Phillies again can't solve Willis

Phillies again can't solve Willis

MIAMI -- Leg three of the Phillies' four-series swing against winning teams went as expected Tuesday, and this was a bad thing for Philadelphia.

Dontrelle Willis (8-1), aka the most dominating lefty in the National League, continued to have his way with the Phillies, beating them, 5-2, at Dolphins Stadium. He allowed two runs in eight innings -- the first earned runs he's coughed up to Philadelphia this season.

"Today hurt," said Jason Michaels. "We thought it was going to be our day today to get him. We got some hits, but they weren't enough."

Wanting to give Willis a different look, Manuel shuffled up his lineup, moving leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins to fifth and inserting Michaels in the top spot.

Willis, the leading winner in the NL, didn't flinch.

Not even an improved performance from Jon Lieber could spare the Phils from falling to the Marlins. Philadelphia is 2-5 against Florida this season, and 9-17 including last year.

Lieber (5-4) is only up on the current season, and he's been particularly unhappy this month. The righty has followed up his 4-1 record and a 3.03 ERA in April by going 1-3 with a 5.65 ERA in May.

The team's Opening Day starter and clear ace has been taking these past few weeks hard.

"I'm killing us right now," Lieber said. "It's disappointing. I feel like I'm a much better pitcher. I feel great throwing the ball. I just have to keep working on things."

Monday's outing was an improvement over his previous two outings, in which he allowed 12 runs in 9 1/3 innings, and walked an uncharacteristic seven batters. His pinpoint control returned, as he retired 15 of the first 17 batters, taking him to one out in the sixth.

"It was sick," said Michaels, describing the view from center field.

In the sixth, after a pair of one-out singles by Willis and Juan Pierre -- both past a diving David Bell -- Paul Lo Duca came to the plate.

Lo Duca bounced a five-footer to Lieber, but appeared to be safe when the throw went off his shoulder and into right field. But the umpire ruled that Lo Duca interfered with the play by running inside the baseline.

A lengthy discussion ensued, but the umpires got the call right.

   Jon Lieber  /   P
Born: 04/02/70
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: R

None of this mattered four pitches later, when Carlos Delgado pasted a Lieber fastball deep to right for a three-run homer. One pitch later, Miguel Cabrera clubbed a homer to left, accounting for Florida's scoring.

No matter how well Lieber pitched through the first five innings, he couldn't forget how much he struggled in the sixth. He's taking each loss harder, since his role is to continue winning streaks, not stop them.

"It's really tough," he said. "That's why they brought me in here. If the Phillies didn't want me here, they never would have signed me. I feel like I owe a lot to this organization, and I haven't done that recently. It's all about making pitches, and I'm not doing that."

Willis did.

"He's 8-1 with an ERA under 2.00 [1.55]," said Michaels, who singled twice off Willis and scored a run. "It's not just us."

"He dominated the game pretty well," said Bobby Abreu, who also had two hits.

Philadelphia had its two best opportunities snuffed out in the fourth and sixth innings. Loading the bases with one out in the fourth, the Phils wound up with one run on a sacrifice fly by David Bell. In the sixth, Willis struck out pinch-hitter Jim Thome with two outs and runners on second and third.

"I thought we had a good chance [to win], but Delgado had the big hit," said Manuel. "And Dontrelle pitched a good game. We didn't get it done."

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