PITTSBURGH - The Phillies are 23-14 when they score first and dropped to 14-35 when the opponent scores first after Friday's 8-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

The Pirates jumped on starter Roberto Hernandez for four first-inning runs.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said afterward that in any game, it's huge to score first.

"You need that momentum on your side," Howard said. "It puts the other team on their heels a little bit."

Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg was asked if he thought the energy was sapped out of his team after that first inning in which Hernandez threw 45 pitches.

"In the first inning, I did," Sandberg said.

Howard said that playing with a lead can relax a team.

"You can get a little more comfortable and feel a little more confident as a pitcher once you are able to go out there with a lead," he said.

Conversely, frequently playing from behind can be an exercise in frustration.

"With the way things have gone this year, it's even tougher, there is no dancing around it," Howard said. "It's a tough situation to be in when you are scratching and clawing and trying to win games."

Rumor mill

Phillies righthander A.J. Burnett was a popular player in his previous two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, so it was no surprise that he was in demand when the Phillies made their first appearance at PNC Park Friday.

Burnett, who helped the Pirates earn a playoff spot last season, will pitch in Sunday's game against Jeff Locke.

While saying that it was special to come back, Burnett wasn't as comfortable when asked about a rumor that he could return to the Pirates if the Phillies go into selling mode.

When asked about that possibility, Burnett had a predictable answer.

"I don't have any thoughts on that," he said. "I am in Philly right now and that is where my mind is."

Catching update

Carlos Ruiz continues to make a slow recovery from a concussion suffered on June 26, but Sandberg said there has been some improvement.

"Chooch is coming along slowly, maybe about 30 percent better on tests, some light tests," Sandberg said before Friday's game.

Sandberg said Ruiz will continue to be evaluated and will be tested again on Monday.

"He has been showing improvement the last couple of days," the manager said.

Phillies backup catcher Wil Nieves, recovering from a strained right quadriceps, played in his third rehab game on Friday for Gulf Coast League Phillies. Nieves went 0 for 3 as a DH and is now 2 for 10 in three games.

"Will has a playing schedule from now through the 7th or 8th of [getting] at-bats," Sandberg said. "He is still hampered on running at full strength, but he has caught some innings and DH'ed."

Nieves has caught one game and been a DH in the other two.

Tough play

In the second inning, Phillies leftfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. and centerfielder Ben Revere collided on what turned out to be triple by Andrew McCutchen.

"When the ball got there, that is when we heard each other and we tried to stop in the middle and it was already too late," Revere said.

Brown's back

Domonic Brown returned after missing two games while on paternity leave. Brown grounded out as a pinch-hitter to end the game. In a corresponding move, outfielder Aaron Altherr was optioned back to Reading.