This is how chalk handles the first series of the year. Roy Oswalt pitched a terrific six innings, using a fastball that was popping the catcher's mitt all afternoon. He continues the dominance of a Houston Astros ball club that will not sniff a winning record this season. It's not the best test of a National League favorite, but it is a good segue from Spring Training into actual baseball. Aside from a Hunter Pence home run, Oswalt was in control all day long.
Ryan Howard has strung three really good games together, hitting his first home run of the season and nearly missing his second. He's leading the team with 6 RBI's and thrived today off the left-handed pitching of Bud Norris. There's no question he benefited more than once from the Astros' lack of a drastic shift that we're so accustomed to seeing when Howard comes up. A good start from Ryan will ease the pain of Jayson Werth and Chase Utley missing from the lineup.
Speaking of Werth, his successor in right field had a very Werth-like series himself. Ben Francisco notched three hits on the day, including a first inning home run that shot right over the left field wall. What was most impressive about Ben's day was his approach at the plate on a base hit to lead off the sixth inning. He'd fought off a few fastballs already and it seemed like an off-speed pitch was on the way from big righty Aneury Rodriguez. It came, and the usually poor breaking ball hitter kept his shoulder in and did not pull off on the outside pitch, serving the ball the opposite way for a single. He later scored in the inning. He's been on a roll since the beginning of Spring.
Not to be outdone, Jimmy Rollins stayed locked in this afternoon, getting his third straight 2-hit game and adding a few nice defensive plays to boot. The best one was a ground ball up the middle by Angel Sanchez that took him into center field where he pivoted, turned, and made a really strong throw to first that got Sanchez by plenty. Jimmy, a typically slow starter, hadn't had three straight multi-hit games since last July against Colorado. My favorite part of Jimmy's day was the two walks. Balls will find holes in the field, but if he can lay off the bad ones, he'll have consistent success. Hopefully he keeps that on-base percentage up.
Subbing in for a possibly-but-not-really injured Shane Victorino, Michael Martinez led off and didn't have the best first three at-bats of an ML career. He struck out twice, swinging at pretty much everything and looked ugly doing it. But in his fourth at bat, he laced a single down the line that gave the Phils a bit more cushion. That would be his last at-bat of the debut as Charlie Manuel kept the pinch-hitting Victorino in to play center field. Shane, who had already added a hit an RBI of his own, made a beautiful running catch on a Michael Bourn ball that would have gone for extra bases on any other Phillies outfielder. It seems like his calf is doing okay and after the day off tomorrow, he'll resume duties as everyday center fielder. Stay away from the ledge, everybody.
Once Oswalt left, David Herndon came in for 2 innings of redemption that lowered his inflated ERA to 6.00 in the series. He didn't get the ball down as much as he should, but he'll be a valuable 6th/7th inning guy for Charlie all season. Kyle Kendrick came on to pitch the 9th and did not look good. He wasn't throwing strikes, and on the rare occasion that he did, they were piped 87 mph fastballs. Despite scoring one run in the frame, Houston had already checked out mentally and wasn't jumping at the minor league offerings from KK. He finally retired Jason Michaels on a liner to Francisco to end the game and the series 7-3.
The only two active players to not appear in the series are Antonio Bastardo and Brian Schneider. Next up for the Phillies after the day off is a three-game set with the rival New York Mets, who took 2 of 3 from the Florida Marlins on the road. Cole Hamels faces Chris Young in his first start for the Mets after spending five years with the San Diego Padres.
So far so good. All aboard the starting pitching gravy train!