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Manuel not worried about bullpen woes

Phils' bullpen falters in loss to Nationals

PHILADELPHIA -- The question posed to Tim Worrell soon after his latest bout of poor pitching went something like this: Is the bullpen still a strength?

"I hope so," he said with a wry laugh. "It's a little tough to say 15 minutes after this game on back-to-back nights."

Philadelphia's 5-4 loss to Washington in Thursday's matinee lasted 10 innings, and hurt when Worrell and company couldn't hold a one-run lead. Rheal Cormier (0-1) ultimately took the fall when he allowed a leadoff homer to Jose Vidro in the 10th.

"It was supposed to be a fastball in, but I left it middle in," said Cormier. "He took advantage of it."

The defeat dropped Philadelphia to 1-2 as it heads to St. Louis to take on the National League champions.

Worrell entered to preserve a one-run lead provided by Placido Polanco's two-out RBI single in the seventh, and immediately surrendered a leadoff triple to Jose Guillen -- a ball that hit near the top of the 409-foot sign and rolled nearly all the way to right field. Expos third base coach Mike Hubbert almost waved Guillen around, but held him up at the last second.

Guillen scored on a groundout by Nick Johnson that bounced off the first-base bag.

Cormier pitched the 10th after Philadelphia couldn't capitalize on Mike Lieberthal's leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth.

As it did Wednesday, the loss wasted a fine first effort by the Phillies' starter. On Thursday it was Randy Wolf, who allowed three runs on eight hits in six innings. All spring has been leading up to this start for the lefty, who is coming back from an injury-plagued season that limited him to 23 starts.

Wolf was pleased with his fastball and his ability to pitch his way out of jams in the first and sixth innings.

"There's room to improve, but for the most part, I'm pleased with some of the pitches I made in certain situations," he said. "The key is to be able to make pitches when you need to."

The game was played in front of 21,693, the smallest crowd in the history of Citizens Bank Park. Still fresh in the fans' minds is last season's 1-6 beginning that set the tone.

"During the course of the year, no matter how good a team is, this is going to happen," said Wolf. "The guys in this clubhouse are going to recover fine. Our test now is to go to St. Louis and try and take that series, then do the same in Florida. We can't be devastated by one game at this point in the season.

"We can't be on top of the world if we have a great [road trip], and we can't be thinking we're in the cellar if we don't. Keeping an even head is going to be very big for us."

Keeping that even head is manager Charlie Manuel, who isn't discouraged by the back-to-back losses. He has faith in his setup man Worrell, and said this is a small blip.

"Our bullpen is definitely a strength of our club," Manuel said. "I think it's just a bump in the road. It just shows that we need to do more work and get sharper. I have all the confidence in the world in our bullpen. They've done it in the past. There's no reason why they can't do it again."

Manuel said the blame also rested on the hitters' inability to register a game-breaking hit. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome didn't deliver with the bases loaded.

But as the players always say in April -- it's a long season.

"In Houston, we had our problems getting into the playoffs almost every year, but we did it," said closer Billy Wagner. "There's better talent here than we ever had in Houston. So it's hard to believe people want to bad mouth us after just three games. If [the fans] are looking for [a spark] in the first three games, they're looking for the wrong thing. We're not going to win a pennant in the first three games. We going win it in 162, and it's going to be a grind."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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