By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
If the Phillies can somehow hit the ball on a more consistent basis they will truly be a difficult team to beat and you can start making plans for what should be a trip to the World Series, especially when their highly-touted pitching staff is on its A-game.
With their bats still in chill mode, they’re going to have to be content with good pitching and timely hitting when they can get it. In their 2-0 shut out of the Texas Rangers at Citizen’s Bank, the Phillies got superb effort from Cliff Lee, who dazzled his former teammates with 10 strikeouts while scattering five hits in eight innings of work.
“Lee was tremendous and aggressive. His command is good and he’s right around the plate all the time,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after the game. “He was really good and he made really good pitches when he had to.”
The Phillies offense wasn’t necessarily overwhelming by any stretch of the imagination, but they did just enough to get the win. They got a solo-homerun from Ryan Howard in the bottom of the third inning and an RBI single John Mayberry that scored Raul Ibanez, who reached on a two-out walk in the sixth inning.
Meanwhile, Howard, who was hitless in last 23 at-bats broke out of his slump, was 2-for-4 including a homer and a single. Manuel said showed good plate discipline by staying on the ball.
“He stayed on the ball real good and he had good swings on the ball,” Manuel said. “He swung the ball real good. Anytime you have a couple hits, a homerun and a single, you feel confident.”
Howard said he was comfortable in the batter’s box and that enabled him to come out and swing the bat with a lot of confidence.
“I felt better, I had a couple of hits tonight and just missed the last ball, so I felt like it was a step in the right direction,” Howard said. “It’s always frustrating going through something like that. I was asked the question of how much video do you watch or how much work are you trying to do. You try to put in the work, but sometimes you have to step back and let things happen.”
Phillies hitting coach Greg Gross said when Howard struggles at the plate it’s because he puts too much pressure on himself.
“I just think he takes it on himself personally and he has to pick up everyone else,” Gross said. “I think subconsciously he thinks he be can be that guy that can turn things around and get us going.”
At a time when the offense has been desperately looking for ways to get out of what has been horrendous slump, the Phillies found a way to come away with the win. The Phillies had eight hits tonight, but still left six men on base.
“You hope that now it’s starting to pick back up a little bit,” Howard said. “Hopefully, we’ll start getting the hits when we’ve got guys in scoring position. At the end of the year, his numbers are going to be close as they always are, but righ now ”
Meanwhile, Lee kept Rangers hitters off-balance throughout the game. He had 122 pitches during his stint on the mound and allowed just two outs. His 10 strikeouts mark the sixth time, he has accumulated double-digits in strikeouts.
“Anytime you get deep in the game and don’t give up runs and give your team a chance, that’s the starting pitchers job. I feel good about doing that,”said Lee, who had a single and a stolen base. “I was throwing strikes and mixing speeds. Those guys know that I throw a lot of fast balls, so I tried to throw a little bit less than I normally would. Throwing strikes was the key. I don’t feel good about walking two guys. We still got thorugh nine inninngs without them scoring and I feel good about that.”