Notes: Hungry for home cooking

Notes: Hungry for home cooking

ATLANTA -- The Phillies have already played a Major League-leading 30 road games, but they won't need directions to Citizens Bank Park or a reminder of what it's like to play there.

In fact, even before Sunday afternoon's game with Atlanta that concluded the team's nine-game road trip, skipper Charlie Manuel looked ahead to the 13-game homestand that begins on Tuesday.

"I feel good about us going home. A lot of guys do," Manuel said. "It's time for us to put something together at home."

The Phils are just 10-10 at home, but with the way the team produced runs over the first eight games of the road trip, Manuel expects the home winning percentage to improve dramatically.

"[Jim] Thome's back in the lineup, so there's no reason we can't be a better run producer in our ballpark," said Manuel, whose club has hit .305 (89-for-292) on the current trip -- 50 points higher than their season road average and 17 points higher than their average at Citizens Bank Park. "With the kind of hitters we have, we should put up numbers in our own park."

Part of the problem has been the club's tendency to try to take advantage of the friendly confines, a mentality that has led to bad habits.

"We swing at 2-0 breaking balls and don't make adjustments," said Manuel. "Guys think if they swing hard, it'll go out. That's not the right approach. They need to swing easy."

Those bad habits have vanished on this road trip.

Manuel is encouraged by the fact that, despite their 24-26 mark heading into Sunday, his club is only four games out of first place. But he feels the first order of business is to get out of last, something he believes is imminent. The Phils started play Sunday only a half-game behind fourth-place Washington.

"We're getting out of last place. We've been there too long," said Manuel. "We're going to get out of last, and when we do, we'll be OK."

The Phillies are guaranteed of a winning record on the nine-game road trip through Baltimore (the American League East leader), Florida and Atlanta (the National League East co-leaders). Manuel considered that a positive, but insists his team needs to keep raising the bar.

"We showed we can keep up with them," he said. "But just because we can play with them doesn't mean we should be satisfied."

Pitching a fit: Just as the Phillies' bats have come alive, so has the team's pitching.

Phils starters are a combined 9-3 with 3.53 ERA (34 earned runs over 86 2/3 innings) over their last 14 games and have averaged over six innings per start.

"Coming out of Spring Training, we had three spots very strong," said Manuel. "[Randy Wolf's] coming along, that gives us four, and when [Vicente] Padilla comes back, that'll make us very strong."

Philadelphia's staff ranks third in the National League in innings (305 2/3) and wins (21), but most importantly, they've kept the team in games, having allowed three earned runs or less in 31 games -- that's 62 percent of their starts.

"That's the way the game goes," said Manuel. "If you can keep your pitching stroing and keep it organized, that's what's going to carry you."

Oh what a relief it is: The Phillies' bullpen has done a superb job of finishing the job against the Braves.

Philly relievers are 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA (18 earned runs in 97 innings) over their last 30 games at Turner Field, dating back to July 26, 2002.

Walking the walk: The Phillies came into Sunday's contest leading the Major Leagues in walks (206) and on-base percentage (.352). They've certainly helped themselves over the first two games of the series with Atlanta, drawing 15 free passes.

How do you like us now? To say the Phillies team that showed up for the three-game set in Atlanta in late May is a different one from the one that came into Turner Field in late April is an understatement.

The Phillies scored more runs in the first inning Friday night (four) than they did in the entire three-game set in April (three), and they got more hits in the first two games (28) than they had in all three in April (19).

The Phillies' pitchers, meanwhile, who allowed 21 runs and 26 hits in the three games, have limited the Braves to only six runs.

On deck: The Phillies are off Monday, then begin their longest homestand of the season, a 13-game stretch against San Francisco, Arizona, Texas and Milwaukee.

Jon Cooper is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.