MLB Insiders: Philadelphia Phillies

Jeff Karstens

The Pirates open a four-game series in Philadelphia on Monday night. Right-hander Jeff Karstens gets the start for the Bucs. The Phillies will toss righty Joe Blanton.

A trip to Philadelphia usually doesn't turn out well for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but that could turn out differently this year.

The Pirates plan to give Jeff Karstens his first start in two months Monday night as they begin a four-game series against the last-place Phillies.

Pittsburgh (38-33) has dropped 18 of 23 at Citizens Bank Park since it opened eight years ago, and the club hasn't won a series in Philadelphia since taking two of three at Veterans Stadium from April 4-6, 2003.

However, the Pirates begin their seven-game trip with plenty of momentum after winning six of eight to move within one game of NL Central-leading Cincinnati. Pittsburgh is hitting like a first-place team, averaging 5.6 runs in those eight games.

The Pirates also have a 2.13 ERA in their last eight games, and Karstens (0-1, 4.50 ERA) will try to continue that run of solid pitching as he makes his first start since April 17 following shoulder and hip problems.

The right-hander was originally slated to make a Triple-A rehab start Sunday, but he will now pitch in place of Erik Bedard, who will move back a day.

Karstens will face the Phillies for the second time in 2012. In his season debut April 7, he threw six innings of one-run ball in a 2-1, 10-inning home win that ended the Pirates' five-game skid in this series.

Philadelphia (34-40) continues its 10-game homestand after losing twice to Tampa Bay on Sunday. The five-time defending NL East champs are in last place in the division, and manager Charlie Manuel is not pleased with the team's 7-15 June record - or with people questioning some of his late-game decisions.

Monday's scheduled starter Joe Blanton (6-6, 5.04) needs to do something different after posting a 7.44 ERA in his last seven starts. He has given up at least one homer in each of his last eight outings, allowing three Wednesday during Philadelphia's 7-6 win over Colorado.

The right-hander, 1-0 with a 3.04 ERA in four starts against the Pirates.

The Phillies entered Sunday's split-admission doubleheader looking primed to collect their first three-game sweep of the season. Instead they found themselves in the same place they were in exactly a week earlier: in last place in the National League East and a season-high six games under .500.

After winning in walk-off fashion Saturday, thanks to one big swing from Jim Thome, the Phils sent All-Star left-handers Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee to the mound against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Hamels was done in by a rising pitch count and a shaky bullpen, as the Phils fell 3-2 in the matinee, while Lee saw his losing ways continue in a 7-3 defeat in the nightcap.

The Phillies, who entered the day out of last place for just the second time since May 5, are back in the cellar in the NL East, nine games back of the Washington Nationals.

"We have trouble and there's no getting away from it," manager Charlie Manuel said. "There are three phases of the game. There's pitching, defense and hitting. We're dysfunctional at nights in two of those phases."

There is also managing, and Manuel took some flack for not sticking with Hamels on Sunday. Hamels had retired nine of his last 11 batters and had a three-hit shutout going when he was taken out after 111 pitches in seven innings.

"I took him out of the game because he was at 111 pitches, it was a hot day and he had pitched good," Manuel explained.

Left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo took over in a 1-0 game, walked the leadoff batter in the eighth and would eventually allow three runs. Hamels, who entered the afternoon with 10 wins, got a no-decision.

The loss in Game 2 rested squarely on Lee's left shoulder. He put the Phillies in a three-run deficit in the second inning and, after the offense rallied back to make it a 3-2 game, he gave both runs back with two outs in the sixth. Lee has a 5.10 ERA in his last seven starts.

"I can't be walking people and letting a big inning happen with two outs and nobody on, obviously," Lee said of Tampa's two-run sixth, which began with no one on base and two outs."I feel like I'm better than that."

Notes, Quotes

LHP Cliff Lee allowed three runs in the second inning and never recovered in a defeat to the Rays. Lee, who allowed five runs on six hits in seven innings, is winless in his first 12 starts of the season. He is just the second former Cy Young Award winner in baseball history to remain winless through 12 starts in any subsequent season. Vida Blue, the 1971 American League Cy Young winner, went 0-5 in 19 appearances (14 starts) in 1983 with Kansas City.

LHP Cole Hamels pitched seven shutout innings but got a no-decision as the Phillies dropped a 3-2 defeat in the first game of a split-admission doubleheader in Philadelphia on Sunday against Tampa. Hamels was pulled after throwing 111 pitches.

Antonio Bastardo took over in the eighth, walking the leadoff batter en route to allowing three runs in one-third of an inning.

"You just listen to your manager and go with their decision," Hamels said. "When you go out there, ultimately the pitch count is a factor in this day and age. And when you reach a certain point in the pitch count, they don't want to stress anything on your arm, just because you have to keep coming back every five days."

2B Chase Utley will continue his rehab at Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Tuesday and could be activated off the disabled list for the first time this season later this week. Utley played eight innings at second base on Saturday night and played nine innings in the field on Friday. Since infield work was his biggest hurdle in returning from chondromalacia in his left knee, the fact that Utley played 17 innings in the field in back-to-back days is as positive sign as there has been in his official rehab at Class A Clearwater. CSNPhilly.com reported late Saturday night that Utley was headed north and could be activated off the DL for the first time this season on Wednesday. "Chase is close," Charlie Manuel said. "Hopefully some time his week we'll have some good news."

C Brian Schneider left the second game of Sunday's doubleheader with a right ankle sprain. He suffered the injury during a collision at the plate with Tampa's Sean Rodriguez in the sixth inning. He is listed as day-to-day.

RHP Jonathan Papelbon gave up back-to-back, two-out, run-scoring singles in the top of the ninth inning in blowing his first save opportunity in 18 chances this season on Saturday. After coming out of the game, Papelbon offered challenge to his teammates. "I came in the clubhouse (after the blown save) and I said, 'Whoever walks this guy off, I'll give him five grand,'" said Papelbon, who then watched Jim Thome lead off the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run. I didn't think Jim would do it right off the bat."

PH Jim Thome ripped a walk-off home run of Tampa left-hander Jake McGee in the bottom of the ninth inning to lead the Phillies to a 7-6 win on Saturday. The home run was the 609th of Thome's career, tying him with Sammy Sosa for seventh on baseball's all-time home run list.

But Thome stands atop the pack in walk-off home runs. The walk-off shot was the 13th of his career, the most in baseball history. Thome entered the day in a six-way tie for all-time walk-off home runs with Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson and Mickey Mantle.

By The Numbers: 5.10—Cliff Lee's ERA in his last seven starts.

Quote To Note: "Chase is close. Hopefully some time his week we'll have some good news." —Manager Charlie Manuel said of All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, who could come off the disabled list this week and make his 2012 debut.

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