Charlie Manuel keeps shuffling his lineup hoping to find a configuration that can offer a lot more run support for his Four Aces.
The manager's latest attempt Saturday night gave the Phillies an entirely different look. Rookie Domonic Brown made his 2011 debut by batting second for the first time in his young career, while catcher Carlos Ruiz moved up to sixth in the order for just the third time in his career.
"I looked at the bottom of our lineup and figured I'd rather have Domonic getting four at-bats," Manuel said. "I put [Ruiz] there basically because I think he's started to swing better."
Like so many other combinations Manuel has tried in May, this one failed to provide an offensive explosion. Thanks to Cliff Lee's lively left arm, however, it produced a victory. The Phillies won a second consecutive interleague matchup with the Texas Rangers, beating Lee's former team, 2-0, at Citizens Bank Park.
The end to Ryan Howard's 0-for-23 slump was by far the best offensive news for the Phillies. Howard addressed his tumbling batting average before the game and sounded confident that he was close to escaping the worst slump of his career.
"I'm on the verge of switching around and hitting righthanded," he said, showing that his sense of humor remained intact. "You're even-keel about it. I'm not going to lie and say it's not frustrating. It's tough, because you go out there and sometimes you're trying to look for a break. I hit a couple of balls [Friday night] and a couple of balls in the Rockies series that for anybody else, those would have been hits."
Howard was referring to the overshift defense he encounters almost every time he goes to the plate, but he found the best way to beat it in the bottom of the second inning.
After being left at home plate in the bottom of the first when Brown was thrown out trying to steal second base for the final out, Howard led off the second by launching a 1-1 fastball from Colby Lewis into the right-field seats, giving Lee the only run he would need to pick up his first win in seven starts since an April 14 game against Washington.
"That felt better," Howard said afterward. "I had a couple of hits tonight, and I just missed the last ball [in the eighth inning]. It's always frustrating going through something like that. I was asked how much video do I watch or 'How much work were you trying to do?' Obviously, you try to put in the work, but sometimes you have to just step back and let things happen."
Lee, who is 16-3 in 27 career interleague starts, had watched very little happen offensively for the Phillies during his previous six starts, when he failed to pick up a victory. The Phils scored a total of 11 runs in those games.
Asked if that was frustrating, the imperturbable Lee shrugged.
"It's not frustrating," he said. "I can control what I can control, and that's it. I'm not going to let things that are out of my control frustrate me. I just focused on my preparation and what I need to do to give myself the best chance to be successful. You expect an offense like this to score more runs, but it's not a lack of effort or that guys are going up there trying to make outs. For whatever reason, we've been in a little offensive funk, and that's where pitching can bail you out, and tonight was an example of that. Last night, as well."
The Phillies, 28-17, maintained a 11/2-game lead over the second-place Florida Marlins in the National League East and finished with eight hits, their highest total in eight games. They have gone eight straight games without scoring more than three runs.
Moving Brown to second did not kickstart the offense. He finished his 2011 big-league debut going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. He also flied out to right with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth.
"That was his first game," Manuel said. "Bases loaded there, he just missed that ball. He got underneath it a little bit. He had a good pass at it."
The game's only other run came in the bottom of the sixth inning. In addition to batting Brown second and Ruiz sixth, Manuel moved John Mayberry Jr. to seventh in the order because he had gone into a little slump of his own. But after Raul Ibanez and Ruiz drew consecutive two-out walks, Mayberry delivered an RBI single to left field.
With Lee on top of his game and Ryan Madson in a groove as closer, the two runs were more than enough for a Phillies victory.