Phillies drop series opener to Marlins

Phillies drop series opener to Marlins

PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard is one of the most affable and accountable players in the Phillies' clubhouse.

Howard routinely is in front of his locker after a game, win or lose, and he was there on Friday night following the Phillies' 3-2 loss to the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. The loss cut Philadelphia's lead over Florida in the National League East to six games.

But he declined to comment, and sometimes "no comment" says more than any answer to any question he could have been asked.

It seems safe to say that Howard is frustrated. He went 1-for-4 with a double and three strikeouts on Friday. He is hitting .175 (7-for-40) with two doubles, two RBIs, one walk and 18 strikeouts in his past 10 games. He struck out with runners on first and second with one out in the eighth inning against Marlins left-hander Reynel Pinto -- the runner on second represented the tying run -- to drop his average with runners in scoring position to .160 (4-for-25) with no home runs, six RBIs, two walks and 15 strikeouts since July 11.

He is hitting .180 (29-for-161) against left-handers this season.

But it just isn't Howard. Chase Utley is hitting .150 (3-for-20) with one double, one RBI, one walk and five strikeouts in his past six games. He is 0-for-10 with one RBI since July 23 with runners in scoring position. He is hitting just .214 (6-for-28) with one homer and seven RBIs in those situations since July 7.

Combined, Utley and Howard have hit .136 (6-for-44) with two RBIs in the previous six games, in which the Phillies are 2-4.

"Of course, when the middle of the lineup doesn't hit, it becomes tough on us," manager Charlie Manuel said.

It left right-hander Joe Blanton little room for error. Blanton allowed two runs in the first inning and another in the second inning to give the Marlins a 3-0 lead. He retired 15 of 16 batters before allowing a single and a walk with two outs in the seventh.

"They jumped on me early," Blanton said. "They scored three runs on me and got me off my rhythm. It's one of those games you really have to battle."

Blanton (7-6) allowed eight hits, three runs and one walk, and struck out four in 6 2/3 innings. The three runs are the most runs he has allowed since June 30, against the Braves in Atlanta. He has a 1.87 ERA in his past six starts, and a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts since May 21.

The Phillies wasted a few big opportunities to score. Howard hit a leadoff double and advanced to third on Raul Ibanez's single up the middle in the second inning. When Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez kicked around the ball on the play, Howard might have scored, but third-base coach Sam Perlozzo held him up.

The Phillies had runners on first and third with no outs, and they expect to score Howard in that situation.

They did not. Ben Francisco flied out and Greg Dobbs lined out for the first two outs. Carlos Ruiz walked to load the bases, and Blanton grounded out to end the threat.

Francisco saved a run when he threw out Chris Coghlan at the plate in the seventh inning. He then hit a two-run homer to left field in the bottom of the inning to make it 3-2.

The Phillies had another excellent chance to score in the eighth. Pinto walked Jayson Werth and Utley with one out, but Howard struck out swinging on a 2-2 breaking ball. Ibanez grounded out to end the inning.

"It definitely was frustrating," Francisco said. "Joe pitched great the last four innings. We couldn't get any runs for him. He deserved to get the win tonight."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.