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PIT@PHI: Utley homers in first at-bat of 2012

PHILADELPHIA -- It looked like the beginning to a perfect night for Chase Utley.

He received a standing ovation at Citizens Bank Park as Phillies public address announcer Dan Baker introduced him before Wednesday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The crowd roared as he caught a pop fly in foul territory in the top of the top of the first inning and stood and cheered again as he strode to the plate in the bottom of the first. He stayed on script moments later, smacking a 2-2 curveball to right field for a solo home run in his first at-bat of the season.

Utley, who had been on the disabled list because of a chronic left knee condition, went 3-for-5 in his 2012 debut, but it was not nearly enough as the Phillies bullpen followed its own familiar script in an 11-7 loss to the Pirates.

"I was excited to be out there," Utley said. "It's been a long road to get to this point. I had a lot of emotions and a lot of adrenaline, and the crowd definitely helped that."

The Phillies decided to make Wednesday a bullpen game after a rainout Friday forced them to pitch Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in a doubleheader Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Phillies offered few explanations, other than they simply thought the bullpen was its best option, despite the fact its 4.41 ERA ranked 25th in baseball.

The best option allowed 11 runs against the Pirates, who entered the night 29th in baseball averaging 3.41 runs per game.

"It kind of backfired," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We got lit up."

Triple-A Lehigh Valley right-hander Tyler Cloyd, who is 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA and made the International League All-Star team, could have pitched, but he pitched Saturday. Perhaps the Phillies did not want to push him back and have him pitch on eight days rest. Lehigh Valley right-hander Scott Elarton has big league experience, but he is 5-5 with a 4.44 ERA. He pitched Sunday.

That left the Phillies to start left-hander Raul Valdes, who allowed three runs in two innings. Left-hander Joe Savery, who was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after the game, allowed five runs in 2 2/3 innings as the Pirates built a commanding 8-2 lead. The Phillies made it an 8-7 game, but Chad Qualls allowed three runs in the eighth to kill any hopes of a comeback.

"He's kind of hard to figure out," Manuel said of Qualls. "At times he does do a good job every now and then. His stuff looks like it's pretty good at times. He's been getting hit, and he's been getting hit hard."

"We just tried to do whatever we could with those guys coming in," Pirates catcher Michael McKenry said. "We know that we've got one more game here, so if we can kind of burn some of their arms then that's huge for the next day. So we just tried to see as many pitches as we could and just try to get a good pitch to hit."

At least Utley looked good. He flied out to the warning track in center field in the third inning, tempering any concerns about his ability to hit for power. He reached on an infield single in the sixth, which sparked a two-run rally to cut the Pirates lead to 8-4. He also singled in the seventh inning when the Phillies scored three runs to make it 8-7.

Utley said he used the doubt about his future of his career as fuel while he rehabbed.

"One hundred percent," Utley said. "I think so. If anybody knows me, I think they know what kind of guy I am. I've put a lot of work into this. Obviously it's a frustrating situation. I never wanted to be in this situation in the first place. But I had to battle through it. I feel like I've done a good job so far and hopefully I can continue that."

The Phillies gave away an excellent opportunity to win the first three games of this series and put themselves in position to finish the 10-game homestand, 7-3. Now they must win Thursday's series finale to finish 6-4.

They have Utley back, which will help. But they still have that bullpen, too.

"We have to get our bullpen straightened out," Manuel said. "We absolutely have to. What do I always say? Watch the game. You see it. We see it. They know it. ... I know we can get better. I know if there's a way that we can get better in our bullpen and stuff like that, I know we're going to do it. It's tough to make a deal right now. People don't want to give up pitching. They definitely don't want to give up pitching. You can ask any organization. Pitching is hard to get. But sooner or later, I feel like we're going to improve our bullpen in some way."

The Phillies hope it happens in enough time to make a difference.

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