The long-awaited return of Cliff Lee to the Phillies' rotation may be more of an audition than anything else.
After losing back-to-back series against National League East rivals on either side of the All-Star break, the Phillies find themselves entering Monday's series opener against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park 10 games back in the division. Even if Lee jumps right back into ace form, his best value to Philadelphia at this point in their 2014 campaign may be his worth as a trade chip.
Lee finally rejoins the starting rotation after landing on the disabled list in late May with a strained left elbow. He will make two starts before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, which could be his chance to showcase his stuff for interested contending teams.
"Right now I'm a Phillie, and I want to try to help this team win," Lee said. "I'm eager just to get back on the mound and try to help the team win. I've been out for two months now. I'm just ready to do my job."
The veteran southpaw, who is 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA in six career starts against the Giants, pitched to a 5.06 ERA in three rehab starts, going 10 2/3 innings and allowing 13 hits including a homer with eight strikeouts and two walks.
"The results aren't as important," Lee said. "It's more of, 'Get your reps in and get your pitch count up to get back to this team, where it really matters.'"
Meanwhile, Ryan Vogelsong will oppose Lee on Monday night. Vogelsong has lost four consecutive starts, but the blame lies on the shoulders of the Giants' offense. In those four starts, he allowed just eight earned runs in 24 2/3 innings (2.92 ERA), but was saddled with the loss each time as he was provided with zero runs of support.
Vogelsong is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA (six earned runs, 18 innings pitched) in five career appearances against the Phillies.
Giants: Arias to get more playing time vs. lefties
Infielder Joaquin Arias hasn't faced a lot of lefties this season because shortstop Brandon Crawford's hit them so well. But manager Bruce Bochy said Sunday that he'll be using Arias a lot more in the second half in order to give Crawford a break here and there.
Entering Sunday, Arias was 10-for-54 against southpaws. Bochy believes the 29-year-old, who's batting .182 this season, could benefit from more playing time.
"I think that's the biggest reason he probably hasn't gotten on track with the bat," Bochy said. "More of his at-bats are against righties and he hasn't gotten consistent at-bats against lefties."
Considering the funk Crawford got into at the end of the first half -- he had just six hits in 38 at-bats to kick off his first 12 games in July -- it could behoove Crawford to get some rest anyway. He had one hit in seven at-bats against the Marlins.
It won't always be Crawford out of the lineup in Arias' place, though. Bochy suggested he could put him in at second base as well.
Phillies: Asche earns praise for improved offensive approaches
Cody Asche will never be accused of not respecting the game of baseball. At the same time, he also refuses to overthink it.
"Just try not to overcomplicate things," said the Phillies third baseman, who has cemented his place at third despite seeing his 10-game hitting streak end Saturday night. "I'm really just trying to be a part of the offense, be one of the eight hitters when called upon. I think that's really a key for me."
The improved approach, especially since his return from the disabled list June 20, is noticeable and is earning positive feedback.
"He's been playing well," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "I think he's gaining some confidence. It's really about experience. The young kids have to get a chance to play. He's getting his chance to play."
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg agreed.
"He seems to be nice and aggressive right from the get-go at home plate, looking for a pitch to hit," said Sandberg.
Sandberg ideally sees Asche as a gap-to-gap guy who will hit for average and still hit in the 15- to 20-homer range.
"For him to stay consistent, it's using the whole field and staying with a left-center stroke when needed and reacting inside to the pull side. Sometimes he tends to get a little bit pull-happy."
• It was a good Saturday night at the plate for all three Phillies playing in rehab assignments, as they hit a combined .400 as a group (4-for-10). Carlos Ruiz went 1-for-4, and infielder Reid Brignac, playing at short, was 2-for-3 with a double and a walk for Class A Advanced Clearwater. Backup catcher Wil Nieves went 1-for-3 with an RBI for Double-A Reading in Game 1 of their doubleheader.
• Vogelsong didn't receive any run support his last time out July 12, but in the four games since, the Giants offense has generated 24 runs.
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.