Durbin's up-and-down spring continues

Durbin's up-and-down spring continues

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The enigma that is J.D. Durbin appeared once again on Monday as the Phillies visited the Pirates.

For one thing, the Philadelphia right-hander gave up three runs on five hits, all of which were doubles, over the first two innings. He followed that up with a crisp performance in the third inning, but yielded two runs in the fourth before he was pulled.

"Despite the numbers, I felt better," said Durbin, who allowed five runs on eight hits over 3 1/3 frames, walking one and striking out one in the Phils' 8-5 loss.

"The best part about it was my fastball command," Durbin said. "I've been working on spotting the fastball better, so I threw mostly sliders and changeups in the first two innings. Then I used mostly fastballs in the third and fourth."

His topsy-turvy outing mirrored his entire season last year in which he would have a strong performance one game and a puzzling one the next. A noteworthy example came when he tossed a shutout against the Padres on July 22 and followed that with a five-inning outing against the Pirates in which he allowed five runs on seven hits.

Durbin scuffled through the first two innings Monday. He recorded an out to start the game on a grounder by Nate McLouth. But Durbin allowed consecutive doubles to Jack Wilson and Jason Bay, induced a groundout from Adam LaRouche and surrendered another run-scoring double to Ryan Doumit before retiring the side on a fly out by Jose Bautista.

Durbin gave up another run in the second, when McLouth drove Neil Walker in with a double to left.

The righty relatively breezed through the a scoreless third, albeit with a walk sandwiched in between a fly out and an inning-ending strikeout.

While Durbin is willing to fill whatever role the Phillies require of him, he must perform well during the rest of spring to earn a spot on the staff. Whatever the case, he does not want to repeat what happened last year, when he spent time with four organizations in less than a month due to waiver wire situations.

"I know I'm under the magnifying glass far more than a Cole Hamels would be, considering how well he's pitched the last two seasons," said Durbin, who appeared in 18 games and compiled a 6-5 record with a 5.15 ERA in 2007. "But that's the game. It's competition and you have to perform. For me, it's a matter of trying to improve each time out and build upon the last start."

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Despite Durbin's rough outing, he takes solace in the fact that Philadelphia's pitching has been less than stellar this spring, allowing seven or more runs in eight games, including nine in the last three games before Monday.

"I know the numbers don't show it, but I felt a lot better physically, which I think counts the most," said Durbin, who has a 9.64 ERA in three starts. "I'm confident and know what I can bring to the table. But once again, you have to remember it's Spring Training and it's not how you start, it's how you finish."

Although Durbin's approach is on the optimistic end of the spectrum, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel's comments following the game signal concern.

"I think where our pitchers are right now in the next few weeks is definitely important," Manuel said. "Right now is a big time for some of them. I hear when they say they're throwing good and stuff like that, but somewhere down the line, we have to start holding games. It seems like every day we're losing when we're getting behind in the games.

"I'd like to see us throw good enough to keep us in the game for five or six innings to muster some type of offense. Like I said [Sunday], these games people look at them like they don't count, but every time you pick up a ball, for you personally, they count for you."

On a brighter note in terms of Phillies' pitching, ace righty Brett Myers threw against Minor Leaguers at the Carpenter Complex before the Phillies faced the Pirates. He allowed two runs on three hits with one walk and six strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.

The Phils' Opening Day starter tossed 75 pitches and retired the final 12 batters he faced. While Myers did surrender a two-run homer to Jake Blalock, four of his six strikeouts were called third strikes.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.