By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—Maybe it’s too early in the season for the Phillies (6-7) to start measuring themselves by a four-game series in April. After sweeping the Florida Marlins over the weekend and bringing their record up to .500, there’s certainly a reason to feel good about themselves.
But for a Phillies team that hasn’t come anywhere near the playoffs since 2011, it is the first of many tests to see how they stack up like teams like the first-place Atlanta Braves (9-4), the defending National League East champions.
“It’s a series in our division and it’s against a team that’s had success,” said Phils manager Ryne Sandberg. “Play well in this series and to do well early on in the season there’s some importance to that as with every game. We need to play well against teams in our division. It’s a measuring stick within our division to see where we’re at.”
Where the Phillies are right now is that they have a bullpen that is simply awful and if they don’t do something to fix the problem, they won’t be able to hang with the Braves or anybody else in the division.
Phils relievers gave up seven runs in the final two innings-including a grand-slam in the top of the ninth as the Braves came away with a 9-6 victory over the Phillies in front of 25, 516 fans, most of whom were already the parking lot by the bottom of the ninth.
Dan Uggla’s ninth-inning grand-slam home run off Jake Diekman was the big blow after the Phillies scoredfive in the bottom of the eighth to take a 6-5 lead. With regular closer Jonathan Papelbon unavailable after appearing in three straight games over the weekend, Diekman walked B.J. Upton, who moved to two second after first baseman Freddie Freeman reached on a fielder’s choice.
A walk to Justin Upton loaded the bases. After Diekman struck out catcher Evan Gattis, Uggla took an 0-1 pitch and parked it into the left field stands for a home run that put the Braves ahead for good.
“I wasn’t throwing strikes and attacking the zone. You can’t walk people like that,” Diekman said after the game. “You can’t start hitters 2-0 every time.”
Diekman wasn’t the only Phillies reliever to have a bad night. B.J. Rosenberg came into the Atlanta half of the eighth inning with the Phillies trailing 2-1 and then promptly gave up three straight solo home runs to Gattis, who also homered in the sixth, Uggla, and shortstop Andrelton Simmonds.
“Rosenburg struggled. He pitched behind in the count and was up with his breaking pitch,” Sandberg said. “He was throwing the ball, 94, 95 (miles per hour). He was behind in the count with the fast balls and his breaking ball seemed to be up in the zone.”
The Phillies offense came to life in the bottom of the eighth inning and scored five runs to take the lead. The Phils got a two-run, bases loaded single from right fielder Marlon Byrd and a three-run home run by Domonic Brown. It was his first since Aug. 14 2013.
“It’s tough for us to come up on the losing end,” Byrd said. “That was a helluva game. That’s what fans come for to see that excitement of going back and forth like that with nobody giving in. You gotta tip your cap. Uggla had an amazing night and did an amazing job tonight.”
The bullpen’s woes overshadowed another good outing by young Phillies righthander Roberto Hernandez., who allowed two runs on four hits with three strikeouts and one walk while throwing 118 pitches in six innings on the mound. He kept the Braves scoreless for five innings and had a 1-0 lead thanks to a solo homerun by Ryan Howard. In the sixth, he gave up a two-run homer Gattis to give the Braves a 2-1 lead.
“I thought Hernandez battled with men on base with his 118 pitches,” Sandberg said. “He had some long counts, but hung in there and did a nice job with men on base.”
Braves starting pitcher Ervin Santana allowed just one run on four hits with 11 strikeouts and two walks.