LOS ANGELES - The Phillies were set to board a plane to New York after last night's game, heading back East with something that had 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 last night. 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.
"I look at it like we could have done more," said manager Charlie Manuel, referring to the two games his team lost late to the Dodgers. But he was happy to see a newly strong rotation.
Some of the quality outings on the trip 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 last night's, were delivered by intriguing newcomer Antonio Bastardo. The rookie pitched five innings last night, allowing two runs and collecting his second win in as many tries.
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.
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 last night involved how Bastardo would follow that outing: Would his adrenaline remain high? His control improve? His velocity drop?
"He didn't have the velocity he had the other day, because his adrenaline was really going [then]," Manuel said. "But he kept the ball down tonight. His command might have been a little bit better."
Though he was not dominant against the Dodgers, Bastardo displayed an ability to retain his composure in difficult situations. His fastball was a few miles slower than the 95-m.p.h. heat that surprised everyone last week, but he frequently escaped thorny situations.
Bastardo allowed his first run in the fourth, but he limited the damage. 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.
The pitcher 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 with the team leading, 3-2. The Phils' offense later padded the lead with home runs by Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino.
Manuel was impressed by his starter, but he mixed suggestions for improvement into his praise. "I like that he's aggressive with his fastball, but he's still got to learn command of his breaking ball and change-up," the manager said. "Those are the two pitches that he definitely needs to work on."