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News » Phillies-Astros Preview 2009-09-06

Phillies-Astros Preview 2009-09-06

Phillies-Astros Preview 2009-09-06The Philadelphia Phillies have built a comfortable lead atop the NL East despite Cole Hamels rarely pitching like the ace who was last year's NLCS and World Series MVP. After struggling for much of the season, he's starting to resemble one of the top pitchers in the majors.

Hamels looks to continue his recent dominance and help the Phillies bounce back from a disappointing loss Sunday against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Hamels (8-8, 4.26 ERA) became a hero in Philadelphia last October after going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts to lead the Phillies (77-56) to a World Series title, but this year hasn't been easy. He didn't win his first game until May 8 and has endured two different three-game losing streaks.

Things appear to be turning around for the left-hander, though.

Hamels threw a two-hitter in Monday's 1-0 win over San Francisco, extending his scoreless innings streak to 19, tying a career best. He struck out nine, walked one and retired 24 in a row after Ryan Garko's double to lead off the second inning.

"I really tried not to stress myself out and go out and not try to be too good," said Hamels, who threw eight scoreless innings in a 4-1, 10-inning win at Pittsburgh on Aug. 26. "All I can do is throw strikes and let the team behind me take care of it."

He'll try to extend his shutout streak against a Houston team he is 3-0 with a 4.41 ERA in five career starts against.

While Philadelphia has won all five games with Hamels on the mound versus the Astros (65-70), it has had no success in the first two games of this series.

After losing Friday's series opener 7-0, the Phillies suffered a 5-4 defeat Saturday, as the Astros rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth off closer Brad Lidge, who blew his 10th save.

Philadelphia trailed 3-0 after six innings before scoring twice in both the seventh and eighth to take the lead, but Kaz Matsui's bases-loaded two-run single with two outs in the ninth gave Houston its second straight win after losing eight of 10.

The Phillies, who still own a seven-game lead over second-place Florida in the division, were without Chase Utley, who was nursing a sore right foot. Utley fouled a ball off it in his first at-bat Friday and was held out as a precautionary measure.

A bigger concern for Philadelphia is its slumping offense.

The Phillies have totaled 11 runs in their last seven games and were mired in a 17-inning scoreless streak before Ben Francisco's run-scoring single in the seventh Saturday. Francisco's hit came right after Astros ace Roy Oswalt left due to tightness in his lower back.

Philadelphia again tries to get its offense on track against rookie Bud Norris (3-3, 6.61), who hasn't had much luck shutting down opponents lately.

After posting a 3.00 ERA in winning his first three starts, Norris has regressed, recording a 13.11 ERA in losing his last three. He yielded six runs, five hits and four walks in five innings of a 9-0 loss at Arizona last Saturday.

"I'm thinking too much, I think," the right-hander said. "If I just go out there and let it ride a little bit naturally, it's a lot better."

This will be Norris' first start against the Phillies.

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Added: September 6, 2009

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