Braves-Phillies Preview

MATT BEARDMORE (STATS Writer)
The Associated Press

Ryan Howard's season debut wasn't enough to get the Philadelphia Phillies back in the win column.

Perhaps another strong start by Joe Blanton against the Atlanta Braves will do the trick.

At their lowest point in a decade, the Phillies will look to even their series with the visiting Braves on Saturday night.

Out since tearing his left Achilles' tendon in Philadelphia's season-ending loss to St. Louis in the 2011 playoffs, Howard went 2 for 4 with a double in Friday's 5-0 series-opening defeat.

"It felt good, but the outcome didn't go the way we wanted it,'' said Howard, who isn't expected to start again until Sunday's series finale.

Philadelphia (37-48) has dropped eight of nine to fall 11 games below .500 for the first time since it was 23-34 on June 6, 2002.

"We have to go out and win series. If we can do that, we'll find ourselves in the mix," Howard added.

The Phillies will try to take a step back toward the break-even point with Blanton (7-7, 4.85 ERA) coming off his first loss in five starts.

The right-hander went six innings in Sunday's 5-2 loss at Miami, giving up three runs during his 107-pitch outing.

"If we go out and throw a good game, we have trouble scraping across a couple (runs) and that's just baseball,'' said Blanton, who has one of the highest run-support averages in the NL at 5.71. "Sometimes it goes that way.''

The Phillies hope Saturday's game has a similar outcome as Blanton's last start against the Braves. He tossed a three-hitter in a 4-0 win at Atlanta on May 3, needing just 88 pitches and 2 hours and 2 minutes to complete his first shutout in five seasons.

Blanton will likely get his first look at Brian McCann this season after the Braves catcher was scratched in the right eye by teammate Michael Bourn when they were celebrating McCann's grand slam against Roy Halladay in Atlanta's 15-13, 11-inning home win over Philadelphia on May 2.

McCann avoided another high-five accident Friday when his eighth-inning grand slam off Antonio Bastardo lifted the Braves to their first win in Philadelphia in five tries.

"I love hitting with the bases loaded because they have to come at you,'' said McCann, who has homered in two straight games and is 8 for 21 with two home runs off Blanton.

Going for their first three-game win streak since June 19-22, the Braves will give the ball to Tommy Hanson (9-5, 3.70) on Saturday.

The right-hander, trying to reach double-digit wins for the fourth consecutive season, is 4-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his last five starts outside Atlanta.

Hanson, though, had his string of four consecutive winning decisions snapped with Monday's 4-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

The Braves had scored 28 runs while winning each of his previous five starts.

"I felt really good with my stuff. I was throwing strikes and getting ahead of guys," Hanson said.

That wasn't the case May 2 against the Phillies when he was tagged for four runs and eight hits in 3 2-3 innings.

Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, 7 for 20 with a homer off Blanton, is batting .432 (19 for 44) during a 12-game hitting streak.

Teammate Martin Prado will try to start a new hitting streak after his 11-game run ended Friday. Three of his seven hits versus Blanton have left the park.

The Braves have won eight of 11 on the road following a season-high five-game skid away from home.