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?

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera moved down in the lineup again

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera moved down in the lineup again

After going 1 for 4 on Friday night, Odubel Herrera finds himself further down in the Phillies' lineup.

Herrera falls to seventh in the order while the Phils go for their third straight win facing the Diamondbacks at Chase Field Saturday night (10:10/TCN and CSNPhilly.com). The centerfielder has hit well over his last five games (8 for 22 with two doubles), but he's made multiple baserunning miscues that have hurt the team. 

This will be the second time Herrera has started batting seventh this season. He batted sixth in Friday's win. Andres Blanco moves up a spot to replace him in the six-hole while the rest of the lineup remains the same facing another lefty starter in Robbie Ray. Blanco was a late addition to last night's lineup after Howie Kendrick was scratched with hamstring tightness. 

Rookie Cameron Perkins leads off while Freddy Galvis, fresh off a 2-for-5 night, bats second. Cameron Rupp remains behind the plate for Ben Lively, who makes his fifth career start.

Here's the full lineup that will face Ray on Saturday:

1. Cameron Perkins, LF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Maikel Franco, 3B
6. Andres Blanco, 2B
7. Odubel Herrera, CF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Ben Lively, P

And here's the Diamondbacks nine that will take on Lively: 

1. Gregor Blanco, CF
2. David Peralta, RF
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Jake Lamb, 3B
5. Chris Owings, SS
6. Brandon Drury, 2B
7. Daniel Descalso, LF
8. Chris Herrmann, C
9. Robbie Ray, P

For more on tonight's game, check out Steven Tydings' preview

Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Nothing but quality from Ben Lively?

Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Nothing but quality from Ben Lively?

Phillies (24-48) at Diamondbacks (46-28)
10:10 p.m. on TCN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies, believe it or not, bring a two-game winning streak into Saturday night. Seriously! Led by six strong innings from Mark Leiter Jr., the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks, 6-1, Friday, picking up their first win over the D-backs this season. Can Ben Lively make it three straight or will Robbie Ray turn out the lights on the Phillies offense?

Here are five things to know for late Saturday night:

1. High quality
In tonight's start, Lively has the opportunity to become the first Phillie since 1943 to begin his career with five quality starts. His first four starts have made him the most reliable starter in the Phils' rotation despite the team's 1-3 record in those appearances.

Better yet for Lively, he's coming off a strong start against these very same D-backs. It was a rocky beginning for the 25-year-old righty. He gave up two home runs within the first five batters he faced and ceded a 3-0 lead to his opposition. Plenty of pitchers — see the rest of the staff this season — would have folded after such a lackluster start. But Lively had some moxie in him. 

He gave up just four hits over his last five innings. He worked his way out of a third-and-first, no-out jam. And he finished his afternoon with a 1-2-3 inning. You would never have guessed watching the first inning that he'd actually leave in line for the win.

Lively also began to actually strike people out. That was his main bugaboo in his first few starts. With just 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings, one would predict he'd sport a higher ERA. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is 4.88, a run and a half higher than his 3.33 ERA. Maybe Chase Field will be his Waterloo, but Citizens Bank Park could have easily played a similar role.

A side-note, but Lively's nickname is Bee-bo. I don't know what we should do with that, but it is worth mentioning. I'm sure that will help explain his results tonight, good or bad.

2. Ray of Ks
While the Phillies offense has looked pedestrian at times this year, they got to the hottest pitcher in baseball Sunday. 

Ray came into Sunday with some downright filthy numbers over his previous five games: He was 5-0 with a 0.24 ERA, allowing just one run over 37 innings. He struck out 48 batters in that span and allowed just 24 baserunners, including just 14 hits. Batters hit just .115/.182/.164 against him. 

The Phils? Well, they broke out the bats and got to him on a hot afternoon at CBP. They produced 12 baserunners (eight hits, four walks) and four runs, smacking two solo homers against the 25-year-old lefty. He lasted just 5 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since May 14.

For the season, Ray is 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA and 114 Ks in 87 2/3 innings. It's a far cry from his 4.90 ERA last season, although his strikeout rate is about the same. He walks more batters than ever (four per nine innings) but limits hits at a career-best rate, bringing his WHIP down to 1.141. 

As for a repertoire, Ray works off his mid-90s fastball, turning to his mid-80s slider and low-80s curveball for offspeed offerings. All three pitches have been effective this season, but his offspeed stuff has been particularly strong. 

3. Torey Lovullo and a real contender
When the baseball season began back in April, it was tough to see the Diamondbacks as legitimate contenders. At 69-93 in 2016, the team was just one game better than the worst record in the National League and they didn't make many appreciable changes to the roster. 

The main changes came up top: Mike Hazen was hired as the team's new general manager and Torey Lovullo came aboard as manager. Whatever magic they've brought with them has made a big impact as the team is within a game of the Dodgers for the NL West crown. Even better, they lead the NL wild-card chase and are nine games clear of a playoff spot. Sure, it's only June 24, but that's a nice place to be. 

The managerial role can be overrated in baseball. The skipper can be handed the blame for a team that isn't performing even when it is mostly due to a roster that can't get it done. But Lovullo seems to have this team working well. He had received rave reviews when he filled in for John Farrell in 2015. His short stint made him a top candidate for the position and Hazen, also a Red Sox alum, was able to pluck him from Boston.

And things have fallen in line in the desert. Zack Greinke has bounced back to form along with the rest of the rotation. The bullpen has looked pretty good since Fernando Rodney snapped into form after April. And their lineup, as Corey detailed yesterday, is a force with which to be reckoned. Having those three factors working for them — together with some aggressive baserunning — and D-backs have a real contending chance this year.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: With his two-run shot in the ninth inning Friday, Tommy Joseph has hit home runs in back-to-back games for the second time this year (May 9-10 vs. the Mariners)

Diamondbacks: Shortstop Chris Owings has a nine-game hitting streak going after a single in the series opener. He had a home run off Lively on Sunday.

5. This and that
• This year is starting to look like last year, at least in how the Phillies are playing the D-backs. In 2016, they were swept at CBP before returning the favor at Chase Field. This year, a sweep at CBP before taking the first game in the desert. 

• As mentioned above, Arizona makes things happen on the basepaths. Going into this series, the team led baseball with 18.2 base running runs above average according to Fangraphs. The Phillies are 24th with -7.0 runs above average.

• Howie Kendrick, Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr all have home runs off Ray in their careers. Kendrick is 5 for 22 with two walks against the lefty. Odubel Herrera is 4 for 9. 

• Lively allowed homers to Owings and Paul Goldschmidt on Sunday. Brandon Drury went 2 for 2 with a double.