LOS ANGELES - There is a grin that creeps across the face of those who were intimately involved in Antonio Bastardo's major league debut in San Diego last Tuesday whenever they are asked to discuss the outing. The message it conveys is a mixture of awe and amusement, the first of which stems from the 23-year-old's scintillating performance, the second from the manic way in which he channeled his unbridled adrenaline into an electric fastball that occasionally touched 95.
As Carlos Ruiz relayed a conversation he shared with Bastardo prior to the rookie's outing last night against the Dodgers, that familiar grin crept across his face.
"That is what I told him - you don't have to throw really hard," the Phillies' catcher said. "Just make good pitches."
Bastardo commuted that advice into a fastball that was, relatively speaking, dialed down, and a second straight victory, this time in a five-plus inning effort that helped the Phillies salvage a series split with a 7-2 win over the Dodgers.
Unlike his debut against San Diego, when the Phillies took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the third inning, Bastardo (2-0) spent the majority of his evening against Los Angeles pitching with the slimmest of margins. Adhering to the gameplan that Ruiz called from behind the plate, the stopgap starter made a second straight argument for a more permanent home in the rotation spot formerly occupied by Brett Myers. He held the Dodgers to one run before leaving the game with no outs and runners on first and third in the sixth. Thanks to an impressive relief appearance by Chan Ho Park, who allowed one run on a doubleplay and went on to throw three scoreless innings, Bastardo's line was once again sterling: two runs, seven hits, four strikeouts, one walk.
"He didn't have the velocity he had the other day - of course, his adrenaline was really going [against the Padres]," manager Charlie Manuel said. "The last couple innings he was hanging around right at 90 [mph], but he kept the ball down pretty good. His command might have been a little better tonight, as far as location."
As impressive as Bastardo has been in his first two outings, during which he has allowed three runs on 11 hits in 11 innings, don't expect the Phillies to cancel their search for a top-of-the-line starter just yet. While he used his changeup and slider more often than he did against the Padres - between 20 to 25 times, including twice in a row on a first-inning swinging strikeout of Phillie-killer Andre Ethier - he still leaned heavily on his fastball, particularly on a night when he spent a lot of time behind in the count. He threw 107 pitches, 67 for strikes, while facing 23 batters.
"The next step - I like him being aggressive with his fastball - but he still has to get command of his changeup and his breaking ball down," Manuel said. "Those are the two pitches he definitely needs to work on."
Last night, however, Bastardo did more than enough to keep the Phillies in line for the victory, especially when coupled with home runs from Ruiz, Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard. The Phillies entered the night coming off back-to-back heartbreaking defeats, both of which came after closer Brad Lidge surrendered one-run leads in the ninth inning.
Last night's game looked to be headed toward another close finish until Ruiz hit a two-run home run and Victorino hit a solo shot in the seventh to push the score to 6-2. Howard added his 17th home run in the eighth, and the Phillies avoided having to press Lidge into action for a third straight night.
Nevertheless, Manuel admitted that he was thinking about what could have been a four-game series sweep of the best team in baseball. That would have sent the Phillies into a three-game series with the Mets with a four-game lead in the National League East.
As it is, the Phillies took two out of four from the Dodgers, a team they could see in October if they keep up their current 33-22 clip.