Chase Utley’s 2012 debut is off to a rocking start.
The veteran second baseman — who missed nearly three months due to a knee injury — blasted a solo home run to deep right field in the bottom of the first inning Wednesday night against the Pirates. It was his first plate appearance since last October 7.
Carlos Ruiz followed with a solo shot of his own, lifting the Phils to an early 2-0 lead over the Bucs.
Utley hit just .189/.279/.351 on his 10-game rehab assignment, but that rust has clearly not followed him back to the bigs. And he should continue to provide a spark for a team that has badly needed one.
The Phillies entered play Wednesday with a poor 36-40 record, ranking fourth in the five-team NL East.
UPDATE, 8:03 PM: Utley nearly went deep again in his second at-bat, driving a ball to the warning track in center field. Andrew McCutchen was able to haul it in. The Pirates are up 3-2 in the third inning.
UPDATE, 9:07 PM: Utley legged out an infield single in the sixth, running well down the line. It’s 8-4, Bucs.
UPDATE, 9:41 PM: Utley singled to right in his fourth at-bat. The Phillies are rallying and trail by just one.
UPDATE, 10:09 PM: That rally has been stunted, as noted by CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury:
The Pirates have scored three runs in the top of the eighth and are now leading the Phillies 11-7.
UPDATE, 10:39 PM: That 11-7 lead holds as the Pirates win. Utley went 3-for-5 in his season debut.
The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.
Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”
Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”
The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.
There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.
Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.