Utley turning on the power
Chase Utley has three hits, including his seventh home run, as the Phillies defeat the Giants for the second night in a row.
SAN FRANCISCO - Chase Utley maintains an offseason home in San Francisco, the native home of his wife, Jen.
In an effort to get the most out of his ailing and debilitating knees, Utley rebooted his rehab this winter while working out more than a couple of times each week to keep his legs in motion. He took part in regular baseball activities at the University of San Francisco.
The early returns have been favorable on the strength and condition of Utley's knee as the Phils moved in position to sweep the defending world champion San Francisco Giants last night.
Utley singled and scored in his first at-bat, drove in a run with a base hit in his second trip to the plate, and hit his team-leading seventh home run in his third to fuel the Phillies to a 6-2 win.
Utley's booming home run on Tim Lincecum's first pitch of the fifth inning gave Kyle Kendrick an insurance run in what had been a 3-2 game.
"I was just looking for something in the strike zone," Utley said. "Trying to keep it simple and squared up pretty good. It's a big yard, so I wasn't really sure where it was going to go."
Ryan Howard (2-for-3) also homered, while Laynce Nix and Ben Revere banged out two hits apiece.
Utley finished the night 3-for-5. His first three-hit day since Opening Day boosted Utley's average to .276 on the season, only 11 points below his career average.
But more impressive has been the return of a power stroke many feared left Utley's bat when his knees went bad 2 years ago.
"He's showing power - his power is there," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's swinging the bat good. On good nights, he drives the ball."
Last night at AT&T Park was one of those good nights.
When Utley opened the fifth inning with a home run, it was his seventh home run in 133 plate appearances this season. That's an average of one home run every 19 trips to the plate.
In his prime, between 2005 and 2009, Utley hit 146 home runs in five seasons, an average of one in every 23.1 plate appearance. But the power production declined with his aging body in 2010 and 2011.
He hit 16 home runs in 115 games in 2010, an average of one every 31.9 plate appearance. In 2011, when he missed the season's first 46 games with knee trouble, Utley hit 11 home runs in 103 games and averaged one in every 41.3 plate appearance.
Utley's power made strides last season, when he also hit 11 home runs (one in every 32.9 plate appearance). But it's suddenly back in the form that made him a perennial All-Star and trendy preseason MVP pick, too.
"I always thought if he could get his core strong and get back to playing regular, that he had a good chance of getting it back," Manuel said of the return of his second baseman's power.
Utley entered last night's game with a .483 slugging percentage, which would stand as his highest mark since slugging .508 in 2009.
Utley's latest surge has helped awaken a comatose offense. After going 1-for-16 in his first five games in May, Utley is 4-for-9 with a home run, a walk, three runs scored and two RBI in his last two games.
The Phillies have won both games.
Utley's contributions have complemented two more sterling starts from the Phillies workman-like rotation. One night after Cliff Lee held the Giants to one run in eight innings, Kyle Kendrick continued his meteoric climb as a more-than-capable replacement for the injured Roy Halladay.
Kendrick gave up just two runs in seven innings, while striking out six and walking none. He is 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in seven starts this season; his ERA ranks 12th among National League starters.
"Kyle's pitched great," Utley said. "It seems like every game, he definitely gives us a chance to win. He's staying composed, he's getting out of big jams, he's making good pitches definitely when he needs to."
Kendrick is 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA since giving up five runs in his first start of the season against Kansas City. Since replacing Joe Blanton in the rotation last August, Kendrick is 11-5 with a 2.64 ERA in 18 starts.
But unlike Utley's power, Kendrick's production as a starting pitcher has stayed on a steady line for the past three seasons. Kendrick has a respectable 3.42 ERA in the 47 starts he's made since the beginning of the 2011 season.
"I can't say enough about him," Manuel said. "But if I want to go to sleep tonight, I better quit, I guess. Because we have to come back out here early in the morning. Hell, I'll be out here at 7:30."
When the Phils take the field for this afternoon's 12:45 p.m. start, they'll go for their first sweep in San Francisco since 1984.