NEW YORK - With a date against Red Sox righthander Josh Beckett on Sunday and a likely one against Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay on Wednesday, not to mention showdowns with struggling yet usually productive starters Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Phillies face a tough task when the second round of interleague play begins tonight at Citizens Bank Park.
But thus far this season, the lineup has been relatively productive against some of the game's better pitchers, particularly since the end of April.
Of the 50 starters in the major leagues with an ERA under 4.00, the Phillies have faced 14 of them. Those starters are a combined 8-6 (a .571 winning percentage) with a 3.62 ERA in 19 games against the Phillies.
On the surface, those numbers might not seem impressive. But when you consider that those 14 pitchers are a combined 79-52 (.603 winning percentage) with a 3.26 ERA, they look a little better.
And as the Phils showed in Tuesday's outing against Mets lefty Johan Santana, when they slugged four home runs and scored five runs against him, they have been performing even better lately.
In fact, since scoring one run in 15 2/3 innings against Braves starters Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens in the first two games of the season, the Phillies are 6-6 with a 4.00 opponents' ERA against the Top 50.
"From what I've seen, we've actually hit what you call the good pitcher better than someone who I would think that we are going to hit on a given night," manager Charlie Manuel said, "and for some reason he ends up pitching a good game against us. We hit good pitching, and also we hit good pitching at the end [of games], closers, too."
Hitting good pitching was one of the keys for the Phillies during their playoff run last season. In Game 2 of the National League Division Series, they scored five runs in 3 2/3 innings against Brewers ace CC Sabathia. In Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS, they scored 11 runs, nine of them earned, in 7 2/3 innings against the Dodgers' Lowe and Chad Billingsley.
"One reason I think is that we are a fastball-hitting team," Manuel said. "Ryan Howard, for instance. He might strike out, but he can still hit hard throwers. [Chase] Utley can hit hard throwers, [Raul] Ibanez hits hard throwers, Jimmy Rollins when he is going good definitely hits hard throwers. And those are usually your best pitchers, the guys that have the huge stuff. That's when we can hit them. We can get to their fastballs. But also, that's kind of what a real good big-league hitter."
Pablo Ozuna, who had an impressive spring training with the Phillies and was hitting .294 at Triple A Lehigh Valley, was suspended for 50 games for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment program. According to Major League Baseball, a drug test revealed an elevated testosterone/epitestosterone ratio, which is a performance-enhancing substance violation.
Ozuna has hit .282 with three home runs and 45 RBI in parts of seven seasons with four major league teams. The 34-year-old native of the Dominican Republic had no home runs and 15 RBI for Lehigh Valley.
"It is unfortunate that Pablo has been suspended for 50 games," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a statement. "However, the Phillies are in full support of the major and minor league drug prevention and treatment program."
Although Charlie Manuel has not officially announced his coaching staff for the All-Star Game next month, he let a couple of names slip yesterday. In responding to a question about selecting his roster, Manuel said he would defer to the experience of Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. Torre, the Dodgers manager, already acknowledged having been asked to coach by Manuel, but La Russa, the Cardinals manager, has not . . . The Mets scored a run in the first inning last night and have now outscored opponents, 33-11, in the first innings of games at Citi Field . . . The Phillies' 5-4 win Wednesday over the Mets was the eighth time this season that they have won a game after having trailed by at least three runs, the highest total for any team in the majors, according to Elias Sports Bureau. *