|Utley lifts Phils; bullpen drops them|
(Photo: Howard Smith/US Presswire)
After missing 46 games last season and another 76 this season, Chase Utley's knees were strong enough to get him back in the Phillies lineup. His return was triumphant, but the bullpen simply couldn't keep pace in an 11-7 loss to Pittsburgh.
Chase Utley did everything to help the Philadelphia Phillies win except pitch middle relief. Utley homered in his first at-bat of the season, but the Pittsburgh Pirates spoiled his return by connecting three times and beating the Phillies 11-7 Wednesday night.
Michael McKenry hit a three-run homer and Andrew McCutchen and Casey McGehee also went deep for Pittsburgh. The Pirates set season highs for runs and hits (14), all against the Phillies' maligned bullpen. "It was a good first step, but obviously winning would've been ideal," Utley said.
Utley missed the first 76 games this year because of a chronic problem in both knees. He had three hits, but it wasn't enough on a night the Phillies got more encouraging news about their injured stars. Former NL MVP Ryan Howard will start a rehab stint on Thursday night and two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay is making progress and could throw off a bullpen mound next week. Until they're all healthy, it won't be easy for the five-time defending NL East champions.
James McDonald (7-3) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. It was the first time in 15 starts this season he allowed more than three runs, and his ERA climbed from 2.19 to 2.44. McKenry drove in a career-best four runs and the Pirates feasted on Philadelphia's pitching. "I'm not trying to do too much and hit what they give me," McKenry said.
Reliever Raul Valdes (2-1) started for the Phillies, who were out of starters because of a double-header Sunday. He allowed three runs and two hits in two innings in his second career start. Joe Savery came in and gave up five runs in 2 2/3 innings. He was optioned to Triple-A after the game.
"There were doubts about our bullpen," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We felt like with what we had in the minors, this could give us more flexibility. But it backfired. We got lit up." The Phillies entered with a 4.41 bullpen ERA that was 25th in the majors. "We have to get our bullpen straightened out," Manuel said.
Utley can't help in that department.
The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the first when Utley and Carlos Ruiz hit back-to-back homers. Utley drove a 2-2 pitch way out to right-center. He got his third standing ovation in a 15-minute span and came out for a curtain call after circling the bases and getting mobbed by teammates in the dugout. "It was pretty exciting," Utley said. "The fans were awesome and it was nice to hit the ball hard my first at-bat."
Ruiz then hit a drive to left for his 11th homer. That had another sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park buzzing, but it didn't last.
McKenry connected off Valdes in the second to put the Pirates ahead 3-2. McGehee homered off Savery in the fourth and McDonald helped himself with a two-out RBI single to extend the lead to 5-2. Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and McKenry had RBI singles in the fifth to put the Pirates up 8-2. But the Phillies rallied against McDonald in the sixth.
Hunter Pence had an RBI double and Shane Victorino singled him home to cut it to 8-4. Jimmy Rollins lined an RBI triple off Jared Hughes with no outs in the seventh. Tony Watson came in and Juan Pierre singled for his 500th career RBI, Utley followed with a single and Ruiz lined an RBI single to right field that Tabata appeared to lose in the lights, cutting the deficit to 8-7. Brad Lincoln entered and preserved the lead. He struck out Pence, retired Victorino on a fly ball and fanned pinch-hitter Jim Thome.
McCutchen hit a two-run drive off Chad Qualls in the eighth, sending many fans home.
Utley sat out the first 46 games last year before returning to have the least productive season in his career. He batted .259 with 11 homers and 44 RBI. The 33-year-old second baseman has a condition called bilateral chondromalacia that can't be fixed surgically. Howard tore his left Achilles' tendon making the final out in the last game of 2011 against St. Louis in Game Five of the NL division series. Halladay has been out since May 29 because of a strained latissimus dorsi muscle on the right side of his back.
NOTES: The Phillies purchased the contract of veteran reliever Brian Sanches to replace Savery. They used their entire bullpen except closer Jonathan Papelbon in this loss... Manuel said he won't start Utley on Thursday afternoon and plans to give him a day off every three games... INF Michael Martinez was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to make room for Utley... Phillies RHP Mike Stutes had shoulder surgery Tuesday and likely will miss the rest of the season... The Pirates won for just the third time in the last 19 games in Philadelphia... A.J. Burnett (8-2, 3.24) tries to win his eighth straight start for the Pirates on Thursday afternoon. Kyle Kendrick (2-7, 5.24) goes for the Phillies.