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Phillies welcome trip home after loss at Washington


Phillies welcome trip home after loss at Washington
WASHINGTON - There is a thin line between making excuses and acknowledging reality, and professional Baseball players are often hesitant to walk it for fear the latter will be confused with the former. But as the Phillies wrapped up their first road trip of the season with a 8-2 loss to the Nationals last night, it was clear that the first week-and-a-half of this 2009 season had transpired like few others.That's not to say they have hit well - they managed just two runs on five hits last night - or pitched well - Joe Blanton recorded the first quality start of any starter, but the bullpen allowed five runs in three innings. But with 4 off days mixed in with their first eight games and a litany of emotional off-the-field events checkering the days on which there has been action, the Phillies are looking forward to getting home and getting out of first gear."It makes me think of the All-Star break, where you have 4 days off and you are just kind of out of sorts," said rightfielder Jayson Werth, who went 0-for-4 last night but is hitting .313 on the season. "That's kind of what it reminds me of.

Not to make excuses. At the same time everybody is going through it. That's the beginning of the season. But I think it will be good to get back home."Before yesterday's loss to the Nationals, in which an RBI single by Raul Ibanez in the fourth inning and a sacrifice fly by Jimmy Rollins in the fifth represented the offensive highlights, manager Charlie Manuel sat in the visitor's dugout at Nationals Park and acknowledged that a rainout the night before had the potential to further splinter the momentum the Phillies had built during a three-game winning streak in which they had scored 24 runs.Later that evening, after his lineup mustered one extra-base hit and his bullpen thwarted any hopes of a comeback by allowing four runs in the eighth, Manuel seemed to feel that his fear had been confirmed.The Phillies looked out of sync, as they often have during this 4-4 start to the season. Blanton said he battled command problems throughout his six innings of work, which nevertheless yielded a line - three runs on eight hits with five strikeouts and one walk - that was as impressive as any turned in by a starter to date.Nationals slugger Adam Dunn hit a three-run home run with one out in the first inning, continuing two problems that have plagued the Phillies thus far. First, opposing teams have now scored 14 runs in the first inning. Second, Dunn's homer and the three others the Nationals hit increased the number of home runs hit off Phillies pitching to 20.Lefthander Jack Taschner, who retired Dunn to end the seventh but was charged with four runs in the eighth, allowed solo shots to Elijah Dukes and Alberto Gonzalez."That's a lot of homers," Manuel said. "I think it's location. I think it gets back to location - where you are putting the ball. Those [pitches] are mistakes, and big-league hitters hit those."But as has been the case throughout these first 11 days of the season, the talk soon turned to the nongame-related issues that have hampered the Phillies . In a sport that is predicated on rhythm, they have played more than two games in a row just once. Opening Night was followed by an off day, followed by two more games and another off day, followed by a four-game stretch in which they played their best Baseball of the season, which ended with another off day and a rain postponement.Factor in the Opening Night festivities, and the World Series ring ceremony, and the shocking death of beloved announcer Harry Kalas on Monday, and the Phillies' first eight games have often felt like a 16-year-old attempting to drive a stick for the first time."I think that we need to get settled in and start playing," Manuel said. "We've had a lot of stuff that's gone on the first part of the season. I want to see us get all that behind us and start playing Baseball. We've had a lot of distractions. There's been a lot of things going on. We need to get on with our season."The start of a six-game homestand tonight could give the players and manager their first real opportunity to find an extended groove. Although there are pregame memorial services to honor Kalas before games tonight and tomorrow against the Padres, which could further serve to divert physical and emotional focus, the Phillies do not have another off day until April 30. By the time that Thursday arrives, they will have played - barring another rainout - 14 games in 14 days, compared to the eight they played in the first 12 of the year."I don't know if it has been that distracting," said Blanton, who took the loss, his first since the Phillies acquired him from the Athletics last July. "But yeah, I think it will be good to get a lot of games in a row with no off days and kind of really get back in the swing of it with no ceremonies and everything."Manuel acknowledged that the Phillies have not played well, at least not consistently well. But while he sounded a warning, particularly about the performance of the team's starting pitching, he also admitted that a 4-4 start under such circumstances is no cause for panic. "Look, we won the World Series last year, but that was last year," Manuel said. "And I know there are still ceremonies that linger back through the front part of the year and everything. And Harry passing away - that definitely has played a part on our team because he was one of us. But once we get this stuff behind us and get settled in, we'll be OK." *For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 17, 2009

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