Phillies set to open defense of NL East title

March 29, 2008 7:31:59 PM PDT
The Phillies are ready to defend their NL East title. All they have to do is make sure another poor spring doesn't mean a slow start in April, a notoriously bad month for the Phillies that likely cost them a shot or two at the playoffs before last season.

"We're the champions," manager Charlie Manuel said. "You usually have to beat the champions and in our division, we're the champions."

The Phillies haven't played like champions this spring. Aaron Hill hit a two-run homer off Jamie Moyer to lift the Toronto Blue Jays to a 5-3 win over Philadelphia on Saturday. The Phillies are 12-18-1 in spring training.

"I know we're ready to play," Manuel said.

The Phillies have been hit all spring with questions about their slow Aprils and what they need to do to reverse the troubling trend. They went 10-11 in 2004; 10-14 in 2005 and 2006; and 11-14 last April.

Center fielder Shane Victorino said he's tired of talking about the miserable Aprils.

"I'm over it," he said. "If we do, we do. We're not going out there trying to lose."

Jamie Moyer, sent to begin his 22nd season, allowed Hill's homer and gave up four runs in five innings. Moyer thinks if the Phillies stop thinking about the rough starts, they're more likely to get off to a good one. He said having a team that reached the postseason for the first time since 1993 should give them all confidence that they can get there again.

"Most of the guys have been in a playoff run, in a short playoff situation," Moyer said. "It was short, but getting there was half the battle. It would be nice to be in the thick of things during the course of the season."

Most of the Toronto and Philadelphia starters had two or three at-bats before retiring for the day on a chilly afternoon. Phillies outfielders Geoff Jenkins (who was the DH) and Jayson Werth were the exceptions, each going 1-for-4. Werth struck out three times.

The Phillies are hitting .243 this spring.

"I wish we could have hit the ball better," Manuel said.

Pat Burrell put the Phillies up 3-0 on a three-run shot off John Parish, who will open the season with Triple-A Syracuse. Brian Tallet earned the win with a scoreless fourth.

Hill hit his second homer in two days. Shannon Stewart, Vernon Wells and Marco Scutaro each drove in a run.

The Blue Jays, who finished 13-16, are off Sunday and will have ace Roy Halladay on the mound when they open the season at New York against Chien-Ming Wang. Manager John Gibbons said his team is ready to take on the Yankees.

"We better be. It's always a circus up there," he said.

The Phillies play on Sunday in Allentown, against their new Triple-A affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Then it's back to Philadelphia for Monday's opener against Washington.

"We are the champs," Victorino said. "Somebody's got to take it from us."

The rest of the NL East will try, starting this week.

Notes: Philadelphia's Tim Lahey, claimed off waivers from the Cubs on Friday, allowed a run and four hits in one inning. ... The entire Phillies team will make the trip to Allentown. ... NL MVP Jimmy Rollins is batting .188. ... Toronto right-hander Shaun Marcum threw 113 pitches over seven innings in a Triple-A game against Yankees minor leaguers in Florida. He is excited about starting the team's home opener April 4 against Boston. "It's going to be fun," Marcum said. ... Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan (left elbow) will pitch a simulated inning Sunday morning at the team's minor league complex.