You may have heard that Chase Utley returned to the Phillies lineup Monday night at Citizens Bank Park.

That accounted for the extra surge of energy that permeated through the clubhouse and the ballpark, but among the reasons you had to like the Phillies to take the first game of their four-game series with the Cincinnati Reds, it only ranked second.

The left arm of Cole Hamels was first.

If you ranked the Phillies' Four Aces after 10 times around the rotation, Hamels would be second behind only Roy Halladay, the ace of all clubs.

No one knows for sure what Utley is going to mean to the Phillies offense over the long haul. He feels good now, and the previously lethargic lineup, with three home runs and 14 hits in a 10-3 victory over the Reds, looked great in his first game back.

Baseball, however, is about the long haul, not one-night stands and standing ovations.

We have to wait and see how Utley and the offense perform beyond the rout of the Reds, but we can say with reasonable certainty that Hamels is going to continue to be outstanding for the remainder of the season.

Thanks to his long track record of success, the Phillies- have every reason to believe they are going to win whenever Hamels steps on the mound, mostly because the youngest ace believes it.

At the start of May last season, there was still some question whether Hamels would ever live up to the potential he showed in flashes early in his career. Like the Phillies offense now, no one knew for sure if Hamels would ever duplicate that magical 2008 postseason run when he collected all that shiny hardware.

His ERA at the end of last May was 5.28, and he seemed to be bitten by one bad inning every start. Coming off a mediocre 2009 regular season and a miserable 2009 postseason, he was a big question mark.

More than a year later, he almost never has a bad start, and his confidence and maturity match that of the more veteran aces on the staff. Over the last calendar year, Hamels has been the most frequent victim of little run support from the Phillies' inconsistent offense, but he has not let that affect his performance.

He has pitched at least seven innings in 25 of his last 38 starts and at least six innings in 30 of his last 38. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 32 of his last 38 starts, and that doesn't count his two playoff appearances last season when he blanked the Reds to close out the divisional series in Cincinnati and pitched well enough in San Francisco to win a game in which the Phillies did not score.

Since surrendering six runs in his 2011 debut against the New York Mets, Hamels is 6-1 with a 2.35 ERA.

"I think that's who we are," Hamels said. "We have that confidence that we know we can go out and pitch seven to nine innings and give up zero runs to maybe one or two - every once in a while, three. I think we just have that confidence we can shut an opposing team down no matter what we do as an offense."

Even though Hamels' line Monday night against the Reds - six innings, five hits, and three runs - will not go down as one of his best, it was another impressive outing.

Before the game could move to the bottom of the first, when Jimmy Rollins' single would be followed by a long standing ovation for Utley, Hamels set the tone for the evening by sitting down the Reds' powerful lineup in order.

Hamels hung a pitch that Jay Bruce hit for a three-run home run in the fourth inning, but the Phillies had put the game away in the bottom of the third with a seven-run inning. Still, a more mature Hamels was bothered by the fact that he allowed anything.

"I was just trying to throw strikes down and away, and they got some base hits right off the bat," Hamels said. "I thought I had Bruce set up for that [change-up], but I hung it really bad. You have to be able to bear down in that situation."

Charlie Manuel summed up Hamels' performance in matter-of-fact fashion, reading his line before offering a brief evaluation.

"He had good stuff," Manuel said. "I've seen his command better. Overall I thought he did pretty good though."

Overall, Hamels is almost always better than pretty good.