Utley's homer continues first-pitch success

Better contact could signal end of slump

Utley's homer continues first-pitch success

MIAMI -- Chase Utley's May started much like his April.

In his first at-bat during Friday night's 4-3 loss to the Marlins, he swung and missed badly on an offering from Tom Koehler.

How badly? His bat flew toward second base where it landed near Dee Gordon, who retrieved it and threw it back to Utley. On the next pitch, Utley broke it on an easy groundout to end the first inning.

But Utley changed his approach his next time at the plate and his fortune changed.

After consecutive singles to open the fourth, Utley sent Koehler's first-pitch fastball to right for his third homer of the season, giving Philadelphia a 3-1 lead. In six previous at-bats this season swinging at the first pitch, Utley had two hits and two RBIs with a .333 average and a .429 on-base percentage.

In one swing, Utley drove in as many runs as he had produced over the past eight games. It also gave him 900 RBIs for his 13-year career. The long ball was his first since April 14, when he blasted a pair.

Though Utley finished 1-for-4 and the Phillies fell in walk-off fashion for their fourth straight loss, his swing is an encouraging sign.

Over the past week, Utley has made better contact, including three balls to the warning track in right-center field at Busch Stadium. They were just finding defenders' gloves.

His historically poor April had been widely documented. Entering that at-bat, he was just 3-for-46 (.065) with one run, five walks, six strikeouts and four RBIs since April 15. His .114 average marked his lowest output of any month in the past 13 years and was also tied with Roy Sievers' futility in 1962 for the worst in franchise history (minimum 40 plate appearances).

"He's been stinging the ball," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He could have five or six doubles added to his stats right now very easily with any luck at all. This was a rare jump on a first pitch. It happened to be a changeup, so maybe change his strategy a little bit that at-bat with the men on base and try to make something happen. You don't see him swing very often at the first pitch and [he] reacted to a change."

Christina De Nicola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.