SAN DIEGO - In many respects, it was a normal getaway day for a team on a roll: music thumping over the clubhouse speakers, players hurriedly writing checks to clubhouse attendants, wandering groups of media members tracking down their various plotlines.

In the manager's office, though, there was something different, something you don't normally find hovering around a team that a half-hour before had capped a four-game sweep with a 3-1 victory to improve to a major league-best 15-6.

There was uncertainty, and there was a considerable amount.

First, a less-than-jovial Charlie Manuel answered questions about an offense that has not scored more than four runs in 13 straight games and a thin bullpen that was missing its top two relievers.

Then, a less-than-jovial Ruben Amaro Jr. announced why one of those relievers was missing, telling reporters that closer Jose Contreras was headed for a doctor's appointment in Philadelphia and a stay on the disabled list, thanks to a flexor pronator tendon strain that he suffered while throwing 72 pitches in four games over a 5-day stretch last week. A timetable for return won't be available until at least tomorrow.

Which begs the question: How has a team that has faced so many issues managed to compile a 15-6 record for the first time since 1995?

"I'd say good pitching and timely hits," Manuel said, "or enough hits and lucky as hell."

The sustainability of that formula might not be tested this week, when the Phillies play six games against the lowly Diamondbacks and Mets. Heading into tonight's series opener in Arizona, the Phillies are 2-3 against teams with winning records and 13-3 against everybody else. By the end of next weekend, 13 of their 27 games will have come against teams that finished yesterday in last place in their division. But the month of May features a stretch of 20 straight games against contenders: Atlanta, Florida, St. Louis, Colorado, Texas and Cincinnati.

Thus far, the Phillies' game plan has worked exactly as Amaro and his financiers in the owners' suite hoped when they signed Cliff Lee to a 5-year, $120 million contract last offseason. Yesterday, it was veteran righthander Roy Halladay tying a career high with 14 strikeouts in eight scoreless innings before finally surrendering a run with two outs in the ninth. In the four-game sweep of the Padres, the Phillies held San Diego to three runs in 38 innings, pitching two shutouts to send a hapless San Diego offense into further oblivion. Dating back to a 4-3 win over the Brewers on Wednesday, the Phillies have allowed five earned runs in 47 innings, with Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels combining to allow three earned runs in 28 2/3 innings.

But the Phillies did make a sacrifice in building their Rotation of the Ages. Money that could have been used to fortify positions of weakness was instead used to bolster a position of strength. And until Amaro gets a chance to work his usual trade-deadline magic, the Phillies will be at the mercy of the calculated risk they took this offseason: Their low-cost but unproven internal options can provide enough firepower to give the rotation the support it needs to both win games and remain fresh for the long haul.

The sweep of San Diego provided some mixed messages. In Thursday's 3-0 victory, new rightfielder Ben Francisco hit a home run and drove in another run on a sacrifice fly, but the 39-year-old Contreras was forced to pitch for the fourth time in 5 days. He converted the save, his fifth straight to open the season, but he needed a season-high 26 pitches to do so, and afterward noticed some tenderness in his elbow.

"He had been pitching quite a bit," Amaro said. "A little tender. He did a little better [Saturday], and then today he felt some more soreness . . . I think it was just the work that he's done. He didn't indicate it was one pitch, just over time, especially after his outing on Thursday."

Manuel didn't have many options besides Contreras on Thursday. Setup man Ryan Madson was unavailable after pitching on 4 of the previous 6 days. Antonio Bastardo pitched through the eighth after David Herndon recorded the first two outs of the seventh. Remaining in the bullpen were righthanders Danys Baez and Kyle Kendrick and lefty Mike Zagurski, none of whom had pitched much in high-leverage situations over the previous year-plus.

In a 2-0 win the following night, Hamels tossed eight scoreless innings, but needed 126 pitches to do so. It took 11 innings for the Phillies to eke out a 4-2 win on Saturday. And yesterday, with Madson unavailable with what was labeled "normal" soreness, Manuel sent Halladay back out to the mound for the ninth inning with 113 pitches. Halladay recorded two outs and allowed three hits, the last of them an RBI single by Will Venable on his 130th pitch. Bastardo then got Brad Hawpe to fly out on one pitch for his first save.

"It's thin," Amaro said. "It is what it is."

A fresh arm will arrive today. The Phillies purchased the contract of well-regarded righthander Michael Stutes from Triple A Lehigh Valley, where he followed up his strong showing in big-league spring training by allowing two earned runs with 14 strikeouts and four walks in his first 10 innings. Madson was off yesterday but said he would be available to close tonight.

"Normal soreness and fatigue," said the righthander, who has allowed one run with 10 strikeouts and two walks in nine innings. "The day I took off, the next day I felt 100 percent."

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.

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