Phillies-Indians (Game 40): Utley Sits, Manuel Goes Righty-Heavy vs. Indians Lefty
PHILADELPHIA--Phillies second baseman Chase Utley hasn't seen rest in 13 days. Righties are hitting .308 with a .973 OPS off of Indians starter Scott Kazmir this year.
One matters to Charlie Manuel, who sat Utley for tonight's series opener against the Cleveland Indians at Citizens Bank Park.
Guess which one it is.
"I remember Utley hitting a home run in the World Series off of (Kazmir)," the Phillies manager said with a grin when asked about the matchup, drawing on Utley's one-upmanship in Game 1 of the 2008 Fall Classic. "I remember that."
In a vacuum, it seems an odd spot to sit him. The Phillies are desperate for traction. Today marks the first quarter of the season. They were two weeks to the day pummeled the worst they've been all year...twice...against this team.
Utley's hitting .273/.353/.477 in 12 games this month.
"He's been playing good," Manuel said. "Season goes on, he might even play better."
Frandsen, who gets his fourth start of the year at second base, has seen only 29 at-bats, hit just .241 with them without a single hit while manning second
The schedule also offered days off yesterday and on Thursday.
But Manuel's decided Utley needs a day, even if said day becomes three in four -- and even if the platoon advantage is, to Manuel, just a perk.
"I think the fact that I know that he worked out and how hard he did, I think that definitely plays into it," he said. "But also, just the fact that we're monitoring him. I think if he gets to play like 140-142 with however many off days that we have I think that would be very possible."
John Mayberry Jr. will also start against a lefty. He'll play center field in place of Ben Revere, who's quietly hitting .357 in 11 games this month.
Tonight should help get Carlos Ruiz and Delmon Young going. They're hitting a combined .219 since their respective returns from suspension and injury, clipping the Phillies production from the right side and vs. lefties.
Manuel said he's confident their talent will emerge. If not today, then soon.
"I think I feel very strong about Delmon Young hitting. I think he's going to hit," he said. "Chooch had a big offensive year last year. When he starts hitting, our lineup's going to get better and we're going to score some runs, just by those two guys hitting."
Or today against Kazmir, three.
"Who knows," Manuel joked again. "(Utley) might be able to pinch hit one off (Kazmir)."
Preview from 1:48 p.m. below...
Phillies (18-21) vs. Cleveland Indians (21-16)
After today, the season will be one-quarter over.
Two weeks ago to the day, the Phillies hit rock bottom.
What were figured to be two gimmes became a composite 20-2 rout by the Indians at Progressive Field. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee were crushed for a combined 11.16 ERA. The lineup mustered a flimsy 1 for 17 with men in scoring position and finished with more strikeouts (13) than hits (8).
Against Indians bullpen, the Phillies managed only five base runners in six scoreless innings.
Two Ws would pull the Phils within one game of .500 for the first time since Apr. 15. The goodwill would go farther.
Where they Stand
Cleveland enters on a tear, having won 13 of their last 17 and four of their last five on the road. They're only two and a half games off the best-in-the-American-League pace set by the Yankees and Rangers.
The Phillies, third in the National League East and 4.5 games back of the Braves, are simply looking for traction. They're 6-5 since seeing the Tribe, with as many uplifting wins (against the Marlins, Giants and Diamondbacks) as puzzling defeats (to those same teams). All but one of those losses were by two or fewer.
They could use a streak. Like, now.
Run It, Rookie
It's going to be absolutely vital for Jonathan Pettibone (2-0, 3.63 ERA) to keep the ball in the yard tonight. He's fared well enough that the Phillies are 3-1 in his starts. But he's surrendered four home runs in as many starts, and the Indians have crushed a third-in-baseball 50 home runs in 37 games played -- seven in one against Halladay.
Make mistakes like Doc did, hanging balls over the middle, and Cleveland will crush you.
The Phillies lineup flashed the ability to come back out West. But if Pettibone falls in the 4-0 holes that did Halladay and Lee each before the third inning, they're likely toast.
The key to Pettibone's continued success has been keeping the ball down in the zone. Where he forced grounders on just over 25% of balls in play in his first two starts, he's kept it at ankle-level on more than 58% since. For a sinker-slider guy with only 90-92 m.p.h. heat, that's his formula.
Something to keep an eye on: Pettibone issued four free passes in 5 2/3 innings his last time out against the Giants, who plated three runs on seven hits off him. He'd only walked two in 16 2/3 innings over three starts prior.
Once tabbed as one of the game's premier up-and-coming lefties, Scott Kazmir (2-1, 4.87 ERA) fell so far so fast he couldn't even find work last year. But after bottoming out in Indy ball, Kazmir rediscovered his velocity, which was enough to get a look before spring training from the then-pitching poor Indians.
Now, after a hiccup out of the chute (6 ER in 3.2 IP vs. Houston), Kazmir has a 2.64 ERA in three starts since, including a 10 strikeout gem over six innings of one-run ball in his latest start against A's, who are actually, like, good.
The last time the Phillies saw Kazmir, they worked 10 baserunners through 12 outs and chased him after only four innings of a 2008 World Series-clinching Game 5 win. Now would be a good time to replicate that success.
Cleveland's relief staff continues to be among the best in baseball. Their 2.95 bullpen ERA is fifth-best in the majors. Each of their five qualifying relievers have ERAs under 4.00. Closer Chris Perez is perfect in six save opportunities, and he and setup man Joe Smith have surrendered only 2 runs in 26 2/3 innings for a 0.67 ERA.
Save for closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies 'pen is still shaky. Mike Adams is still day-to-day with lower back spasms. Fingers crossed on Justin De Fratus, who gassed Paul Goldschmidt in a tight spot in Arizona on Saturday in his first appearance the first day of his 2013 callup. He missed over four months last year with an elbow strain.
Hot and Not
Ryan Howard snapped an 18-at-bat hitless streak with a two-run single to walk it off in the 10th inning on Sunday.
Carlos Santana is batting just .200 with 12 strikeouts in 40 at-bats this month after hitting .389/.376/.722 in April.
Ryan Raburn is still hitting for average (.310) and getting on base (.375) in May, but has seen his slugging percentage dip over 200 points since the calendar turned.
Mark Reynolds is 5 for 26 in his last 10 games after opening 2013 white hot.
Michael Bourn is 2 for 13 with six strikeouts in four games since his return from the DL (index finger) last Friday.