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Phillies off to familiar slow start in '09

Phillies off to familiar slow start in '09

PHILADELPHIA -- It seems this is just part of the process for the Phillies.

Start slow in April. Finish strong in September.

"Unfortunately, we've been in this situation before," Ryan Howard said after Tuesday's 4-0 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

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They certainly have. The Phillies are 2-12 in their five season-opening series since Charlie Manuel became manager in 2005. They started last season 0-2. They started '07 at 0-3 on their way to 4-11. They began '06 at 0-4 on their way to 1-6 and they opened '05 at 1-3 on their way to 4-6.

"It is weird," Howard said.

"It's always nice to get off to a good start and come out and win the first game or two or three, four or five or whatever," Manuel said. "We've just got to keep staying with it. If we stay with it, we'll be OK. We're going to hit."

That has been the main problem these first two games. Sure, Brett Myers allowed three home runs in a 4-1 loss Sunday on Opening Night. And, yes, Jamie Moyer allowed eight hits, four runs, two walks and two home runs in five innings on Tuesday. But a Phillies lineup that has been one of the most consistent run producers in baseball for several years has scored just one run in 18 innings against the Braves.

They managed just six hits Tuesday.

They left 11 runners on base.

They were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

"They're smarter," Matt Stairs said about the Braves. "They hit the low line drives and cut the wind. We hit the high fly balls. But we've still got to start putting better at-bats together, I think. Atlanta has come out fired up the first two games."

The wind was blowing heavily from left field to right field. Jayson Werth hit a ball hard to left in the third inning that the wind knocked down. The same happened to Raul Ibanez's fly ball to center in the sixth, Stairs' fly ball to left in the sixth and Carlos Ruiz's fly ball to left in the eighth.

"Apparently we weren't hitting the ball in the same jet stream they were," Howard said.

"It was thick in left field and kind of heavy," Ibanez said.

But the Phils had their chances and need to take advantage in the series finale Wednesday afternoon or risk losing all three games. Philadelphia had a runner on base in seven innings and had two runners on base in four innings.

The Phillies must take advantage of those opportunities.

"It jumps out more because it's the beginning of the season, but I think that there were some good at-bats today and guys got the barrel on the ball," Ibanez said.

Moyer threw a first-pitch fastball to Kelly Johnson in the first inning and he hit it deep to right field for a homer to make it 1-0. The Braves scored another run in the first to make it 2-0, and they tacked one on another in the fourth to make it 3-0.

Chipper Jones hit the first pitch from Moyer in the fifth deep to left to make it 4-0.

The Phillies' bullpen threw four perfect innings in relief, but without the offense clicking, it wouldn't change the outcome.

"It's baseball," Moyer said. "You go through your good times and you go through your bad times. It's a matter of being consistent and making good pitches. It's as simple as that. At times I had pretty decent command, but the first pitch of the game was the first pitch of the game. [Johnson] squared it up and hit a home run. It was probably up in the zone, but a lot of times, you get that professional courtesy. That's not assumed, but they have a bat in their hands and they're supposed to swing it."

The Phillies will receive their 2008 World Series championship rings before Wednesday's game. If the club can't salvage the series with a victory, the most highly anticipated season-opening series in recent memory would end in disappointment.

Fortunately for the Phillies, while history shows they are slow starters, they turn it around in time.

Manuel would like it sooner rather than later.

Todd Zolecki 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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