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Eaton's struggles continue in defeat

Eaton's struggles continue in defeat

PHILADELPHIA -- Adam Eaton watched from the dugout as his club tried erasing his latest spate of poor pitching, but as his teammates scored, all the Phillies right-hander could think about was how he put them in such a spot.

"I was re-going through the game in my head," Eaton said after Philadelphia's 7-5 loss to Atlanta on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. "There's no reason to come in [the clubhouse] and pout, just go out there and watch the game. I stayed for an inning or two, and went through mentally what happened. There's no time better than after the fact to re-assess what happened and get your mind eye squared away."

The rewind wasn't kind to Eaton's mind's eye, who surrendered six runs in three-plus innings, sending his ERA to a National League-high 6.36. The last Phillies pitcher to post a league-high ERA was Mark Leiter, who registered a 5.67 ERA and went 10-17 in 1997. Eaton hopes to figure it out before he replicates that.

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Eaton's effort qualified as his season's second-shortest outing, and was the 10th time in his last 24 starts that he hasn't reached the sixth inning. In his past 10 outings, Eaton has a 7.96 ERA, having allowed 76 hits and 46 earned runs in 52 innings.

"He's having a hard time figuring it out," manager Charlie Manuel said. "After we took him out, he just stood there. He's very concerned about it."

The Phillies are, too, and may be considering other alternatives as they try to stay relevant in the playoff chase. The obvious replacement is J.D. Durbin, who walked the bases loaded with no outs in a 29-pitch ninth inning before squirming out. Manuel said Eaton will stay in the rotation, for now, at least, but offered few guarantees.

"We'll just have to go from there," Manuel said. "He has to pitch consistently."

For the first time in three seasons, pitching has been Eaton's issue, rather than staying healthy. He's shown an ability to pitch well during a seven-start stretch from May 15 through June 17, when he posted a 3.29 ERA. He compiled a 7.73 ERA in his first seven starts of the season and in the 10 after his good streak.

In the 10-start stretch, the right-hander has posted one quality start, and none in his past seven.

"It's awfully frustrating to go out there and have a good game plan," Eaton said. "I didn't make good pitches when I needed to. The majority of their hits were on balls that were up in the zone. It wasn't my day, that's for sure."

After giving up six runs in 4 1/3 innings last Sunday in Milwaukee, Eaton sounded like a pitcher searching for answers, suggesting that he didn't have a killer instinct from pitch No. 1.

"Maybe [I] just [need to] get after it in the first inning, then settle in," he said on Sunday. "I don't know if that's right or not. I'm thinking out loud to you guys [in the media]."

While he allowed just one of his six runs in the first inning, pitching coach Rich Dubee agreed with the notion that Eaton doesn't fare well early.

"He's a very slow starter," Dubee said. "It's almost like he pitches to give up runs in the first. He doesn't use his curveball. He doesn't use his changeup. We're trying to get him to use his curve and use his offspeed stuff earlier in the game. He's got to change speeds more.

"It's the way he's always pitched. Maybe that was successful in San Diego when he threw 94, 95 [mph]. I haven't seen 94, 95. He's not that powerful now. People who scout him see that the first 30-35 pitches are fastballs and cutters. Hitting is tough enough, but that makes it easier."

Using that map, batters have clobbered Eaton for a .371 average in his first 15 pitches and a .319 mark in pitches 16-30. After Eaton mixes in other offerings, that average dips to .266 on pitches 31-75.

His first-inning ERA is an appropriate 7.50. Still, he was worse in the third, when he allowed three runs on a two-run homer by Kelly Johnson and back-to-back triples by Chipper Jones and Mark Teixeira, though each of those was aided by subpar defense from left fielder Pat Burrell.

Has Eaton's confidence taken a hit?

"Going into the game, I had full confidence," he said. "Now it's just frustrating. Anybody else got a thesaurus for 'frustrating'? Maddening?"

That's as good a word as any.

An offense that has bailed him out repeatedly this season -- especially in Sunday's comeback win over the Brewers -- looked to be fighting its way back off Lance Cormier. Philadelphia throttled Cormier in the fifth, when five straight batters reached. That accounted for three runs and pulled the Phillies within two.

Ron Mahay relieved and ended the rally. The teams traded runs in the final three innings, keeping the margin at two. Chris Coste doubled to start the ninth off closer Bob Wickman, but he was left stranded.

Eaton took the loss and fell to 9-6, thanks in large part to his run support. The Phillies are 12-12 in his starts. Eaton said he's not really thinking about his status in the rotation.

"It definitely goes through your head a little bit, but at the same time, if you look at track record, I'm a pretty good pitcher," Eaton said. "Obviously, the majority of the season has been tough on me. I do have nine wins, but at the same time, with the team that we have, with the offense we have, if I just pitched the way I'm capable of, we'd be in first place."

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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