ATLANTA - Whom can you believe in the Phillies organization these days?

Anyone?

It's been nearly six months since the team traded for Freddy Garcia and manager Charlie Manuel uttered the words "I'd say we picked us up an ace."

Garcia hasn't pitched like anything close to one in his first four starts for the Phils.

The righthander failed to get an out in the sixth inning as he and the Phils suffered a 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves last night at Turner Field.

After the game, the Phils suffered another loss. Manuel announced that closer Tom Gordon arrived at the ballpark with a sore right shoulder and is headed home to be checked by team physician Michael Ciccotti.

Gordon's sore shoulder means the Brett Myers era as closer will begin tonight in San Francisco.

As Manuel announced Gordon's status, it became clear that the organization misled the public about the pitcher's condition in spring training.

Remember that not-so-secret trip home to Philadelphia that Gordon took in the spring? Remember how team officials insisted that Gordon's shoulder, which landed him on the disabled list last season, was fine? Remember how the Phils repeatedly said he went home for a routine exam?

Turns out that was a whole load of compost.

"He was stiff," Manuel admitted last night.

Stiff when he went back to Philly?

"Yeah," Manuel said. "He was sore in spring training."

Gordon had that exam on March 12 and didn't pitch until March 17. He has blown three saves this season and has mentioned that his arm strength is lacking. Now, at least everyone knows why. The Phillies have finally told the truth.

Now on to the game.

The Phils did all their scoring in the top of the sixth inning when Ryan Howard solved his lefthanded nemesis, Chuck James, with a long and high three-run homer to center.

Howard had been 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts against James in his career. His fourth homer tied the game at 3-3, but it didn't stay tied for long. Garcia allowed the first three batters in the bottom of the inning to reach base on a pair of singles (one of which was an infield hit) and a hit batsman.

With the bases loaded, Manuel lifted Garcia in favor of Geoff Geary, who allowed an RBI single to Willie Harris. That decisive run was charged to Garcia, who allowed four in five-plus innings. Garcia's line would have been worse if rightfielder Shane Victorino hadn't gunned down a runner at the plate to end the sixth.

Victorino had entered as part of a double switch. His throw kept the game close, but the Phils got only one base runner in the final three innings, and he died on first at game's end.

"You mean I did something right?" said Manuel, referring to the double switch. "Damn. I'll mark it down."

Garcia will not pitch again until Monday in Arizona. The Phils would really benefit if he started stepping up.

In four starts with his new club, Garcia has allowed 26 hits and 13 earned runs in 191/3 innings for a 6.05 ERA. He hasn't gotten a sixth-inning out.

Last night, Garcia hurt the Phils with his baserunning, too. He and Jimmy Rollins opened the third inning with singles as the Phils appeared to get something cooking. Aaron Rowand scorched a liner to centerfielder Andruw Jones. Jones hauled it in and doubled up Garcia, who was well on his way to third base. The next batter, Chase Utley, struck out. End of potential rally.

Howard came into the game just 4 for 29 (.138) against lefties and he quickly sank to 4 for 31 with strikeouts in his first two at-bats against James.

But with one swing of the bat in the sixth inning, Howard suddenly looked a lot better against lefthanders. In the end, though, it didn't matter. Another loss. But look at the bright side. At least you finally know what's going on with Tom Gordon. The truth has finally surfaced.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury

at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com