Phillies 9, Nationals 3

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PHILADELPHIA (AP)—Jon Lieber is more comfortable and far more productive in the starting rotation than the bullpen.

Lieber limited the Nationals to two runs in six innings, Chase Utley was 5-for-5 with three RBIs, and the Philadelphia Phillies beat Washington 9-3 Wednesday night for their fifth straight win.

Jimmy Rollins hit his NL-leading eighth homer and Ryan Howard added a two-run shot, helping the Phillies (9-11) move closer to .500 after a terrible start.

Lieber (1-0) gave up five hits, striking out five in his second start since moving into the rotation after ace Brett Myers was sent to the bullpen to bolster a struggling relief corps.

Lieber tossed 5 2-3 scoreless innings at Cincinnati last Friday. The veteran right-hander allowed three runs in 2 1-3 innings in the bullpen, but has a 1.54 ERA in his two starts.

“I was never really worried about being in the bullpen,” Lieber said. “I was fine down there. (Starting) gives me more time to get ready.”

Myers pitched a scoreless eighth to preserve a four-run lead before Rollins connected to make it 9-3 in the bottom half of the inning.

Utley had three singles and two doubles for his first career five-hit game. He raised his average to .296 from .250.

“It’s all about finding holes,” Utley said. “I’m just trying to put the ball in play and hit it hard.”

John Patterson (0-4) retired the first two batters in the third inning before Utley doubled off the left-field wall. Left fielder Robert Fick turned the wrong way on the ball, though he probably didn’t have a play.

Howard then snapped a 1-for-9 slump with his third homer to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead. Howard hit a straight fastball into the right-field seats. The reigning NL MVP is hitting .213 with 23 strikeouts in 61 at-bats.

The Phillies scored three times in the sixth to extend their lead to 7-2. One run came in when second baseman Ronnie Belliard dropped Shane Victorino’s popup to shallow right field for an error with the bases loaded. Utley followed with a two-run single to left.

“He’s warming up. He’s hitting the ball all over the field,” manager Charlie Manuel said of Utley. “He’s going more to the opposite field and he’s pulling the ball when it’s middle-in.”

Lieber retired the first nine batters, getting all five of his strikeouts. But Felipe Lopez singled to start the fourth and Belliard followed with an infield single. After Ryan Zimmerman hit into a double play, Dmitri Young looped a single just past second baseman Utley’s glove to cut it to 3-1. Austin Kearns followed with an RBI double that nearly cleared the center-field fence to make it 3-2.

Utley ripped a two-out double down the right-field line to score Rollins, giving the Phillies a 4-2 lead in the fifth.

Patterson, the Nationals’ struggling No. 1 starter, gave up six runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings.

“He’s making progress,” manager Manny Acta said. “There was no drop-off in his velocity like his other outings. We didn’t play very good defense behind him.” ^Notes: Aaron Rowand extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a second-inning single, tying his career-best with the Chicago White Sox in 2005. … Fick made up for his earlier blunder with a sliding catch to rob Wes Helms with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth. … Phillies OF Michael Bourn got his first career extra-base hit, a triple in the eighth inning. … Rollins’ eight homers are the most he’s ever hit in one month.

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