MILWAUKEE - When the Phillies shipped Jonathan Papelbon to Washington for pitching prospect Nick Pivetta, they lost a little more than the salary they shed. They lost a veteran bullpen presence.
"He really helped our younger pitchers in the bullpen," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "[Pitching coach] Bob McClure and [bullpen coach Rod] Nichols told me that he really helped out all the guys in the bullpen with the way they prepare and the way they went about things, and what to look for and how to do certain things. When to get ready, when not to. I think some of that rubbed off on them."
That notion is no more clear when looking at the recent success of 24-year-old Elvis Araujo. The 6-7, 270-pound lefthander hasn't allowed a hit in his last nine appearances, a streak that spans eight innings.
The major league routine, perhaps aided by Papelbon, was one of Araujo's biggest adjustments, he said, when transitioning to his year at the big-league level after playing all last season at Single and Double A in the Cleveland system. The Phillies signed him in November and the Venezuelan native was assigned to Double A Reading. He was called up in early May.
"[With the routine], everything has been a process, continuing every day trying to get better," Araujo said.
That confidence was on display Saturday night in the Phillies' 4-2 loss to the Brewers. After Justin De Fratus surrendered a run to put the Phillies behind, 3-2, in the seventh inning, Araujo came on with two outs and a Brewer at second base. He promptly struck out leadoff hitter Shane Peterson on four pitches, the last of which was a hard, breaking ball.
"We're going in baby steps with him and he's responding," Mackanin said. "He's got a lot of confidence right now."
Early on, Araujo - who is one of four rookie pitchers on the current 25-man roster - struggled with his command, but Mackanin said he's seen a big improvement recently. During his current streak, his ERA has dropped from 4.01 to 3.03. In 32 2/3 innings in the majors, Araujo has struck out 32 batters, walked 16 and surrendered just one long ball.
"I think he's starting to figure out that he doesn't need to throw the ball 98 miles an hour in order to locate his pitches, that has a little bit to do with it," Mackanin said. "But I'm real happy with the way he's progressed during the year. He's got a good arm, good stuff and hopefully he'll continue to improve."
Though he was rested yesterday, a routine day off that did nothing to hamper trade speculation, Chase Utley's impressive return to the lineup continued in the first two games of the three-game set in Milwaukee.
It's not just the way Utley has been hitting the ball - he's 13-for-26 with five doubles, a home run and five RBI in seven games since returning from the disabled list - it's the way his feet have been moving on the bases and the energy he's shown.
In Friday's loss, he turned a single into a double in the third inning and nearly did it a second time in the seventh, but he overslid the bag at second and was tagged out.
Saturday, he hit his first home run since June 2, a first-pitch liner in the top of the third inning.
"He's playing like he's rejuvenated," Mackanin said. "Since he's started playing [after the DL stint], he doesn't look like he's 36 years old. Pretty frisky."
Mackanin said he thinks Utley has been feeding off the energy provided by the younger players in the lineup, such as Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera and others.
"When he came into this thing, he saw these young guys playing their asses off. I think it rubbed off on him more than the other way," Mackanin said.
Perhaps he's been rejuvenated just in time for a playoff contender to find his services worthy for the rest of the season.
Maikel Franco, who has been out with a bruised left wrist since the first inning of Tuesday's loss in Arizona, is likely to return to the lineup tomorrow against Toronto. "We're going to find out," Pete Mackanin said. "He's going to take some early batting practice and then if he feels good, if he's 100 percent, he's going to play. If not, he probably won't play." . . . The Phillies will skip the turn in the rotation left by David Buchanan's demotion and will send Aaron Nola to the hill tomorrow. They'll need a starter for Saturday's game in Miami, and it could very well be Jerad Eickhoff's major league debut. Eickhoff, acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade, is 2-1 in three starts at Lehigh Valley with a 2.49 ERA in 21 2/3 innings. He's struck out 19 batters and walked only three.