ATLANTA — Rich Dubee made a point of labeling Chad Durbin "a slow starter" on more than one instance during spring training. Opposing scouts were skeptical. Two questioned what Durbin, 35, had left.
His eight pitches in Monday's season opener did little to dissuade that notion. Dan Uggla walked. Chris Johnson doubled. Gerald Laird singled.
Charlie Manuel, long a supporter of Durbin, emerged with a quick hook. Two Braves runs scored to dig an even deeper hole. Cole Hamels was the primary offender Monday, but Durbin did not help in the 7-5 loss.
"He looked like he was having trouble with his breaking ball," Manuel said. "Maybe it was slick because it was chilly. He couldn’t find his breaking ball at all."
The manager was referring to Durbin's cutter, which he used exclusively against Uggla. The first two he threw were strikes. The second two were balls. Uggla walked on six pitches.
Johnson hit the first pitch he saw, a fastball, for a double. Laird also hacked at the first pitch, another fastball, and singled.
(A few fans on Twitter noted that Manuel did not wait for the Braves' pinch-hitter, Juan Francisco, to be announced before making the pitching change. Francisco never appeared in the official box score. Reed Johnson pinch-hit when the lefty Jeremy Horst entered. But Manuel said he saw the umpire wave Francisco into the game — Francisco was scratched out on Manuel's lineup card — before making the pitching change. It is possible the official scorer did not see the umpire's signal and Francisco's fake plate appearance disappeared into baseball's twilight zone. Either way, it was inconsequential to the game's outcome.)
The numbers support Durbin's traditional slow starts. His ERA in the month of April is 6.29. His career ERA is 4.95. But in 2008, his best season, he was sharpest from April to July and shaky in August and September.
Last season, while pitching for Atlanta, Durbin allowed six runs in his first three outings. His ERA in his final 73 games was 2.33. The Phillies hope for a similar trend in 2013.
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