It has been a long climb since his batting average dropped to .099 on May 8, which was the lowest batting average among qualified hitters through a team’s first 30 games since 1914. But Utley went 3-for-4 with a home run in last night’s 5-4 victory over the Reds at Citizens Bank Park to raise his average to .207.
It was the first time his batting average had hit .200 since April 14.
“Obviously the first month didn’t go as planned,” Utley said. “But you can’t really change that. You’ve got to continue to move forward. The last month or so has been a little better. You just try to build on it.”
Utley has hit .347 (25-for-73) with six doubles, one triple, one home run, eight RBIs and an .908 OPS in 22 games since May 8.
Perhaps Utley’s luck has finally turned in his favor.
His batting average on balls in play had been .079 through May 8, which was easily the worst BABIP in baseball. But his .393 BABIP since seems to be evening things out.
“It became a little frustrating at times,” Utley said. “Because you know you’re putting some decent at-bats together hitting balls, maybe not perfect, but well enough where you feel like you may deserve a hit here and there. For whatever reason, they weren’t really falling. You try not to change too much, but mentally it can be tough.”
Utley started last night’s game with a bunt single down the third-base line. The Reds had employed the defensive shift with Reds third baseman Todd Frazier essentially playing shortstop. Ryne Sandberg had been begging his hitters to drop a ball down the line to beat the shift, and Utley finally did it.
“I figured I’d try it,” he said. “I think over the course of a year guys should try it. Whether it works out or not, at least it’ll get the defense thinking a little bit.”
Utley singled to left in the third before homering in the sixth. It was his first homer since May 1 in Miami.
“They say they all even out,” Utley said. “We’ll see if that happens.”
The Phillies announced tonight they have released outfielder Grady Sizemore.
Sizemore, 32, hit .245 with five doubles, six RBIs and a .584 OPS in 104 plate appearances this season. The Phillies designated him for assignment Friday to make room for Cody Asche on the 25-man roster.
The Phillies signed Sizemore to a one-year, $2 million contract in October, despite hitting .172 with a .580 OPS in 97 plate appearances from Aug. 6, 2014, through the end of last season.
ESPN.com reported this afternoon the Angels acquired outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhius from the Mets.
The Phillies and Angels had been talking about a Revere trade for some time, sources had told MLB.com. The Phillies wanted at least one Minor League player in return, but the sides could not reach an agreement.
The Angels are expected to continue looking for ways to boost their offense, so perhaps the Phillies and Angels will keep talking.
The Phillies have been trying to trade Revere because of an imminent logjam in the outfield. Cody Asche is learning to play left field in Triple-A. Right fielder Domonic Brown also is in Triple-A. Both are expected to rejoin the Phillies at some point, which means other players will have to move.
The Phillies have committed to Odubel Herrera in center field, which has made Revere movable. Outfielder Grady Sizemore also could be an odd man out. He hits left-handed like Herrera, Asche, Brown and Revere. He entered Wednesday hitting .191 (25-for-131) with no home runs, six RBIs and a .472 OPS since Aug. 8, 2014.
Nieuwenhius had been designated for assignment May 19. It only the Angels cash to acquire him.
Passing this along because I liked the last part of his answer.
Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged the firestorm he caused today in Philadelphia following comments he made about Phillies fans, saying they “don’t understand the game” and “then they b—- and complain because we don’t have a plan.”
He apologized before today’s game against the Mets at Citi Field.
“I’m a fan myself,” Amaro said. “I understand the passion and the knowledge that our fans have for our game and the other major sports, all the other sports in Philly. The comments weren’t meant to disparage our fans by any stretch of the imagination. I probably used my words incorrectly or poorly. I want to apologize for that.”
The crux of the comments in a CSNPhilly.com story centered on some fans’ desires to see the team’s top prospects promoted to the big leagues in a projected 97-loss season. Amaro has said repeatedly those prospects will not be rushed to the big leagues.
“I’m as excited about seeing them in the big leagues as anybody else,” Amaro said. “But there’s a process they have to go through. There’s a process and a plan in place. And I think that was more of the point. I understand why the fans would want (to see them) because we’re not having a ton of success at the Major League level right now. But I think it’s incumbent upon the organization to make sure we do it at the right time and do it with the right plan in place.”
But Amaro’s harsh comments resonated loudly among a frustrated fan base. The Phillies have been losing more and more since they won a franchise-record 102 games in 2011, despite remaining among the top spenders in baseball. They finished 81-81 in 2012 and 73-89 the previous two seasons.
They entered Tuesday 19-28, which is the fourth-worst record in baseball.
The organization finally initiated a rebuilding plan once Pat Gillick became team president last August, but that has not removed Amaro from the hot seat.
Gillick has publicly supported Amaro, but Amaro’s contract expires at the end of this season and Gillick has said Amaro’s status will not be addressed before then.
It is not a stretch to think Amaro’s comments this week could come back to haunt him.
“The biggest thing that bothers me about it is how the organization is perceived – not me personally,” Amaro said. “We’ve always been one of those organizations, at least as long as I’ve been in the front office, to understand the fan and understand that the fans are the people who pay our salaries and support us. Am I worried about it for me? No. I’m worried about it for the organization, because they shouldn’t have to suffer because I made a bad quote.”
Amaro spoke Tuesday with Gillick.
“We had a discussion about it, and he said it was unfortunate and thought it was taken out of context,” Amaro said. “If you look at the breadth of the story … our job is to make sure the fans love this club for a long time, and we have to do what we can to put the team in a position for the fans to enjoy it. Sadly, that point gets lost because of my quote.”
Amaro said the Phillies will continue to develop their prospects at what the organization considers the appropriate speed. Aaron Nola, who many fans are clamoring to see, has made 20 Minor League starts. That is fewer than Max Scherzer (30), Cole Hamels (36), Clayton Kershaw (44), Matt Harvey (46), Sonny Gray (53), Shelby Miller (78) and other frontline starters made before their big league promotions.
“We have to build these guys in a way that prepares them to be Major Leaguers,” Amaro said. “We have a process and a plan in place to make sure that we protect them and develop them in the right way so when they get here to the big leagues … one, they’re physically protected. Two, they’re mentally prepared to be in the big leagues. Three, we develop them at the right pace, so that they can be the best players they can be when they get here.”
That part of the message makes sense, but can fans get past the other part?
“We’re fan-driven,” Amaro said. “This is an entertainment business, and we need the support of our fans, and we’ve gotten tremendous support. I apologize for the context or the words that I used. I think the thing that bothers me the most about this stuff that happened today and the quotes I made is that I don’t want to detract from the fact that there are some really positive things happening here in a way that the fans can focus on those. Hopefully they can focus on the progress as opposed to my misguided quotes.”
The U.S. military bombarded Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega with heavy metal music to force him from his compound and surrender in 1989. Britney Spears’ music has blared from merchant ships to scare away pirates off the horn of Africa.
The Nationals have chosen “Somewhere Out There” by Linda Rondstadt and James Ingram to annoy their enemies.
They have been playing pop ballads and other soft and sappy music during opposing teams’ batting practices this season. There is no shortage of schmaltzy music, so the playlist has varied every day. But the past couple days the Phillies have been fortunate (or unfortunate) to hear Patrick Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind,” Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight,” Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me,” Dan Hill’s “Can’t We Try,” and Spandau Ballet’s “True.”
“We’ll take care of that,” Ryne Sandberg said before today’s game against the Nationals at Nationals Park. “We’re going with the silent treatment at our place.
“It’s bush league. And irrelevant. What’s the point?”
Some of the Phillies are amused at the sappy tunes. Some could not care less. Others want mercy.
“I don’t think there’s any malice behind it,” Justin De Fratus said. “I think it’s funny. They played that Feivel Goes West song yesterday. If anything it’s a change of pace from some of the stuff we hear every day. I’ve got to sit there and listen to Drake every day. And it’s not about Drake. It’s every day I’m hearing top 40.”
“I mean, come on,” Jeff Francoeur said. “If you did it one time it’s funny. But we come here so many times.”
The Phillies actually had a bigger beef than the music. They feel they get on the field for batting practice late at Nationals Park compared to other ballparks, giving them less time to get ready between BP and first pitch. But according to the Phillies’ and Nationals’ respective media guides, batting practice starts only five minutes later for opposing teams at Nationals Park than at Citizens Bank Park.
“It’s very inconvenient,” Sandberg said. “That will be another adjustment. That seed was planted about six weeks ago.”
Nevertheless, the yacht rock continues.
“I didn’t even notice it,” Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said with a hint of a smile. “But it’s nice soothing music they’ve got going on here. It’s nice for the fans at the ballpark before the game. Yeah, maybe get a beer, a pretzel, enjoy BP.”
This is why the Phillies didn’t bench or release Ryan Howard just two weeks into the season.
Remember? That’s what many fans wanted. Howard was hitting .175 (7-for-40) with three doubles, two RBIs, two walks, 15 strikeouts and a .464 OPS though April 19. They wanted Darin Ruf. They wanted Maikel Franco. They wanted Chase Utley.
They wanted anybody other than Howard.
But Howard is hitting .292 (28-for-96) with five doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 18 RBIs and a .961 OPS in 27 games since April 19. Only four players have hit more home runs than Howard since he hit his first homer of the season April 21: Bryce Harper (11), Giancarlo Stanton (10), Ryan Braun (nine), and Todd Frazier (nine). Howard’s OPS is 19th out of 191 qualified hitters in baseball in that span.
If he maintains the pace he has had since April 21 he will finish the season with 35 home runs.
Think a contending team could use somebody like that?
The Phillies had nothing to lose by continuing to play Howard, just like they have nothing to lose continuing to play Utley, despite his struggles. If Howard maintains his pace and if Utley picks up offensively — he has hit well over the past week — the Phillies might be able to trade one or both of them before July 31.
If they don’t, they didn’t lose anything.
Remember, this season is about the future. Benching or releasing the greatest first baseman and second baseman in franchise history based on a couple bad weeks (Howard) or six bad weeks (Utley) is short sighted. There is plenty of time to see Cesar Hernandez and Ruf.
But what about Utley’s $15 million club option that vests if he reaches 500 plate appearances? Relax. Utley is on pace for 555 plate appearances, but even if the Phillies play him at his current pace and he is hitting .150 through July 31, the Phillies could make up the difference the final two months of the season.
So consider the big picture with Howard and Utley. Sticking with them through the trade deadline is the best plan for the future.
The Phillies announced this morning they have recalled Maikel Franco from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Franco is the No. 54 prospect in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com. He is expected to be at third base tonight for the Phillies’ series opener against Arizona at Citizens Bank Park.
Franco’s arrival became imminent Monday, when the Phillies optioned third baseman Cody Asche to Triple-A, where is learning to become a left fielder.
Franco, 22, hit .355 (50-for-141) with 12 doubles, one triple, four home runs, 24 RBIs and a .923 OPS in 33 games with the IronPigs.
He has played well, but he also needed to spend 40 days in the Minor Leagues this season to avoid becoming eligible for free agency following the 2020 season. The 40th day was yesterday. By calling up Franco today, he can become a free agent following the 2021 season.
That was an important consideration for a rebuilding team.
“This was a baseball decision based on Maikel’s development and performance,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a statement. “We believe he is ready for the next step.”
The Phillies will make a corresponding roster move before tonight’s game. They currently have one extra relief pitcher on the roster.
The Phillies are building for the future and they made their first significant in-season change last night when they optioned Cody Asche to Triple-A.
They want Asche to become a left fielder.
The organization believes Maikel Franco is its third baseman of the future. He is coming as early as Friday. He is hitting well in Triple-A. He plays an impressive third base. If he can play like that in the big leagues then he is the right choice. But the Phillies still like Asche and they see their outfield is lacking. (Phillies outfielders have a .623 OPS this season, which is 29th in baseball.) They think Asche’s offense could improve if he moves to a less stressful spot on the field like left.
“That’s a possibility,” Ryne Sandberg said. “I’ve seen that before and I think he has the ability to play a solid left field with the things he’s already done, with his foot speed and knowledge of the game and what I’ve seen in practice. He also has a good arm.”
Asche took the news hard. I’m sure he did not expect to return to the Minor Leagues to learn a new position. (One hopes they told him this was coming a couple weeks ago, but based on his reaction I think they did not.) But his ego also probably took a hit because the Phillies essentially told him, “We don’t think you’re good enough at third base.” That hurt is understandable. But like I wrote in the story above, there are numerous players that have made the transition from infielder to outfielder.
Craig Biggio, Robin Yount, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun and Alex Gordon are just a few.
Nobody looks at those players as having failed anything. If Asche takes to left field and his offense improves and he establishes himself as a quality left fielder, nobody will look at him as a failed third baseman. They will look at him as a significant piece of the rebuilding process.
So what’s next for the Phillies? Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Aaron Harang, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz remain on the trading block. Aaron Nola? He’ll continue to pitch in Double-A, but he could be in the big leagues before the end of the season. Ben Revere is expected to move to right field, although I don’t think the Phillies look at him as the long-term answer there. Revere could share time in right with Jeff Francoeur and Domonic Brown, once he rejoins the Phillies. Or the Phillies could trade Revere or Brown.
“We’ve been in dialogue about a lot of things,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “That really hasn’t stopped since the offseason. We still continue to kind of assess opportunities that we might have. The focus remains the same: we try to put ourselves in a position to improve the club and give young players an opportunity to come up here and see what they can do.”
First, Chase Utley is on the bench. He is hitting .103 this season and .215 with a .610 OPS in 555 plate appearances since May 29, 2014. Let’s see what Sandberg says in the dugout, but if I’m the manager I tell Utley to take a seat tonight and tomorrow night. There is an off day Thursday, so Utley could have three consecutive days to relax and clear his head. Jeff Francoeur said a weekend off benefited him Monday, when he went 4-for-5.
An extended rest has benefited other struggling hitters in the past. It might help. It might not. But it’s something to at least try.
Second, Ben Revere is playing right field for the first time since 2012, when he played 84 games there with the Twins. I think this is a precursor to Maikel Franco‘s promotion from Triple-A, which could happen as early as May 15. Whenever Franco is promoted the Phillies will want him to play regularly. That means plenty of time at third base, which means Cody Asche moving to left field.