HOUSTON - The bat is back.
The pine-tar-encrusted, nasty, faded ebony bat that Chase Utley used in batting practice for more than a year and broke May 9 at AT&T Park in San Francisco is . . . alive. Dan O'Rourke, the Phillies' equipment and umpire-services manager, repaired the bat before last night's game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
"I'm going to use it," Utley said.
You actually can hit with that?
"It's worth a try," he said.
Utley entered last night hitting just .217 (10 for 46) with a home run and four RBIs since the bat broke, but his slump actually had started three days earlier in Arizona. He had been hitting .200 (11 for 55) since May 5.
Of course, it should be noted that Utley hit .417 (5 for 12) with an RBI in three games this week in Washington.
But the bad break clearly upset him.
"It gives me that same feel every day," said Utley, who is religious about his pregame routine. "There's so much repetition in this game, so much routine. Having a good batting-practice routine allows me to lock in for the game."
Utley saved the bat because O'Rourke had told him that he had repaired bats when he worked for the Astros before he rejoined the Phillies in 2001. O'Rourke just needed the right nails, which he knew he would find in Houston.
The bat had split off the handle, so O'Rourke took six nails and reattached the broken piece. He clipped off the heads as close to the bat as possible and hammered the rest until they were flush with the bat.
Utley then taped the handle and headed to the field. He used the bat in each turn in the cage during BP.
It survived, and Utley gave it a thumbs-up afterward.
"I guess to have that bat back certainly doesn't hurt anything," catcher Chris Coste said.
, who entered last night's game as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning, left in the eighth with a strained right abdominal muscle. It appeared to happen after he reached second base.
The Phillies said he is day-to-day.
pitched four innings in an extended-spring-training game in St. Petersburg, Fla. He threw 58 pitches. His fastball topped out at 87 m.p.h., although it hovered in the mid-80s.
Benson is scheduled to throw another extended-spring-training game Tuesday.
, who helped the Astros reach the World Series in 2005, returned to Houston for the first time since the team traded him and
to the Phillies on Nov. 11 for
, and minor-leaguer
Lidge struggled with the Astros in 2006 and 2007, and the change of scenery has done him good.
"In the past when I was struggling a little bit, I was trying to pitch to prove that there was nothing wrong with me," said Lidge, who is 1-0 with a 0.45 ERA and 11 saves with the Phillies. "Sometimes you kind of get that lack of confidence and you're pitching out of your game a little bit. And I really learned a lot from that. I learned that's not how you go about handling a rough spot. So for me, [the trade] kind of gave me an opportunity to wipe the slate clean. Going to a new team allowed me to say: 'You know what? You're meeting these guys. You're going to work hard. Just show them you'll do whatever it takes to help the team win.' And with that attitude, I think all of the other stuff goes away."
- Todd Zolecki