in his elbow, he had been 0-5 in his past nine starts with an ERA of 4.73 (see full recap).

Reimold's HR helps Orioles beat Indians 5-3 for 3-game sweep
BALTIMORE -- This is how good things are going for the Orioles at home this season: After blowing a late-inning lead, Baltimore launched the game-winning uprising with a third strike.

Pinch-hitter Nolan Reimold hit a decisive two-out homer in the ninth inning after Pedro Alvarez reached on a strikeout, and the Orioles beat the Cleveland Indians 5-3 Sunday for a three-game sweep.

Cody Allen (2-4) began the ninth by striking out Alvarez, but the ball eluded catcher Roberto Perez. After fielding the bouncing ball off the backstop, Perez hit Alvarez in the helmet with the throw for an error.

"As long as I have been playing baseball the rule is you run down the baseline," Alvarez said. "I saw the ball get away from him and I just ran down to first base."

A sacrifice bunt and a strikeout followed before Reimold lined a 2-0 pitch into the left-field seats (see full recap).

DeShields homers as Rangers top Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Delino DeShields is known for his speed, stealing 101 bases in 2012 in the minors, not for his power.

DeShields homered in the seventh inning to break a tie and the Texas Rangers defeated the Kansas City Royals 2-1 on Sunday.

DeShields, who was recalled Thursday from Triple-A Round Rock, walked and doubled before leading off the seventh with his third home run. DeShields hit a 2-1 pitch from Luke Hochevar out to left.

"It so happened that today I was the guy that got us the go-ahead run," DeShields said. "I was just trying to hit the ball hard. I wasn't looking for anything specific. I wanted to get on base. Before I had gotten on base in every at-bat.

"With the game tied and if I get myself in scoring position, there's a good chance for me to touch home plate. I got into it pretty good and got it over the fence, but the main focus was just putting the barrel on the ball and try to get on base."

The loss dropped the Royals to 48-49, the first time the World Series champions have been below .500 since May 15 when they were 18-19. The Royals have lost 13 of 19 games in July (see full recap).