Still going, still winning, Chase Utley returns to another ovation from Phillies fans

Still going, still winning, Chase Utley returns to another ovation from Phillies fans

This time, it wasn't so overwhelming.

"But it's still a little awkward," Chase Utley admitted.

Still a fan favorite in the city in which he played for 13 seasons, Utley returned to Citizens Bank Park for the second time as a visiting player Monday night. He started at second base and batted seventh for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Utley received standing ovations and even a curtain call after hitting two home runs (one was a grand slam) when he returned to Philadelphia for the first time with the Dodgers last summer. The ovation before his first at-bat Monday night was not as long or as loud — a smaller crowd had something to do with that — but it was still quite nice. Utley, in fact, had to back out of the batter's box and tip his cap to the crowd.

"For the amount of years that I played here, to suit up in this locker room is just different," Utley said in the visiting clubhouse before the game. "You have to keep the focus if you're going to win some ballgames. There are some guys over on that team that I know and some new faces that I'm not familiar with. But we're here to win."

This four-game series won't be Utley's last visit to Citizens Bank Park — he'll always be a Phillie and will end up on the team's Wall of Fame someday — but it may be his last visit as an active player. He is 38 and hitting just .234. He did not re-sign with the Dodgers until the start of spring training this season and there has been speculation he could retire at season's end.

"I'm trying to take it one day at a time, but I'm still enjoying it, I'm still having fun," he said. "I still feel like I can contribute out there so I'm not looking too far ahead."

Utley won a World Series with the Phillies in 2008 and played in another with the club in 2009. He's an important role player and veteran presence on the team with the best record in baseball. A late-career return to the World Series would be special for Utley.

"We have a very talented club," he said. "There's a lot of excitement in that lineup, pitching staff and defense we have. There's a lot of good attributes here."

"I think the whole goal for everyone is to get to the World Series. That's what we work for. I believe we have not only the talent but the desire to get there."

Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff

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Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff


CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies will be without Mark Leiter Jr.'s versatile arm for about six weeks. An MRI performed Monday on the pitcher's sore right forearm showed a strained flexor muscle.

Leiter had a good chance to make the opening day roster as a long reliever or fifth starter. With him out, the Phillies could be in need of a swingman.

Could Ben Lively be that guy?

"I can pitch anywhere," the competitive 26-year-old right-hander said. "I don't care. Wherever they want, I'll pitch."

Lively did nothing to hurt his chances of making the club as he turned in five shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in a rain-shortened 2-0 win Tuesday afternoon. He allowed just three hits, walked none and struck out four. He was particularly impressive in the fourth inning, striking out Justin Smoak and retiring Russell Martin on a tapper back to the mound with runners on second and third.

"I just tried to bear down and stick to the game plan," Lively said. "There's too much technology around here now. We have all the heat maps and we talked about it before the game and I just stayed with it."

Lively made 15 starts with the big club last year and 10 of them were quality starts in which he went at least six innings and gave up three or fewer earned runs. Lively doesn't have power stuff. He gave up 9.1 hits per nine innings last season and struck out just 5.3 per nine. Management would love to see some improvement in those areas — i.e., more of what he displayed on Tuesday.

"Lively was strong today," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He came out and attacked the zone.

"One of the things that is important is that we see some swing and misses with Lives and we saw a couple of bat-missing moments today that were, to me, a big deal. He induces quick contact, which is important, but we also like to see the ability to miss bats and we saw that on a couple of occasions, (Curtis) Granderson being most notable."

Granderson struck out twice against Lively.

"We look at past tendencies from recent years," Lively said of his pregame study. "The main one we looked at today was Granderson. He has a low slugging percentage on the outer half (of the plate), so we pounded him on the outer half the whole time."

With Jerad Eickhoff headed to the disabled list and Nick Pivetta likely to join Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez in the starting rotation, Lively appears to be vying for the fifth starter's job with Zach Eflin and non-roster invite Drew Hutchison. But he and Hutchison also could be vying for a long man's job in the bullpen.

By mid-April, the Phillies will probably have an eight-man bullpen. But they could break with an extra reliever because they won't need a fifth starter until April 11.

However it shakes out, Lively did not hurt his chances of landing some role with his performance Tuesday.

Roster moves
The Phillies sent catcher Logan Moore, infielder Mitch Walding and outfielder Andrew Pullin to minor-league camp.

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

Photo: NBCSP

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Sixto Sanchez, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, has been noticeably absent from game action in minor-league camp.

Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, says there's nothing to be alarmed about.

"He had the flu and he's over it now," Jordan said. "He's fine now. No issues. He's 100 percent."

Jordan said Sanchez got up to 30 pitches in a bullpen session this week.

"He let it go with all his pitches," Jordan said.

Jordan added that Sanchez would pitch in a game in the next few days. He added that Sanchez would open the season on time with the Clearwater club, though his innings will be watched at the outset until he's fully stretched out.

Sanchez, 19, is a power-armed right-hander with remarkable control. He went 5-7 with 3.03 ERA in 18 starts at Lakewood and Clearwater, both Single A affiliates, last season. He pitched 95 innings, struck out 84, walked 18 and had a WHIP of 0.958.