Utley homers, Oswalt labors in rehab game

Posted: May 12, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It was 2-for-1 drink night at Bright House Field as it is every Thursday when the Threshers play a home Florida State League game. But for five innings, it was far from a normal night on the farm.

A few more fans than usual dotted the blue seats for Thirsty Thursday. Four TV cameras transmitted the action to the Philadelphia area, where fans could watch three rehabbing Phillies - Chase Utley, Roy Oswalt, and Carlos Ruiz - compete against players in their professional baseball infancy at single A.

The results were mixed with promise and concern. Utley homered and handled limited strenuous chances on his right knee with ease. Ruiz singled and felt no pain in his back when blocking balls and squatting behind the plate.

But Oswalt, pitching competitively for the first time in 16 days, lacked zip on his fastball. Ruiz said it was a struggle for Oswalt early, as he lacked life and location on the fastball. One scout concurred, saying Oswalt hovered between 88 and 90 m.p.h. on the radar gun, topping out at 92. He typically averages 93 m.p.h.

Oswalt said nothing. He left the ballpark before speaking to reporters.

"It was a struggle in the first couple of innings," Ruiz said.

The Phillies were hoping to slot Oswalt right into the rotation on regular rest for Tuesday's finale against St. Louis. That may be unrealistic without his usual fastball.

"That's a big pitch for him," Ruiz said. "When he's on, he's not afraid to throw a fastball. He'll throw it in any count. Today was a little different."

Oswalt, who missed time with a bad back and family matters in tornado-ravaged Mississippi, allowed three runs in five innings and struck out five Palm Beach Cardinals. The damage was limited because he could throw his off-speed stuff with proficiency against inexperienced hitters. But against major-leaguers, he will need his fastball, a pitch he has thrown 64.7 percent of the time in his career, according to Fangraphs.com.

Ruiz did say Oswalt's fastball improved in the fifth inning, when Palm Beach scored twice on three hits. Still, the Phillies may need more time and another minor-league start to evaluate the righthander.

"I don't know," Ruiz said. "I can't tell you."

The news was not all bad. Ruiz already had his Friday morning flight to Atlanta booked and will likely be activated before the series opener with Atlanta. Ruiz was playing his first rehab game after spending two days in extended spring training. He was 1 for 3 with a run scored in five innings.

"No pain," he said. "Nothing."

Utley played five innings, the first time he played the field competitively since Game 6 of the National League Championship Series last October.

"I felt pretty good," Utley said. "I was able to see some pitches. I slid once. I attempted to turn a double play and avoid the runner, which was good. So far, so good."

The home run came on a first-pitch fastball off Palm Beach righthander Joe Kelly, the 10th-best prospect in the Cardinals system.

"It felt good to square one up," Utley said.

Steve Noworyta, the Phillies' assistant director of minor-league operations, has watched Utley since he came to Florida. He has yet to see anything to deter from progress.

"I've seen him bust his tail down the line, running like he usually does," Noworyta said. "I've seen him go after balls in shallow right field like he does. You're looking for something that doesn't look right with him and you don't see it. I think he's coming along."

Utley said he planned to play again Friday and spend more than five innings in the field. Beyond that, he is unsure of what's next.

"I still think there's a little bit more time," Utley said. "I have to work my way back into that. I have to be able to play nine innings before I get up to the big leagues."

For a day, all three were minor-leaguers. They were still paid big-league money, though, and treated the rest of their teammates with a catered spread from fancy Island Way Grill after the game.

On Friday, life in the minors goes on. It's '70s night, and fans dressed in disco attire can buy 75-cent tickets. Ruiz will be gone. As for Utley and Oswalt, hurdles remain.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb


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