Hamels, Phils unable to stifle Braves' power game
ATLANTA -- Chase Utley offered some perspective late Monday night inside a quiet Phillies clubhouse at Turner Field.
His team finished last season a distant third in the National League East following a franchise-record 102 victories in 2011, snapping its run of five consecutive division championships. But the Phillies entered this spring optimistic a healthy roster would provide better results, and almost nothing that happened in Florida over the last month of Spring Training changed their thinking. So it would have been ideal for them to start the season with a crisply played game and a victory over the Braves.
Instead, they lost on Opening Day, 7-5.
"Listen, obviously you want to win the first game," Utley said, "but I think we have a few more to go."
That is the good news. The Phillies have 161 to play, and they certainly expect Cole Hamels to pitch better than he did. He allowed seven hits, five runs, one walk and three home runs against the Braves.
They also expect better from their offense and more from a revamped bullpen.
"We're going to be able to come back in games," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel promised. "We need to have things click for us. We need to play consistent baseball and good. Tonight, I felt like we did cut some runs down on the infield. We could have scored more. It was a good game, but at the same time, we could never catch them."
Hamels, who made his first Opening Day start, put the Phillies in a hole immediately.
He walked Jason Heyward on five pitches with one out in the first, and two batters later, Freddie Freeman crushed a 2-1 fastball to right field for a two-run home run to hand the Braves a 2-0 lead. Hamels then threw a 3-0 fastball to Dan Uggla to start the second, and he hit that pitch to left field for a home run to make it 3-0.
Hamels had thrown 26 pitches to that point and just 12 strikes, with two of those strikes leaving the ballpark in a hurry.
Hamels simply wasn't sharp. He allowed a leadoff double to Andrelton Simmons in the third. Freeman then laced a two-out single to right to hand the Braves a 4-0 lead.
"You have to be able to establish the fastball down in the zone, and I wasn't able to do that as much as I'd like," Hamels said. "Most of the pitches that were hit out were fastballs up in the zone. I want to claim that's uncharacteristic, but there are times when you have to be able to make the adjustment and I wasn't able to make the adjustment fast enough."
He indicated he might have been too pumped.
"You get the excitement going. You have to settle in," he said. "That's the tough part. You have to control your emotions. It's a sold-out crowd. It's Opening Day. You want to win. I wasn't able to execute."
But the Phillies chipped away at the lead. Utley hit a solo home run -- the 200th of his career -- to center field in the fourth to make it 4-1. Hamels hit a one-out single to right in the fifth. Ben Revere then worked an 11-pitch at-bat into a walk, which seemed to sap the energy from Braves right-hander Tim Hudson. Jimmy Rollins singled to right to load the bases, and Utley followed with a single to right to score two runs to make it 4-3.
Utley tripled and scored in the seventh to finish the day 3-for-5 with two runs and three RBIs -- and a double shy of the cycle.
"That was classic Chase," Ryan Howard said.
"I worked hard this offseason to get to this point," said Utley, who missed the previous two Opening Days because of injured knees.
But Hamels continued to fall prey to the Braves' powerful lineup when Justin Upton crushed a homer to left-center in the fifth to make it 5-3. Phillies right-hander Chad Durbin started the sixth, allowing two runs to make it 7-3.
The Phillies got within two, but they ran into Braves closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.
"Hopefully, that is just the beginning," said Freeman, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs. "We've got a very balanced lineup one through eight. It's going to be tough for pitchers to get through us."
Hamels lived it Monday, but he expects better next time. So do the Phillies. They hope to start Wednesday.