Utley healthy as scouts begin to eye Phillies

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Utley healthy as scouts begin to eye Phillies

It’s the time of the year when high-ranking scouts pop into ballparks to check out players that might be available around the July trade deadline.

A Boston Red Sox scout was in town for the Phillies-Nationals series earlier this week. Jonathan Papelbon pitched three times in that series to mixed results. The Red Sox, of course, have closer issues. So do the Tigers, who had a scout in Denver while the Phils were there last weekend.

On Friday night, the night Chase Utley came off the disabled list, scouts from the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants showed up at Citizens Bank Park. It was not known why they were in attendance, but both teams have suffered injuries in the infield and if those injuries don’t clear up, a player like Utley might be of interest.

The Yankees are hoping that first baseman Mark Teixeira makes it back quickly from his second right wrist injury of the season. Utley has played first base and could be attractive to the Yankees if Teixeira continues to have problems.

The Giants hope to get third baseman Pablo Sandoval back from the DL next week, but could look to trade for a second baseman and move Marco Scutaro to third base if Sandoval’s foot problem persists.

There are still almost six weeks before the trade deadline, and these are far off scenarios, but it’s never too early for potentially needy teams to start gathering intelligence.

The Phillies, of course, have not decided if they’re going to sell off talent. They are still hoping to make a run, but losses like Friday night’s -- Cole Hamels blew a 3-0 lead and the offense left 10 men on base in a 4-3 loss to the Mets (see game recap) -- make it more and more difficult to believe in this team, which has lost 9 of 13 to fall to 35-39.

Utley, 34, will be a free agent at season’s end. If the Phils don’t make that run in the next six weeks, he could be attractive to a contender.

Utley is focused solely on making that run.

“We have to stick with it,” he said after Friday night’s game. “We have a lot of games to play. If you ride the roller coaster, you can get in trouble. We just have to stay with it.”

Though he went 0 for 5 (with a couple of hard-hit balls) and left three runners on base, Utley came out of Friday night’s game feeling good. He missed a month with a strained right oblique muscle, an injury that can drive a hitter crazy if it’s not healed.

“I think I’ve overcome it at this point,” Utley said after the game. “It felt great. The last two games (at Reading on minor-league rehab) felt good and tonight it felt good.

“I had some opportunities to drive in runs and I wasn’t able to do that. But in the overall picture, I feel good and I feel like I can contribute.”

For now, any contributions that Utley makes will come in Philadelphia.

After that?

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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