LOS ANGELES - The Phillies are heading back East later tonight with something that has eluded them through the early season: excellent starting pitching.
The Phils ended the West Coast portion of their trip with five wins and two losses by defeating Los Angeles, 7-2, at Dodger Stadium tonight. In San Diego and L.A., they received quality starts - meaning the starting pitcher lasted at least six innings and allowed three or fewer runs - in each game, and could have swept both series if closer Brad Lidge had not blown two saves.
Some of the strong outings came from familiar names who have improved or emerged lately, namely Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer and J.A. Happ. And two of the wins, including tonight's, were delivered by intriguing newcomer Antonio Bastardo.
Bastardo entered his major-league debut on Tuesday a complete unknown, and produced a dynamic and aggressive performance. Pitching against San Diego, the 23-year-old allowed four hits and one run - a home run by the powerful Adrian Gonzalez - and earned the win. His new teammates and manager were left to grin and marvel at his confidence, and award him another start.
Charlie Manuel felt that Bastardo's adrenaline may have added a few miles per hour to the rookie's fastball on Tuesday, and caused him to grip his slider too tightly, costing him some control over the pitches. The intrigue tonight involved how Bastardo would follow that outing: Would his adrenaline remain high? His control improve? His velocity drop?
Though he was not dominant tonight, Bastardo displayed an ability to retain his composure in difficult situations. His fastball was generally a few miles slower than the 95-m.p.h. heat that surprised everyone last week, but he retired the first six batters he faced. Rafael Furcal drew a leadoff walk in the third, and Juan Pierre's two-out single moved him to second. But Bastardo escaped his first jam of the evening by inducing a weak Orlando Hudson groundout. Pedro Feliz fielded that ball and walked to it third for an easy forceout of Furcal.
Bastardo allowed his first run in the fourth, but again he pitched out of trouble. After Andre Ethier and Casey Blake led off with successive singles and James Loney popped out, Matt Kemp drove in Ethier with a single. Bastardo then retired two straight batters with runners on first and third. He pitched around a one-out single in the fifth, striking out Ethier to end the inning.
Bastardo finally found trouble he did not escape in the sixth, when the first two batters reached, and Manuel replaced the starter with Chan Ho Park. Park allowed just one run to score, leaving Bastardo in position to win and the team leading by 3-2.
The Phils' offense built a steady lead, scoring six runs in 61/3 innings off former Phillie Randy Wolf. Raul Ibanez hit a ground-rule double with one out in the second, and the slumping Jimmy Rollins, batting sixth for the first time this season, moved Ibanez to third with a single to left field. Ibanez scored on a Pedro Feliz sacrifice fly, but Rollins was stranded when Carlos Ruiz grounded out.
Rollins provided the team's next hit with a single to lead off the fifth. He moved to second when Feliz walked and scored on a Ruiz single. After Bastardo sacrificed the runners to second and third, Shane Victorino knocked a liner back to Wolf. The ball deflected off the pitcher onto the infield grass, and Feliz sprinted home. Ruiz added a two-run homer in the seventh and Victorino hit a solo shot, giving the Phils a 6-2 lead.