John Middleton

Chase Utley gives Philly fans one final emotional goodbye

Chase Utley gives Philly fans one final emotional goodbye

John Middleton, the managing partner of the Phillies, was right there front and center for what was likely Chase Utley's final moments as a ballplayer at Citizens Bank Park.

Utley didn't provide much heroics on the field during his final regular-season series in Philadelphia (1 for 8 at the plate), but he certainly pulled at Philly fans' heartstrings a few final times.

After receiving standing ovations when he came to bat, Utley got one final moment to soak it all in after the final out Wednesday.

Utley gathered his glove and sunglasses in the dugout following the Phillies' victory to win the series (see first take). He spotted Middleton watching him from up the steps. The two embraced, shared some words and Utley eventually tipped his hat to the Philly fans who love him so much.

It was an emotional goodbye but one more memory to add to the hundreds he provided us over the years.

“It was surreal,” Utley said after the game of his final days at Citizens Bank Park. “I’ve said it over and over again but I can’t thank the fans enough for the amount of support they showed me. Not only for this series but when I played here in Philadelphia. One thing I’m happy about is that I got to thank them in person. I hope they understand how important they are to me.”

A potential playoff matchup between Philly and L.A. aside, "The Man" has played his final game in Philadelphia.

Goodbye, Chase. Thanks for everything.

Photo by Bill Streicher for USA Today Images

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Phillies president Andy MacPhail weighs in on team’s rise to contention, cost of trades, attendance

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Phillies president Andy MacPhail weighs in on team’s rise to contention, cost of trades, attendance

MIAMI — Phillies president Andy MacPhail is surprised by the team’s success.

“I was hoping for and expected that we would have meaningful, measurable progress and I think what we’ve done to this point exceeds meaningful, measurable progress,” he said before Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins. “Just the fact that we’re a game-and-a-half in first place exceeds my expectations.”

With the team’s window of contention opening a year before many expected, club officials are reacting.

“We’re in a different situation than we anticipated and we have to act accordingly,” MacPhail said. “I know (general manager) Matt Klentak and his group is doing exactly that. We’re in a position where we need to try to augment our current group to try to preserve our place in the standings for as long as we can.”

Klentak and his lieutenants are busy pursuing trade opportunities. The Phils would love to land slugging left-side infielder Manny Machado and lefty closer Zach Britton from the Baltimore Orioles (see story). Competition for the two players is intense. The Phillies have built some good depth of quality prospects in their minor-league system and are willing to part with some of it to land Machado and/or Britton. There are even indications that the Phils would do a deal for Machado without immediately signing the free-agent-to-be to a contract extension, though Machado’s contract status would certainly affect the price the Phillies were willing to pay.

It’s all a complicated balance of present vs. future because as much as the Phillies want to win this season they want to sustain the winning for a decade.

“It’s an inexact science,” MacPhail said. “You try to ascertain as best you can what is immovable and where you have areas where you are giving up talent but you have enough in the system to absorb that. It’s what you can afford to do and what you can’t because our stated goal and our directive from ownership is to be in a position where postseason potential isn’t just a one-and-out type of thing.”

John Middleton, the Phillies managing partner, is aggressive and eager to win. But he is also levelheaded. He has been portrayed in some media reports as looking to make a splash.

MacPhail scoffed at that.

“John wants to win,” MacPhail said. “John wants to sustain winning. But John is not an ‘excite the town at any cost’ guy. My view is that he’s smart and he’s realistic. I think I’ve done a good job of explaining the importance of an organization and progress and he’s seen that. He’s not willing to give up too much of that just to make a splash. Someone wrote the other day that ownership wants to make a splash. Let me tell you something about John Middleton. He’s not a ‘splash’ guy for something that doesn't make sense. I can promise you that.”

MacPhail is fond of saying that in the baseball business, the fans will let you know how you are doing with their choosing to buy tickets or not.

Despite their success, the Phils rank fourth from the bottom in the National League in average attendance at 26,740 per game.

MacPhail said he was not surprised by the attendance and he believes there are factors behind it. First, the team was not projected to be a top contender. Second, there is competition for the entertainment dollar.

“Philly is a good sports town and you have to make some allowances,” he said. “These are not excuses, but you have to make some allowances. There’s only so much disposable income that people have. Let’s be honest, the Eagles and the Sixers sucked some of that out before we even threw a pitch.

“I need to build an organization on the baseball and business side that is going to sustain success and make us a competitive product for years to come and an attractive place to come for years to come.”

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Jake Arrieta addresses the velocity concerns

Jake Arrieta addresses the velocity concerns

CLEARWATER, Fla. — As good as Jake Arrieta will look in red pinstripes, there's no hiding the fact that he comes with some red flags.

His average fastball velocity dropped from 94.9 mph in his Cy Young season of 2015 to 92.6 mph last season, according to PITCHf/x data.

This has been interpreted in some quarters as the pitcher entering a decline, an idea supported by the Chicago Cubs' curious lack of aggressiveness in attempting to re-sign him. The Cubs instead signed Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal.

Arrieta was asked about both topics upon joining the Phillies on Tuesday.

"I think there was a number of reasons that things didn't go in a different direction," he said of the Cubs, the team he helped win the 2016 World Series. "But that wasn't necessarily the direction that maybe I wanted to go in."

Arrieta said he would cherish his memories with the Cubs and he welcomed the "opportunity to bring a lot to the table" for his new club.

"My focus is now on the Phillies and I'm committed to winning as a Phillie and using the experiences that I've gained to each and every player in this organization's advantage," he said.

Arrieta notched a 1.77 ERA in 2015. It swelled to 3.53 last year. That was largely the product of a poor first half. His ERA before the all-star break was 4.35 as opposed to 2.28 after it. He was the old Arrieta in August, going 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA in six starts on his way to NL pitcher of the month honors.

Arrieta, 32, did not deny the velocity drop. But he made it clear that there's more to pitching than a big fastball.

"You get to a point in your career where you understand that pitching isn't necessarily all about velocity," he said. "I can't tell you how many times you'll see guys who have high velocity that can't have success at this level. There is a tremendous amount of learning that has to be incorporated into a starting pitcher's repertoire rather than just going out there and trying to blow guys away with just sheer stuff and velocity.

"That's an experience I had last year and to be able to learn from my first-half inconsistencies and turn it around in the second half. High velocity or not, I know exactly what I'm doing on the mound and I know how to utilize my stuff. Does that mean the velocity won't be up this year? No. Sometimes you have a dip one year and a spike the next.

"That's not necessarily a tremendous concern for me. It's an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to maybe utilize another variable in your game. If that velocity does go back to 95-96 then the league is in a lot of trouble. But I don't think that tells the entire story. Velocity is sexy in this game, but there are a lot of great pitchers that can pitch without it."

General manager Matt Klentak said the Phillies spent considerable time studying Arrieta's drop in velocity. He said the club was "comfortable" with its findings and "thrilled" with the pitcher's signing.