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Inside the Phillies: Phils look for Utley's return to jump-start the offense

With Chase Utley back in attendance but still not in the lineup, the Phillies conducted their daily exercise in frustration Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

With Chase Utley back in attendance but still not in the lineup, the Phillies conducted their daily exercise in frustration Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

Another sellout crowd was tortured by manager Charlie Manuel's makeshift offense as the Phillies failed to score in their series finale with the Texas Rangers. Facing pedestrian lefthander Matt Harrison, the Phillies managed five singles in a 2-0 loss that allowed the Rangers to avoid a three-game sweep.

The team employee in charge of ballpark audio sent the paying customers away to the tune of Bon Jovi's "Who Says you Can't Go Home?"

Anyone watching the ball club lately knows the answer to that question is the Phillies. They have six hits or fewer in eight of their last nine games and have scored three or fewer in nine straight. They've also scored three or fewer in 27 of 42 games.

No truth to the rumor, however, that the Inquirer plans to start publishing a box on how the Phillies did not score just to fill the white space where we used to print how the runs scored.

It's a maddening sight for connoisseurs of high-powered offense, a group led by the Phillies manager. Manuel's hope, of course, is that Utley's return to the lineup Monday for the start of a four-game series with the Cincinnati Reds will be the exact elixir he's been looking for. He discovered over the weekend that Domonic Brown and Wilson Valdez batting second was not the solution.

"Yeah, I think it will help," Manuel said. "He's one of our top hitters. Once we get Chase and [Shane] Victorino, our lineup is going to be much better. Also, from a presence standpoint, that helps."

Manuel is going to see a better offensive team Monday night, regardless of how much Utley helps. In fact, he's going to see one of the best in baseball. The Reds led the National League in runs last season and are second in the majors this season. They have the reigning league MVP in Joey Votto and the kind of lineup balance that Manuel has not had this entire season.

The Reds, by the way, also come to town having lost five in a row, including three straight over the weekend to Cleveland, mostly because manager Dusty Baker's highly touted crop of young pitchers has been a major disappointment.

Ask Baker if he would trade his lineup for the Phillies' pitching staff and the only truthful answer would be yes. Likewise, Manuel should feel fortunate regardless of how frustrated the lack of offense has become for the former hitting instructor.

Perhaps consoled by the news of Utley's return, the manager seemed to understand that after the Phillies were shut out for the fourth time this season on Sunday.

"Our pitching has been outstanding and we're going to hit," Manuel said.

The Phillies' offense will get better. It's probably not going to return to the stature it was at when the team won the division for the first time in 2007 or when the Phils went to consecutive World Series in 2008 and 2009.

It doesn't have to be that good because this pitching staff, as expected, is the best in baseball and it figures to remain the best in baseball. The Phillies' defense is also the best in baseball and that also figures to remain a constant. As long as that's the case, the Phillies are going to win a lot of games even if scoring runs remains a struggle.

A year ago, the San Francisco Giants were 17th in the majors and ninth in the National League in scoring runs, but they had the best team ERA in baseball. They beat the Phillies in the National League Championship Series and the Rangers in the World Series because their pitching was the best.

"I think we'd like to have both," leftfielder Raul Ibanez said. "I think our team is capable of scoring runs, pitching and playing defense, and I think we will do that."

That said, Ibanez understands the benefit of having great starting pitchers because he has faced enough of them during his career.

"Great pitchers are always tough to face because of what they do to a team psychologically," Ibanez said. "If you have lost a couple in a row and you come in here and you know you have to face some great pitching, you know about it before you come into the room.

"When they're on your side, it's a nice psychological boost sometimes. You know you may not have to do as much. You're still doing your best to score a bunch of runs, but you know if you get out to a nice lead early - 2-0 or 3-0 - it's probably going to be a good night."

That's a feeling that only great pitching can provide.