Posted on: May 20, 2011 10:54 pm

Lidge on fast track back to Phils

PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps surprisingly, the ninth inning has been the least of the Phillies' worries this season.

First Jose Contreras filled in for the injured Brad Lidge, and he was perfect. Then Contreras got hurt, Ryan Madson filled in, and he's been just as perfect.

Now Contreras is on his way back.

And so, against all odds, is Lidge.

His shoulder injury sounded ominous when he went on the disabled list in the final week of spring training. Phillies people wondered if he'd pitch at all this season.

But Lidge will head to Florida on Sunday, and he said Friday night that he may be only 2-3 weeks from rejoining the Phillies' bullpen. Even he seems surprised by how good he feels, and how fast he may be coming back.

"I can tell you I feel very strong," he said. "I can tell you I haven't felt this strong in a long time."

At this point, no matter how good Lidge feels, it's hard to believe the Phillies would go away from using Madson as the closer. He's 8-for-8 in saves, and has a 0.50 ERA in 18 appearances.

He also has a walk-in song that fits his situation perfectly: Journey's "Don't stop believin'."
Posted on: May 20, 2011 9:29 pm

Just another game as Lee faces Rangers

PHILADELPHIA -- Cliff Lee calls Josh Hamilton the best player in baseball.

He'll say plenty of good things about the Rangers, the team he left last winter to sign with the Phillies.

"I know how good they can be," Lee said Friday.

And yet Lee, true to form, insists that starting against the team he helped to the World Series just isn't that big a deal.

"There's a little different feeling, but not that much of a difference," said Lee, who will face the Rangers Saturday night.

Lee repeated Friday that if the Phillies hadn't entered the bidding, he likely would have returned to the Rangers, suggesting again that the high-bid Yankees were his last choice among the bidders.

He also said he didn't mind that Hamilton and Nelson Cruz are missing this weekend's series.

"Cruz isn't in the lineup, either?" Lee asked. "I like that. He reminded me a few times when I was there how he had swung the bat against me."

Cruz is 3-for-6 lifetime against Lee.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 20, 2011 8:48 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2011 9:04 pm

Utley could return Monday

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies still aren't saying when Chase Utley will make his 2011 debut.

But don't be surprised if it comes Monday night against the Reds.

All general manager Ruben Amaro would say Friday is that Utley is going to play again for Class A Clearwater on Saturday night, and that the Phillies will reassess Utley's situation after that.

Utley has played in seven games for Clearwater, and while his numbers are only ordinary (he's 6-for-24 with a double, a home run and six strikeouts), the Phillies have been impressed with how he has looked. Also, Amaro has said that it's not important for Utley to play at any other minor-league level before coming to the Phillies.

Amaro also said it's not important for Utley to play more than two days in a row in the minor leagues, because he may not be asked to play that many consecutive games in the big leagues. The Phillies believe that they may need to give Utley extra days off, at least at the outset.

"I don't know if he's ever going to be 100 percent, because of the nature of the injury," Amaro said. "He's progressing, and he hasn't gone backwards. He's gone north, not south."

Utley missed all of spring training because of a knee problem that also cost him the first seven weeks of the season.

Monday might be the perfect night for Utley's 2011 debut, anyway. The Reds' scheduled starter that night is Bronson Arroyo, and Utley's career numbers against Arroyo are 5-for-12, with a home run.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 20, 2011 6:54 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2011 7:18 pm

Phils aren't sure, but call on Brown, anyway

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies said they didn't want to bring Domonic Brown to the big leagues until they were sure he was ready.

Funny how plans change when a team isn't scoring any runs.

Friday, the Phillies said they're not sure Brown is ready -- and they brought him to the big leagues, anyway. Manager Charlie Manuel said that the left-handed hitting Brown will play regularly against right-handed pitchers, and that he'll spot him against lefties.

Brown will play right field, with John Mayberry Jr. moving over to take the place of injured Shane Victorino in center field. Manuel said he hopes that Victorino will only miss the minimum two weeks on the disabled list, but the hope clearly is to keep Brown around for a lot longer than that.

This spring, the Phillies wanted Brown to compete for the starting outfield job left vacant when Jayson Werth went to Washington as a free agent. Brown pressed and struggled at the plate, then broke the hamate bone in his hand in the same at-bat that ended with his first hit.

Brown was not in the lineup Friday night against Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson, but Manuel plans to play him Saturday against right-hander Colby Lewis.

"I'm going to bring him along, just like I have a lot of young players," Manuel said.

Manuel clearly pushed for Brown's recall, hoping that he could help a team that has scored just 10 runs in the last six games. The Phillies are hitting .202 as a team over the last 13 games.

"There's still questions about whether he's ready," general manager Ruben Amaro said. "Circumstances changed, and I changed my mind. Is it the right thing to do? I'm not sure. But I think it's the right thing to do for this club."

Manuel argued that Brown was the Phillies' best option at this point. He also said that by playing Brown selectively, he can help get him established in the big leagues.

Sitting Brown against most left-handers is one way to do that. Manuel said he thinks some other young left-handed hitters were hurt by playing every day against lefties, right from the start, mentioning Hank Blalock with the Rangers and Jordan Schafer with the Braves as two examples.
Posted on: May 19, 2011 9:54 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2011 11:05 am

3 to Watch: The Finally in Fenway edition

I love that the Cubs are visiting Fenway Park this weekend for the first time since the 1918 World Series. I love that the teams will wear 1918 replica uniforms on Saturday night (although I hate that Fox will insist that 68 percent of the country can't watch that game, no matter how much we pay for the MLB cable package, the MLB iPad app or the MLB iPhone app).

I love that Bill Buckner is going to call Friday night's Cubs-Red Sox game on WGN television. I love that some people, including Evan Brunell of our own Eye on Baseball team, are speculating that the Cubs threw that 1918 World Series.

I just think it's ridiculous that it took this long.

Way back in 1997, interleague play was sold as a way for fans in all the game's cities to see all the game's stars. Once every six years, we were told, you'd get at least one chance to see every team in baseball.

It's so long ago that people in Detroit were actually looking forward to seeing Barry Bonds in person.

So now here we are, in Year 15 of interleague play, and the Cubs are finally getting to Boston? Now here we are, in Year 15 of interleague play, and this weekend the Astros are going to Toronto for the first time?

And now here we are, in Year 15 of interleague play, and the Twins still haven't been to Atlanta -- and won't go there this year, either?

Baseball contends very forcefully every year that interleague play is a huge success. A press release this week claimed that since 1997, interleague games have drawn 11.8 percent more fans than intraleague games.

I don't doubt their arithmetic. I do question the value of the numbers, which are skewed by the continuing popularity of the Subway Series in New York, the City Series in Chicago and the Bay Series in Oakland and San Francisco. They're also skewed because interleague games are disproportionately played on weekends, and none of them are played on school nights, the lowest-drawing nights for all teams.

But the matchups are by far the bigger problem.

First off, they're unfair, because teams in the same division don't face the same interleague opponents. This year, while the Red Sox play the Pirates and Astros, the Yankees get the Reds and Rockies.

Second, they make no sense. Can anyone explain why the Red Sox will be making their ninth visit to Philadelphia this year, while they've been to Cincinnati and St. Louis only once? I know fitting a 14-team American League with a 16-team National League is tough, and I know that baseball has admitted that it allows Fox and ESPN to pick some interleague matchups, but none of that explains the great disparity.

Finally, interleague play was sold under a false premise. Fans in Boston had to wait 15 years to see the Cubs, and even after this year fans in Kansas City still won't have seen the Braves.

That's just wrong.

For the record, the matchups that are being played for the first time in 2011 are Cubs at Red Sox, Reds at Orioles, Astros at Blue Jays, Rays at Brewers and Cardinals at Orioles.

The matchups that haven't yet been played, and won't be played this year, are Braves at Royals, Cubs at A's, White Sox at Mets, Cardinals at Angels, Dodgers at Yankees, Rays at Dodgers, Twins at Braves, Padres at Blue Jays and Rangers at Cardinals.

Oh, and one more thing. We still have no idea what interleague play will look like after 2011, because it's going to come up as part of this summer's negotiations between the players and owners.

Some people have been pushing for realignment into two 15-team leagues (which would require interleague games every night). Others have been pushing for more limited interleague play.

Me? I just like the idea of the Cubs visiting Boston.

And I wonder why it took 15 years of interleague play to get it.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. No one has ever accused the Reds of throwing a World Series to the Indians, or vice versa. Maybe that's because Ohio's two teams have never met in the World Series. Chances are, it won't happen this year, either, but at least the Indians are in first place and the Reds are close. Speaking of close, the Ohio interleague series stands at 18 wins apiece, heading into Reds at Indians, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. Oh, and for those who think interleague play only matters in New York, Chicago, Southern California and the Bay Area, on Saturday night the Indians will have their first sellout in three years.

2. The best series of the weekend is in Philadelphia, but it sure would have been better if Josh Hamilton and Chase Utley were going to play. Instead, both may be activated from the disabled list after this weekend. And it sure would have been better if Cliff Lee was returning to Texas, rather than pitching at home in Rangers at Phillies, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Lee faces Colby Lewis, who has more wins (four, to Lee's two), more complete games (two, to Lee's one) and just as many shutouts (one apiece).

3. The Cubs still have rotation issues, which is why Doug Davis is opening the series against the Red Sox on Friday night. The Red Sox also have rotation issues, which is why Alfredo Aceves is their scheduled starter for Cubs at Red Sox, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Aceves has made just five big-league starts, none since 2009. But one of those starts was at Fenway for the Yankees, who beat the Red Sox that night 19-8. Not that Aceves can take much credit, as he went just four innings and allowed four runs. Oh well. At least Aceves and Carlos Zambrano should look good in those 1918-style uniforms.

Posted on: May 19, 2011 2:19 pm

Werth: Utley means 'everything' to Phils

NEW YORK -- Some day very soon, Chase Utley will rejoin the Phillies lineup.

What will that mean?

"Everything," Jayson Werth said Thursday. "He's that type of player."

Werth and Utley were teammates for four years, before Werth left as a free agent to sign with the Nationals.

"He's a game-changer," Werth said. "They are not too many like him. He brings a mentality and work ethic to the workplace that's unparalleled from anyone I've ever played with."

Utley missed all of spring training and the first six week of the season with a knee injury, but he is six games into a rehabilitation assignment at Class A Clearwater.

He played nine innings Wednesday night, and the Phillies said he is scheduled to play nine innings again Thursday night. It doesn't appear that he'll be back for the start of this weekend's series against the Rangers, but at this point it would be a surprise if he doesn't make it back before the Phillies end their current homestand next week against the Reds.

Posted on: May 13, 2011 1:10 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2011 1:32 pm

Ruiz, Young, Morrison all back from DL tonight

Three teams will get significant players back from the disabled list on Friday.

The Phillies are activating catcher Carlos Ruiz, who missed the last 12 games with a lower back strain. The Twins are activating Delmon Young, who missed the last 19 gaems with an oblique strain. And the Marlins are activating Logan Morrison, who was out 21 games with a sprained arch in his left foot.

The Phillies have rolled on in Ruiz's absence, going 8-4 without him. But if anything, Ruiz has raised his profile among scouts with his play this year. Just this week, a group of scouts were talking about how he now ranks very near the top of any list of major-league catchers.

Ruiz takes Brian Schneider's roster spot. Schneider went on the DL with a left hamstring strain.

Ruiz played in a rehabilitation game Thursday night for Class A Clearwater, as did Chase Utley and Roy Oswalt. The Phillies have been quiet on a projected date for Utley's return, but it's worth remembering that he tends to keep these rehab assignments as brief as possible. As for Oswalt, the Phils have been hoping he'll be able to start on Tuesday in St. Louis, although his lack of velocity Thursday night must be a concern.

The Twins haven't done nearly as well without Young, going 6-13 while he has recovered from a strained oblique. While Joe Mauer's health and Justin Morneau's struggles justifiably get more attention, Young's absence has been felt. Young drove in 112 runs last year, although he wasn't off to a great start (.228, 6 RBI in 16 games) before he got hurt.

The Twins optioned Rene Tosoni back to Triple-A Rochester to make room for Young.

Morrison was a big part of the Marlins' early-season success, hitting .327 with 11 RBI in 15 games. The Marlins went 12-9 in his absence.
Posted on: May 13, 2011 11:42 am
Edited on: May 13, 2011 11:47 am

Phillies activate Ruiz from DL

The Phillies have activated catcher Carlos Ruiz from the disabled list.

Next up, Roy Oswalt and Chase Utley.

Ruiz, Oswalt and Utley all played for Class A Clearwater on Thursday night, on minor-league rehabilitation assignments. Ruiz had missed just the last 12 games with a lower back strain, so it's no surprise that he's back quickly. The Phillies needed a catcher, anyway, because backup Brian Schneider just went on the DL with a left hamstring strain.

The Phillies have been careful not to put a timetable on Utley's return, but it's worth remembering that his rehab assignments have tended to be brief. This one figures to be a little longer, because Utley missed all of spring training and hasn't played yet this year, but he hit a home run in the Class A game Thursday.

"So far, so good," Utley told reporters, according to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.

Oswalt's status is also uncertain, because he struggled to find his velocity in five innings Thursday. The Phils had been hoping that Oswalt could return to the rotation Tuesday in St. Louis.
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