The Philadelphia Phillies are in position to post their longest winning streak in a month. They could get some help from a former All- Star in that quest with the possible return of Chase Utley tonight in the third contest of a four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Utley has yet to play in a major league game this season due to a chronic knee condition. However, after playing in some games with Class A Clearwater, Utley suited up for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs on Tuesday night and went 2- for-5 with a home run.
The second baseman, who was limited to just 103 games last season and a .259 average due to his knee issues, could join the big-league roster for tonight's game.
"So far, so good," Utley told Philadelphia's official website. "I'm looking forward to moving forward. I'll talk to [general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.] and tell him how I feel and go from there. Right now I feel good. Everything so far has been pretty good.
"I got a few pitches to hit, put some decent swings on the ball. And there you go. I felt like I got a few kinds of balls defensively and made out OK. So in my mind that's a positive. I'm feeling pretty confident. I felt a little bit more comfortable out there on the field and in the batter's box, and hopefully I'll move forward from here."
Should Utley get the start for the Phillies tonight, the first pitcher he would face will be the Pirates' James McDonald, who is coming off the first complete game of his career.
McDonald allowed a run on six hits without a walk to beat the Twins on Thursday, striking out five. He won for the fourth time in five decisions.
"I kind of really wanted that," said McDonald about the complete game. "I know all my teammates wanted me to finish the game and I finally believed in myself that I could finish the game. When it came to the last inning I went out there and it felt like the first inning all over again."
The right-hander hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his 14 starts this season, the first Pirate to do that since 1900 according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He is 6-3 with a 2.19 earned run average on the season.
McDonald faced the Phillies on April 8 and did not get a decision, yielding two runs over six innings. Lifetime, the 27-year-old is 0-2 with a 5.51 ERA in five meetings (3 starts) with Philadelphia.
Utley is 2-for-3 in his career versus McDonald with a pair of walks.
One player who has stepped up offensively for the Phillies, who are also without slugging first baseman Ryan Howard, has been catcher Carlos Ruiz. He went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI in last night's 5-4 win, lifting his average to an MLB-leading .361.
Ty Wigginton hit a two-run homer while Vance Worley got the win as he gave up three runs on six hits with a pair of walks and five strikeouts over six-plus innings for the Phillies, who have taken the first two games of this set after dropping both games of a doubleheader to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
"It's satisfying to get a win like this because you have to work so hard to get it," said Worley. "We made some good plays in the field and got the hits when we needed them. This is good for us after some tough losses."
Philadelphia hasn't won three in a row since a four-game win streak from May 23-26.
Michael McKenry went 3-for-3 with a solo home run and two RBI for the Pirates, who have dropped three straight. Erik Bedard gave up four runs on eight hits with two walks and three strikeouts over six innings.
"They had four [runs] after three [innings] and that was about it, he gave us a chance to win," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle about Bedard. "Aside from a few pitches here and there, he had a good night."
Since the Phillies used both Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in Sunday's doubleheader, tonight will be a bullpen game for Charlie Manuel's squad. Getting the actual start will be left-hander Raul Valdes, who is 2-0 with a 1.84 ERA in 12 relief appearances this season.
Valdes will make the second start of his career and first since 2010 with the Mets. The 34-year-old has faced the Pirates once before and was actually credited with a win despite yielding four runs over 1 2/3 innings of work.
Philadelphia's bullpen ranks 12th in the National League with a 4.46 ERA.
The Pirates took two of three over the visiting Phillies to begin the season on April 5-8, but Philadelphia has won seven of the past nine overall encounters and is 16-2 in its last 18 games versus Pittsburgh at Citizens Bank Park.