The Phillies begin a lengthy stretch without their All-Star second baseman when they host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday in the opener of a three-game set.
Utley, among the major league leaders with a .336 batting average and 82 RBIs, broke his right hand when he was hit by a pitch Thursday in a 7-6 loss to Washington. It’s unclear how long the injury will sideline Utley, who plans to see a specialist on Friday to determine the first step in his recovery.
“As breaks go, it’s not that bad of a break,” he said. “It’s definitely disappointing.”
Utley, batting .400 (20-for-50) since the All-Star break to help the Phillies go 8-5, believes he will be sidelined less than a month. This is his first trip to the disabled list in his five-year career.
“Chase is a big part of this team,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “He’s one of our best players, both on defense and offense. We’re going to fight our way through this.”
Utley’s absence leaves a big hole in the lineup ahead of the red-hot Ryan Howard for the Phillies (52-49), who tied a season high with five straight wins before losing Thursday. Howard had a two-run homer in that game after hitting one in the 14th inning Wednesday to give Philadelphia a 7-5 win.
The reigning NL MVP is 14-for-32 (.438) with seven home runs and 17 RBIs over his last nine games. Twenty-three of his 29 homers have come since he was activated from the disabled list on May 25, moving within one of Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder for the NL lead.
This is the first time Howard has played Pittsburgh this season, and no opponent has given him more problems at the plate. Of the 24 teams Howard has faced, the only one he has not homered against is the Pirates and his .114 batting average (5-for-44) is his lowest versus any opponent.
This Pittsburgh team, however, has the worst record in the majors since the All-Star break at 2-10. The club has allowed an average of 5.3 runs in that span.
The Pirates (42-58), though, ended a three-game losing streak Thursday with an 8-4 win over the New York Mets. They averaged fewer than three runs and eight hits over their previous seven games.
“When you put hits together, good things happen,” manager Jim Tracy said after his Pirates had nine singles, a double and a homer.
Howard and Pat Burrell have the hot bats for Philadelphia. Since his batting average dipped to a season-low .201 on July 1, Burrell has hit .451 (23-for-51) with four homers and 17 RBIs in 18 games.
This will be the first time the Phillies have faced John Van Benschoten (0-4, 8.17 ERA), back on the mound after Pittsburgh skipped his last turn in the rotation. The right-hander failed to get past the third inning in his last two starts, getting tagged for 14 runs and 13 hits while walking five.
His most recent appearance came on July 16 against Colorado, giving up a career-high nine runs in two innings of a 10-8 loss. Van Benschoten had a 3.92 ERA in his first four starts following his call-up from the minors last month.
While Van Benschoten gets his 11th major league start, Philadelphia’s Jamie Moyer (8-8, 5.01) makes his 539th.
The 44-year-old left-hander lost three straight outings before beating San Diego on Saturday, allowing four runs and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 12-4 victory.
Moyer has an 8.75 ERA this month while batters have hit .347 against him with five homers in his four starts - all on the road. He has a 3.92 ERA in his last three home games.
Moyer beat the Pirates in his only appearance against them over the past 15 years, allowing a run and three hits in six innings of Seattle’s 5-4 victory on June 18, 2004. He’s 5-6 with a 5.50 ERA in 14 appearances versus Pittsburgh.
The beleaguered Philadelphia bullpen could get some help this weekend, with closer Brett Myers possibly ready to come off the DL. Sidelined since May 23 with a shoulder injury, Myers threw one scoreless inning Wednesday in his third rehab appearance at Class-A Clearwater.
These intrastate rivals are meeting for the first time this year. The Pirates have scored more than three runs only once in 13 meetings over the past two seasons, but the Phillies have won only seven.
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