LAKELAND, Fla. - The Phillies' offense could receive a much-needed spark today. Chase Utley is on the verge of returning to the lineup, although manager Ryne Sandberg stopped short of labeling the second baseman a definite for today's game against the Rays at Bright House Field.

After a 6-5 win over the Tigers, Sandberg said Utley was nearing a return and could be in the lineup as a designated hitter. Utley has spent the first month of spring training working his way back from a sprained ankle that he suffered in January when he stepped on a ball during an offseason fielding session.

Both the team and the player have been erring on the side of caution, seeing little reason to risk that Utley either reinjures the ankle or overcompensates for it to the point that it begins to affect his knees.

Offense erupts

The law of large numbers suggests that an inning like the one the Phillies mustered in the fifth against the Tigers yesterday was bound to transpire before the end of the spring. That is, an inning in which they actually scored runs.

As far as crooked numbers go, the six-spot they hung on Detroit was rather unremarkable. Four singles, two errors, and a walk, the biggest blow a two-run triple by a utility infielder who might sneak onto the roster as the primary backup at shortstop. All of this occurred against a 40-year-old pitcher who finished last season with a 4.81 ERA. On a blue-skied, 80-degree day in central Florida, Joe Nathan managed to get himself booed off the mound. But the Phillies scored. Six times, including the two-run triple by Andres Blanco.

"That was a big inning for everybody,'' said centerfielder Ben Revere, who is 3-for-21 with a walk this spring.

Phillies

Brian Bogusevic staunched a Tigers rally in the seventh inning, throwing out the tying run at the plate from medium-depth rightfield . . . Third baseman Maikel Franco made a diving stop of a sharp ground ball to his right in the seventh inning, throwing to second from his knees for the forceout.

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