Starting pitching has carried Phillies to winning record

Phillies starting pitcher Tyler Cloyd throws during a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Miami, Tuesday, May 21, 2013. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

MILWAUKEE — Charlie Manuel glanced at his lineup card, folded over and worn from three hours of baseball Thursday, and summarized his starting pitcher's performance with 10 words.

"He took us to a good spot in the game," Manuel said.

The manager was describing Tyler Cloyd's 6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, but that is a sentence he can use on most nights. The Phillies entered Friday with a winning record for the first time in 2013 and their starting pitching is a chief reason.

Remove Roy Halladay's seven starts while pitching injured and the rotation posted a 3.50 ERA before Cliff Lee took the mound Friday. That would rank fifth in baseball. The rotation's ERA is 3.36 since May 6, when the Phillies disabled Halladay. That, too, is fifth in baseball.

The Phillies' 42 quality starts in 61 games were three more than the next closest team.

It is remarkable, considering the staff suffered the loss of their $20 million ace Halladay and the presumptive fifth starter, John Lannan. Cole Hamels lost nine games before May ended. But Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone and Cloyd have stabilized what could have been a glaring weakness.

"They're doing well," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "We've been fine. They've done a good job."

There will be decisions to make. Carlos Zambrano was scheduled to make his third minor-league start Friday at double-A Reading until the game was postponed by rain. He will pitch the second game of a doubleheader Saturday. The Phillies must promote Zambrano by July 1 or he can ask for his release.

Lannan (left knee strain) started his official rehab assignment at single-A Clearwater on Friday. He must be activated no later than July 7.

Cloyd was officially listed as Wednesday's starter in Minnesota. He walked five and danced around trouble. The 26-year-old righty has survived on a high 80s fastball; six of his career 11 starts have lasted at least six innings with two or fewer runs.

"I don't think you can fill in for Roy, a pitcher of that status and how great he is," Cloyd said. "For me it's just going out there and competing and giving the team a chance to win every time. And that's been my main goal ever since I got up here. That's all I concentrate on."

The Phillies' starting pitchers had a 3.82 ERA in 2012. A different -- and makeshift cast -- has produced better more than a third through 2013.

"They've been good," Manuel said. "Tyler and Jonathan, they get tested about every time they go out there right now because of their experience and they are kind of new at the major-league level. Kendrick has improved. He's just a better pitcher than he used to be."

Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.