Phillies 9, Reds 3

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CINCINNATI (AP)—Ryan Howard returned from a few days off looking healthy and ready to break out of his April slump.

The NL MVP homered in his first game back from an injury to help Freddy Garcia earn his first National League victory, and the Phillies beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-3 on Sunday.

Howard, who missed the last three games with a sprained ligament just below his left knee, hit a sacrifice fly, drew a walk, struck out and flied out to center field before hitting his second homer of the season, a 410-foot, two-run shot to center in the ninth.

“I felt good,” the first baseman said. “I hit in the cage the last couple of days but the real test was getting out on the field for nine innings. Hitting the ball to center field is where you want to be.”

Howard hit 58 homers last season, but has struggled along with the Phillies in the early going.

“It was good to see Ryan pop one out,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “The fly ball to center field says he’s about ready to break loose. I have a feeling he’ll hit a few more.”

Chase Utley had a pair of doubles and Wes Helms had three hits for the Phillies, who have won three of four and back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“Two in a row,” Manuel said. “Imagine that. It was a long time coming. I think Garcia pitched pretty good. He knows how to pitch. He pops the fastball pretty good.”

Garcia (1-1), who was acquired from the White Sox for two players in December, went five innings in his second start since opening the season on the disabled list with tendinitis. He didn’t walk a batter and allowed four hits and two runs with three strikeouts.

“I’m making progress,” the right-hander said. “We’re winning. I got behind in the count too much. I need to pitch better than that when we have the lead. I need to trust my fastball.”

Brett Myers, moved from the rotation to the bullpen by the Phillies earlier this week, pitched the ninth and allowed an RBI double by Ken Griffey Jr.

Philadelphia pitching limited Cincinnati to six runs and 15 hits in the three-game series, including Cincinnati’s 2-1 10-inning win on Friday. The Reds (9-10) have lost four of five and fell below .500 for the first time this season.

“You see them swinging at pitches they don’t normally swing at,” Griffey said of the Reds hitting slump. “It’s not for lack of effort. Everybody in this locker room wants to do well, especially in front of the home crowd, but it backfires. It’s like pitching. If you try to throw it harder, you end up throwing it softer.”

The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the first on Howard’s sacrifice fly and Helms’ RBI single.

“We couldn’t get anything going,” Reds manager Jerry Narron said. “We’ve got to put the ball in play a little better. Right now, as a team, we’re just not hitting.”

Utley followed back-to-back singles by Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino in the third inning with his second double in two at bats. Greg Dobbs later added a sacrifice fly on a diving catch by left fielder Adam Dunn to give Philadelphia a 4-0 lead.

The Reds snapped a 10-inning scoreless streak in the fourth on Javier Valentin’s sacrifice fly. They added a run in the sixth on Edwin Encarnacion’s bases-loaded single to right field, but the Phillies responded in the seventh when Utley walked, stole second, moved to third on Valentin’s throwing error and scored on Encarnacion’s throwing error.

Reds right-hander Matt Belisle (2-1) gave up eight hits and four runs with one walk and six strikeouts five innings, the shortest of his four starts this season.

“I executed a lot of what I wanted to do,” Belisle said. “I felt in control. Balls fell for hits that, a lot of times, get hit at people.”

Notes

Cincinnati LHP Mike Stanton’s appearance was the 1,120nd of his career, breaking a tie with John Franco for second place behind Jesse Orosco on the career appearance list. … Aaron Rowand extended his hitting streak to 10 games (16-for-38, .421). … The Phillies have won eight of their last 10 games in Cincinnati. … Reds 2B Brandon Phillips reached base twice by getting hit by pitches. … Dobbs made his first start of the season in left field.

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