ATLANTA — Looking to add innings to their rotation as they go through their own rebuild, the Atlanta Braves signed two fortysomething pitchers during the offseason.
The Phillies, also rebuilding, beat up one of them — Bartolo Colon — on Monday night, but could not follow suit against R.A. Dickey on Thursday night.
The 42-year-old knuckleballer pitched his best game of the season in leading his team to a 3-1 win over the Phillies (see Instant Replay).
And so a four-game series that started with so much promise for the Phillies — wins of 11-4 and 3-1 in the first two games — ended with back-to-back losses and a split.
Given the way things have gone for them this season, the Phils will take that as they head to St. Louis with baseball's worst record, 21-37.
The Phils will also take this:
Desperate for some quality starting pitching, they've gotten two nice outings from rookie Ben Lively in his first two big-league starts.
Lively followed up his seven-inning, one-run performance against San Francisco in his debut with seven more innings Thursday night.
This time, however, he took the loss, paying the price for a leadoff walk and two doubles in the first inning. Lively gave up two runs in that inning and three in all. The Phils did not have enough steam in their bats to overcome that. Dickey allowed just three hits and a run over seven walk-free innings. He struck out eight.
"It's always tough because it's different," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said of facing Dickey. "You have a submariner-baller and half of it is deception. A knuckleballer, you never see it. It's tough, especially if he's got it working. (Braves catcher Tyler) Flowers missed at least half a dozen pitches, so you know it was dancing. You have to give him credit for having a good knuckleball tonight. We just couldn't get anything going."
The Phillies, who were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, got their only run in the seventh inning when Maikel Franco singled home Odubel Herrera with two outs.
The Phillies had just four hits. Herrera had the only extra-base hit — his nightly double.
Over the last six games, Herrera has 10 doubles. He also has two homers over that span, giving him 12 straight extra-base hits. Herrera had 21 doubles all of last season. This season, he leads the National League with 22. His 12 extra-base hits in June are the most in the majors.
Looks like he's out of that May slump. He hit just .183 in that month.
"Odubel," Mackanin said. "What a series he had. I think he had eight or nine extra-base hits. He has 12 straight extra-base hits, which is outstanding. That's just what the doctor ordered for him to get him jump-started."
Herrera is still human, however.
He badly misplayed a ball in center field and that cost the Phillies a run in a close game.
He also lined out softly to third with runners on the corners to end the top of the eighth inning. A hit there would have made things interesting.
Only 13 times this season have the Phillies gotten more than six innings from a starting pitcher. Lively has done it in both of his starts. Aaron Nola became the first Phillies' starter to go more than seven innings this season when he delivered eight strong on Tuesday night.
"It's good now if we can get six, seven, eight innings here and there," Mackanin said. "That makes our bullpen better. We've got (reliever Joaquin) Benoit coming back probably on Sunday to shore that up. Little by little we have to keep inching forward."
Lively blamed his first-inning problems — a walk and two doubles — on being "a little too pumped up."
Mackanin didn't think the right-hander had good pop on his fastball in the first inning.
"That was probably just me trying to feel out my pitches when the game started," Lively said. "Once they started clicking, I started rolling."
Lively pitches to contact. He allowed 12 baserunners in seven innings, but managed to limit damage.
"If I stay on that track and keep being that bulldog, hopefully I'll keep having games like this," he said.
The Phillies will take that anytime. And if they score some runs, they'll get some Ws on the nights when Lively pitches like that.
"He battles you," Mackanin said. "That's the thing I'm impressed with. That's two in a row now, seven innings. That's what we needed."