The Phillies began the 2009 season the same way they launched their 2006, 2007 and 2008 campaigns: with a loss at home. And while the experience of the last two years showed that going 0-1 isn't necessary indicative of trouble ahead, many of the concerns that followed the club through a mostly placid spring showed up after the 2008 championship banner was raised and the home crowd took the field to a rapturous welcome.
Brett Myers, starting the opener for the third straight season, got in trouble early when, with two out and none on in the first, he surrendered a full-count single to Larry Jones Junior, then a monstrous second-deck home run to Brian McCann. An inning later, Myers gave up two more bombs, solo shots to Jeff Francoeur and rookie Jordan Schaefer that made the score 4-0 Atlanta. Myers settled down afterward, holding the Braves off the scoreboard in his last four innings of work and striking out six against eight hits and a walk, but any hopes that the inconsistent right-hander had left his first-inning troubles behind in 2008 were gone, at least for one night. Relievers Jack Taschner, Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin and Brad Lidge combined to throw three scoreless, hitless innings of relief.
Meanwhile, the Phillies offense was helpless against new Braves ace Derek Lowe, last seen in the 2008 NLCS starting twice for the Dodgers in games the Phils ultimately won. Tonight, Lowe throttled the defending champs with sinker after sinker, allowing just two hits--a Carlos Ruiz double down the left-field line and a Jimmy Rollins single--in eight innings of work. Charlie Manuel's concerns about the readiness of hitters Shane Victorino and Pedro Feliz, both of whom got fewer spring at-bats than ideal, seemed borne out as the two combined to go 0 for 6 with three strikeouts.
Not until the ninth inning, as Lowe gave way to lefty closer Mike Gonzalez, did the Phils break through. Eric Bruntlett picked up where he'd left off in Florida with a pinch-double to start the inning, moved to third on a Rollins flyout, and scored on a Jayson Werth single. Chase Utley followed with a walk, bringing Ryan Howard to the plate as the potential tying run. Through the first five pitches of the at-bat, Gonzalez fed the former MVP the same steady diet of sliders Lowe had used to keep Howard hitless--then, with the count 3-2, fired an inside fastball that the startled slugger took for strike three. Raul Ibanez, another lefty, similarly ran the count full, then swung through the game-ender to end his Phils debut 0 for 4.
After an off-day tomorrow, the teams face off Tuesday night with Jair Jurrjens starting for the Braves against the Phillies' Jamie Moyer.