MIAMI - Tonight, the Phillies will begin a seven-game homestand with more separation between them and the runner-up in the NL East since they had a six-game lead June 3, 2001.

Charlie Manuel and his guys have never enjoyed such comfort, but the Phils' manager plans to make certain they don't enjoy it at all.

"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Manuel said yesterday after the Phillies breezed by the Marlins, 5-0, for their eighth straight win and 12th in the last 13 games. "We don't want to start counting games. We want to play one at a time, because that's what works for us."

After sweeping Florida, the Phillies raised their road record to 29-15, best in the majors. But only recently have the 45,000-plus who shoehorn their way into Citizens Bank Park each home game gotten to see how they've done it. The Phillies were 13-22 at home before they went 9-1 in their last homestand.

Howard gets a break

Manuel said he started Eric Bruntlett at first base in place of Ryan Howard simply to give his cleanup hitter a break.

Howard took part in the Home Run Derby in his hometown of St. Louis last Monday, then played in Tuesday's All-Star Game.

"We don't have a day off until" Aug. 3, Manuel said. "He was in the Home Run Derby and he had a lot of his family there and everything, and he's been kind of on the go, and I felt like [yesterday] was a good day to give him a break."

Manuel also may have taken into account that Howard is 1 for 12 in his career against Marlins lefthander Andrew Miller.

Howard pinch-hit in the eighth and walked. Bruntlett went 0 for 4 and his average dropped to .132.

Pedro in Clearwater

After spending the weekend with his new team, Pedro Martinez reported to Clearwater yesterday.

Martinez threw 55 pitches in a bullpen session Saturday and will continue to try to build his arm strength in Clearwater, but the Phillies have yet to announce a schedule. Manuel said the club wants the 37-year-old righthander to build up to 90 or more pitches before he is activated from the disabled list.

"I don't know if he's going to stay in Clearwater," Manuel said. "We might move him up to Reading or Lehigh Valley later. We don't know yet."

Extra bases

Manuel brought in closer Brad Lidge with two outs in the ninth just to get the closer some work. Manuel said Saturday he felt Lidge was rusty from an eight-day layoff. Lidge threw three pitches. . . . Righthander Rodrigo Lopez will make his third start for the Phillies and his first since July 8 against the Chicago Cubs tonight at Citizens Bank Park. Lopez left his last start, against Cincinnati, after the fifth inning when his shoulder tightened. . . . Raul Ibanez has a 17-game hitting streak in road games.

Quotable

"I don't worry about anything more than two or three feet away from the heart. I've been limping all my life." - Manuel, when asked if one of his players was limping.