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ATL@PHI: Howard goes 2-for-4 in his 2012 debut

PHILADELPHIA -- Loud boos rang out at Citizens Bank Park as Antonio Bastardo handed the ball to skipper Charlie Manuel and walked to the dugout. The bullpen had betrayed the Phillies once again.

After entering a scoreless game in the eighth inning, Bastardo walked in a run and allowed a grand slam to Brian McCann en route to a 5-0 loss to the Braves on Friday night. The defeat, which dropped the Phillies to 11 games under .500 for the first since June 5, 2002, spoiled a great start from Kyle Kendrick and the long awaited return of Ryan Howard.

In a crucial stretch of games leading to the Trade Deadline, the Phillies lost for the eighth time in their last nine games. The 17 games that remain before July 31 could have big implications to determine the club's personnel for the season's final months and beyond.

Friday's game did not help.

"I don't know what to say," said Kendrick, who allowed just four hits over seven shutout innings before he was lifted in the eighth. "Obviously we want to win and we didn't win tonight. It's frustrating, but we'll come out again tomorrow."

Kendrick had thrown 89 pitches through seven innings. He took the mound to start the eighth, but Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez inserted the left-handed-hitting Juan Francisco for starter Tim Hudson. With lefties Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward set to come up after the pitcher's spot, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel called on Bastardo.

"I thought [Kendrick] did a super job," Manuel said. "The top of their order -- Bourn and Heyward -- they hit some balls hard off him. We felt like Bastardo was who we wanted on their left-handed hitters."

It didn't work out.

By way of a single and two walks, Bastardo loaded the bases with two outs for Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman. After running the count to 3-0, the left-handed reliever then threw a strike on his fourth pitch, but he missed with his next offering to give the Braves a 1-0 lead.

Two pitches later, McCann, also a lefty, took Bastardo deep to center field for the catcher's second grand slam against Philadelphia this season.

"I didn't command my fastball," said Bastardo, who is 2-3 with a 5.34 ERA, "and my fastball is the best weapon that I have."

"That guy has really good stuff, but he's struggling with command right now," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "When he throws strikes, it's down the middle. When he tries to hit the corners, he's missing off."

The Phillies' offense didn't help the cause either, managing just five hits, including two from Howard. Philadelphia was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded Howard on second base twice.

Despite the club's struggles, Howard went 2-for-4 in his season debut. He didn't match Chase Utley's first at-bat of 2012, but he was close.

After receiving a standing ovation from the fans, Howard led off the second inning by bouncing a double off the warning track in deep center field.

Howard, who missed the season's first 84 games recovering from left Achilles surgery, said afterward he felt good physically. Does he feels a lot of pressure on his shoulders because of the deficit the Phillies face in the standings? "I already know there are a lot of expectations," he added later. "I know there is unspoken pressure, but my focus is just getting back in the groove of things and help my team win. The goal here is to win series. We're kind of in a hole, but we still hold our own destiny on our hands. So if we can just win series, we'll be all right."

With Utley and Howard back, Manuel finally has his full lineup. It didn't prove to make much of a difference on Friday, as Philadelphia fell to 1-8 since Utley's return. But Manuel is confident his lineup is going to perform.

"I think our lineup is going to be fine," he said. "I think it might take 'em a game or two, but I think our regular lineup's going to hit. I have no doubt about it. I think it's just a matter of time, and hopefully they start tomorrow."

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