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Eaton struggles as Phils drop finale

Eaton struggles as Phils drop finale

PHILADELPHIA -- The maligned bullpen had nothing to do with this one.

Thursday afternoon's 8-4 loss that completed an 0-3 start fell on starter Adam Eaton, whose return to the organization did not go well. The Braves, however, enjoyed facing Eaton and sweeping the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Eaton's struggles began in the first, when he surrendered two runs. A Ryan Howard throwing error on what should've been an inning-ending double play didn't help matters, as it allowed Atlanta's Brian McCann to slice a two-run single.

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"Any mistake, especially that leads to runs and makes a pitcher stay out there longer, that plays a part," manager Charlie Manuel said. "In some ways, we were fortunate to give up just two runs."

The free-agent acquisition had a particularly trying fifth inning, when he allowed six more runs to put the game out of reach. The inning began with a walk to opposing pitcher Chuck James, and an 0-2 mistake to Kelly Johnson, which was deposited for a two-run home run.

"I just made a mistake and hung a pitch," Eaton said, of the ill-fated curveball to Johnson.

Scott Thorman, Wednesday night's hero, capped Atlanta's scoring with a two-run double off reliever Joe Bisenius, who was making his Major League debut. Rookie Clay Condrey and Antonio Alfonseca combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts, but that would serve as no consolation, since the game was out of hand.

The runs were plenty for James, who went five innings and allowed one run on six hits, with five strikeouts.

Philadelphia's disappointing beginning has forced reminders of the ghosts of previous bad starts. The Phillies began '06 by getting swept at home by St. Louis. The Phils won the '05 opener, but dropped the next three to start 1-3. The team finished 10-14 in each of those Aprils, and Manuel made getting off to a good start a priority.

Dropping the first three games doesn't qualify as a good start.

"No one's hitting the panic button yet," Aaron Rowand said. "We're three games in. Hopefully, we can turn it around earlier than last year, and get some wins under our belt."

While the bullpen took the brunt of the blame for the first two defeats, and Eaton took the fall for Thursday, the Phillies generated a total of nine runs in the three games. Two of those runs came in the ninth on Thursday, when the team got within a big swing of tying the game.

Leading, 8-2, Braves relievers Macay McBride and Chad Paronto couldn't find the plate, accounting for five walks and two runs. Manager Bobby Cox called on Rafael Soriano.

Despite the wildness of the previous relievers, catcher Carlos Ruiz popped to short on the first pitch from Soriano, ending the game and putting an exclamation point on the rough start. The Phillies went 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position on Thursday, and stranded 32 runners in the series.

Howard went 0-for-4 in the finale and stranded six of the 14 runners.

"He's trying to hard, pulling off the ball," Manuel said. "That's the biggest thing. He just needs to hit a couple of balls hard and he'll be fine."

"It's not where I want it to be," Howard said of a swing that earned him the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player Award. "There's balls you think you should hit, and don't."

Conceding that the team's 0-3 is magnified because it came at the beginning of the season, Howard hopes that the team doesn't lose a portion of the fan base when there are 159 games remaining.

"It's three games, and everybody is kind of jumping ship and panicking," Howard said. "For us, it's three games out of 162. It'll get right. I'm not worried about it. It's a little frustrating, but it'll come. We're only three games into the season. If we were 0-10 or something I could understand that, but it's one series. We've got to go down to Florida and take care of business."

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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