Homestand crucial as tough foes loom

Posted: August 20, 2001

ST. LOUIS — Struggling on a four-game losing streak, the Phillies begin a crucial homestand tomorrow night in which they will face two of the top teams - Houston and Arizona - and several of the top pitchers in the National League.

After yesterday's 9-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, manager Larry Bowa had an admonition for his team, which lost its hold on first place in the NL East while suffering a three-game sweep against the Cards.

"We've got to play better or we can get buried," Bowa said. "We're not playing good. We're misplaying balls. Some of the balls that have been ruled hits could have been errors. We haven't been doing that all year. You can't expect to win when you're not playing well."

The Phils, as resilient a team as there is this season, have survived several slumps and come back strong each time.

"People have been saying 'uh-oh' about us all year," reliever Ricky Bottalico said. "But no one on this team has ever lost confidence. We just need to take [today] off and come back strong [tomorrow]. People are asking questions like we're 15 games out. That's not the case."

The degree of difficulty in rebounding from this slump is heightened because Houston and Arizona are so good. Both are first-place teams, and they are a combined 39 games over .500.

The four-game series against Arizona at the end of the week became less intimidating yesterday when the Phillies learned that they will not face Randy Johnson, who is 17-5 with a 2.35 earned run average and a major-league-leading 287 strikeouts.

The Diamondbacks have decided to keep Johnson on his regular day, meaning the lefthander will pitch Thursday at Pittsburgh. The D'backs are idle today. If they had stayed in order with their five-man rotation, Johnson would have pitched Friday at Veterans Stadium.

Even though Johnson won't pitch at the Vet, the Phils will see plenty of tough pitchers during the homestand.

They will face Houston's Pedro Astacio, Wade Miller and Dave Mlicki on consecutive days and Arizona's Curt Schilling, possibly going for his 20th win, on Sunday.

Rest time. Reliever Turk Wendell has not pitched in two consecutive games, and today's off-day will give him three days without throwing.

The righthander has carried a heavy load this season, appearing in 61 games. Twelve of those appearances have come since the Phillies acquired him from the New York Mets last month. He has given up 15 hits and nine runs in eight innings over those 12 games with the Phils.

Bowa thinks Wendell could use the rest.

"I don't see fatigue in Turk, but his stuff isn't as crisp," the manager said. "You've got to give these guys a chance to rejuvenate. To a man, each one of [the relievers] isn't going to say anything. They're going to take the ball."

Before yesterday's game, Bowa indicated that he would like to give Bottalico some rest. The righthander got Saturday off but had pitched or warmed up in 11 previous games. But Bottalico ended up pitching the seventh inning. He was charged with two runs as the Cardinals increased a 3-0 lead to 5-0.

"I wanted to pitch," he said.

Extra bases. Brian Hunter started in center field as Doug Glanville got the day off. Hunter threw out Edgar Renteria at the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning, keeping the score at 3-0. At the time, it looked as if Hunter's play could have given the Phillies a boost, but they failed to build on it. . . . Slumping Mark McGwire started his first game of the series and went 3 for 3 with four RBIs, raising his average to .196. McGwire hit sixth. It was the first time he had batted that low since July 1994. . . . After today's off day, the Phils will play 20 straight days.

Jim Salisbury's e-mail address is jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

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