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Chase Utley close to returning? Joe Blanton, and more in Phillies Weekly Recap

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Each week, Philly2Philly’s Matt Babiarz will wrap up the previous seven days of Phillies’ baseball with Three Up, Three Down.  It’s a rundown of 3 positives and 3 negatives from the past week.

THREE UP!

1.  Utley in Game ActionChase Utley photo: Joe Hermitt

We will begin this week’s Three Up section with the news that followed the Phillies’ lackluster Sunday afternoon loss to the Marlins. The team announced that Chase Utley would be traveling to Clearwater to take part in an extended Spring Training game.

Utley’s participation in this type of game does not mean that a return is imminent.  After all, last summer, Utley took the field for the Phillies 16 days after participating in his first extended Spring Training game. The Phillies have already said that Utley’s progression will likely be slower this summer.

Nonetheless, the Phillies may actually be three to four weeks from adding Chase Utley to their lineup, and perhaps more importantly to their clubhouse. His bat may not be as powerful as it once was, but it will surely be better than some of the slop the Phillies have been sending to the plate this season. His presence as a regular player could wake up a few of the team’s slumping veterans and give the Phillies a boost as they head into July.

2. Pence Deal was Worth itHunter Pence photo: USA Today

The Phillies disappointing finish to 2011 and their slow start in 2012 has caused many to criticize their recent trades of prospects for established veterans.

One of those trades, however, is looking like it was the right call.  

Hunter Pence has played in 108 games with the Phillies since his arrival at last year’s trade deadline.  So far, he has batted .299 with 24 doubles, 24 homers, 69 RBI and 75 runs scored.  If those numbers were carried out over a 162-game season, Pence would post 36 doubles, 36 homers, 103 RBI and 112 runs scored in his first “full season” as a Phillie.

Compare those numbers to the rest of the highly-paid members of the roster and you may start re-thinking that disapproval of a trade for a 29 year-old starter who is under team control for another year and a half.

In saying that, Pence really needs to step up as far as hitting with runners in scoring position.

3.  Polanco Looking Like Young Self

Those of you who thought Placido Polanco would rebound this season after multiple surgeries and a 36th birthday are either Polanco’s immediate family or hopeful members of the Phillies staff.  

But after a .250 batting average in April, Polanco has looked like his old (ie, young) self again.  He has batted .315 in May and June, and appears locked in at the plate.  While there is still very little power (a flimsy .361 slugging percentage), Polanco could be part of an improved lineup if Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and the injured stars eventually provide some offense around him.

THREE DOWN!

1. Tough to Defend Blanton Right Now

Let me go on record in saying that I am a guy who thinks Joe Blanton takes way too much criticism from Philly fans. I get it, he makes $8 million a year, and he is a guy who usually pitches 6 or 7 innings and gives up 3 or 4 runs.  But, to hear people in this town discuss Blanton, you would think he was the second coming of Joe Boever.

Unfortunately, Blanton’s last four starts have been indefensible.  He is 0-3 with a 10.98 ERA.  And it’s not as though he has caught some bad breaks over the last few weeks. Blanton has served up 10, that’s right, 10 homers over those four starts. Sunday was the fourth straight game in which Blanton allowed at least five runs.

For a veteran expected to (somewhat) help hold things down in the wake of Halladay’s injury, it’s not only disappointing, it’s flat-out unacceptable.  Among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for league rankings, Blanton is now 102nd out of 118 when it comes to ERA (5.27).  
Jimmy Rollins photo: Ron Cortes
2. Rollins and Victorino Need Jump Starts

Any discussion of a sparkplug for the Phillies offense over the last few years has usually made reference to either Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, or both.  When the Phillies two speediest and streakiest hitters are on, the offense usually produces boatloads of runs.

The Phillies offense has definitely improved from its abysmal April showing, as the team averaged 5.0 runs per game in May. However, very little of that improvement had anything to do with Rollins or Victorino, who are hitting .237 and .251 respectively.  For two players who are earning $11 million and $9 million this season, both are on pace for some of the worst numbers of their Phillies’ careers at a time when the team desperately needs production from them.

3. The End for Jose Contreras

Regardless of his absence from the lineup for a good portion of last season and even some of this season, it was really tough to see Jose Contreras fall to the turf on Friday night with a serious elbow injury.  

Contreras pitched in 101 games for the Phillies, and provided some great performances out of the bullpen along with some real leadership for some of the youngsters that have joined the relief corps over the last couple seasons.  

While Contreras indicated that retirement was not in his plans, his return from two tears in his throwing arm/elbow at age 39 make his return seem very unlikely.  We wish the big guy well as he recovers from a heartbreaking injury.


Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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Photos:
Utley face: Joe Hermitt
Pence: USA Today
Rollins: Ron Cortes