A.J. Burnett pitches eight shutout innings as Phillies blank Diamondbacks, 2-0
PHOENIX - Wil Nieves smiled as he continued to answer a handful of reporters' questions and his starting pitcher approached in the background. Without saying a word, Nieves motioned to A.J. Burnett.
The hair product that the catcher and pitcher apparently share was in Nieves' bathroom bag. Burnett returned minutes later, placed it back in the bag and nodded toward his catcher, who was still talking to the media.
The Phillies' batterymates didn't have to speak a word to each other. They worked that well during the game, too.
Burnett threw eight shutout innings with Nieves behind the plate, continuing his dominant effort since being diagnosed with a hernia, as the Phillies wrapped up their western trip with a 2-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday.
"It was definitely a good day," Burnett said. "He put down the fingers, I shook him [off] maybe one or two times. We were definitely on track."
The Phillies have won four straight Burnett starts. They have won all five games Nieves has started this season.
In the last two games the duo has started together, Burnett has posted 15 shutout innings.
"I want to keep that streak going," Nieves said. "I've caught three shutouts [this season], so now they were telling me, 'We're going to expect more of them.' I set the bar really high."
After getting swept in their first series at home 3 weeks ago to Milwaukee (baseball's best team) and losing two out of three to Atlanta (baseball's second-best team) before leaving town, the Phils went an impressive 6-4 on their trip through Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix. After beginning the trip with back-to-back ugly losses at Coors Field, the Phillies won six of their last eight games.
The Phillies (13-12) return home with a winning record for the first time since the first week of the season.
"It ended up being a good trip," manager Ryne Sandberg said.
"Overall, I think we're playing pretty good baseball," said Chase Utley, who drove in the game's first run with a one-out single in the first inning. "We can definitely get better in all areas. But I think this was a decent read trip. Losing the first two and then coming back and winning the majority of the rest of them, it's pretty good."
Hours before yesterday afternoon's game at Chase Field, several people sat in the visiting dugout and talked baseball, and, more specifically, how well more than a couple of free-agent pitchers who had signed short-term deals were performing in the season's first month.
Tim Hudson had a 2.19 ERA after five starts with the San Francisco Giants, Scott Kazmir was 3-0 with 1.62 ERA in his first five starts with Oakland and Bartolo Colon had one clunker but four other solid starts with the New York Mets.
"And they're all old," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said with a smirk.
Amaro, of course, took plenty of grief for attempting to fix two season's worth of decline from his aging team by adding older players this winter.
He signed 36-year-old Marlon Byrd in November, and Byrd instantly became his oldest everyday player. He signed Burnett in February; Burnett, 37, became the oldest pitcher on his 40-man roster at the time. In between, Amaro signed the 36-year-old Nieves to be his backup catcher in December.
All three are older than Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies got positive production from their new old players in the road-trip finale.
After Utley led off the sixth inning with a double, Byrd followed two batters later by bouncing a ball to the hole between third base and shortstop. Arizona shortstop Chris Owings stabbed the ball and prevented it from going into the outfield, but then made an ill-advised throw to third; the ball never made it to third baseman Martin Prado's glove and Utley easily scored.
But the insurance run was hardly needed. Burnett was that good.
He worked in unison with Nieves and got the most out of his perennially unhittable curveball. Burnett struck out eight batters, walked none and allowed five hits.
"He threw everything for strikes," Nieves said.
"He pitched outstanding," Utley said.
Burnett, who signed a 1-year, $16 million deal, improved to 1-1 with a 2.15 ERA. His ERA ranks 14th in the National League.
Since being diagnosed with an inguinal hernia 2 weeks ago, Burnett has a 0.83 ERA in three starts and the Phillies have won all three games.
"With mechanics, it just shortened up his stride a little bit," Sandberg said of the injury's effect. "He seems to be under control and better command of the strike zone. It's been a blessing for him."
Sandberg made a brief trip to the mound in the eighth to get a gauge on how his pitcher felt after giving up a two-out double. Sandberg let Burnett finish the inning, which the pitcher was able to do with just five more pitches.
"A.J. just doesn't get flustered with any men on base," Sandberg said. "He just pitches, battles and competes. And maybe takes it up a notch, makes quality pitches."
A week earlier, the Phillies had lost four of five games and showed up at Coors Field hoping to avoid a sweep. They did so by outhitting baseball's best offensive team, the Colorado Rockies.
The Phillies kept on winning when they trekked further west, thanks to timely hitting, strong defense and, most of all, consistent starting pitching. After two of their starters failed to go more than four innings at Coors Field, they all pitched into the sixth inning in LA and Phoenix.
Phillies starters had a 2.91 ERA in the final seven games of the trip.
Burnett received a much-deserved first win of the season when Jonathan Papelbon pitched a one-hit ninth inning for his eighth straight save. He hasn't allowed a run on 10 straight appearances.
"Good 'W,' " Burnett said. "Happy flight."
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21