PITTSBURGH - The Phillies signed Chad Qualls in the winter because they valued his durability; no pitcher has appeared in more games since 2005 than the 33-year-old righthander.
But three games into the season, Qualls is sidelined by a nebulous right heel injury he could barely describe, which only complicated the Phillies' middle-relief puzzle in Sunday's 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Qualls said it felt like a "knife was going at the back of my heel" when he was walking around in his spikes Saturday afternoon. He informed the team's training staff of the injury, but still pitched a scoreless inning Saturday night.
He does not know when he suffered the injury or what it is. He plans to see a doctor Monday once the team returns to Philadelphia.
"I really couldn't move too well," Qualls said. "It was really bugging me when I walked, so they were just trying to stay away from me. Hopefully, it's nothing too big. If I had to, I could have gone out there and thrown. It's early in the season; I think they just want to be cautionary."
Qualls pointed to the back of his heel, where there wasn't much swelling, but the bone was causing pain.
"But I never really banged it, so it's weird," he said. "They're just being cautious right now."
Without Qualls, the Phillies were forced to use Michael Stutes, Kyle Kendrick, and Antonio Bastardo each on back-to-back days. It was only the second time in Kendrick's career that he pitched on consecutive days.
Bastardo inherited the run that tied the game in the eighth inning. Charlie Manuel said Bastardo seems to be taking longer than usual between pitches, but he also said that, to his knowledge, the lefthander is healthy.
"He doesn't have the ride on the fastball like last year," the manager said.
But Manuel said it is just a matter of finding it. "It's there," he said.
"He threw fine," pitching coach Rich Dubee said.
The first and only ball of the day hit Jim Thome's way came in the fourth inning. He fielded it cleanly, tossed to second, and stood on first base to receive the relay to complete a 3-6-3 double play.
"That was good," Thome said.
It was an understatement; Thome was more than competent during his first start in the field since 2007. He played six innings Sunday and said he "absolutely" could have played longer.
Thome will not start the home opener Monday.
"It's good to be back out there," he said. "I wish we could have won the ball game, but that's part of it. All in all, I felt good."
Dubee said the reports on Jose Contreras, who threw seven pitches in a scoreless inning Saturday for single-A Clearwater, were favorable. Contreras will pitch again Monday. He is eligible to be activated from the disabled list before Wednesday's game, but it's unlikely the Phillies will opt for that move.
The team has been cautious with Contreras as the 40-year-old builds arm strength after September elbow surgery. Dubee has said he wants to see Contreras throw on back-to-back days before returning to the majors.
Freddy Galvis walked and scored a run but remains hitless (0 for 10) in his brief career. . . . Thome's start meant the Phillies started different first basemen in their first three games. That hadn't happened since 1977, when Danny Ozark's Phillies started Tom Hutton, Bobby Tolan, and Dane Iorg at first. . . . Scott Podsednik is scheduled to report to triple-A Lehigh Valley on Monday after taking time to tend to personal issues.
Contact Matt Gelb at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @magelb on Twitter.
Daily News staff writer David Murphy contributed to this report.