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MIA@PHI: Howard crushes a solo homer in the fourth

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies have their issues, but they very much believe they have time on their side.

It is still early, they say.

Maybe it is or maybe that is dangerous thinking. But this week's four-game series against the moribund Marlins seems like the perfect opportunity to get on a roll. They started on a good note Thursday with a 7-2 victory at Citizens Bank Park.

"You said we're struggling and we're 4 1/2 games back, so that's pretty good," Phillies right fielder Delmon Young said. "If you said we're hot and we're 4 1/2 games back, that would be a bad thing. No one has really taken off yet. That's what happened last year in Detroit. We were picked to win it. We were under .500 most of the year, then we got hot. It's six months. You just want to stay within striking distance. If you can stay within striking distance and be in a pennant race on Sept. 1, you still have a chance to win the division."

But the bright orange Marlins jerseys must have been a welcomed sight after the Indians thrashed the Phillies over two games this week in Cleveland.

The Marlins (8-21) are the worst team in baseball.

"I want us to come out and play like we did," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I don't get caught up in somebody else's record. I think any team can beat you."

Some clutch hits would help. The Phillies (13-16) were 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position this week against the Indians, and 0-for-1 against the Marlins after they stranded Michael Young following a two-out double to center field in the first.

But Domonic Brown hit a solo home run to right field in the second inning to tie the game at 1. It was his fourth homer of the season. Ryan Howard homered to left field in an impressive nine-pitch at-bat in the fourth to make it 2-1. Howard is hitting .326 (14-for-43) with four doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs in his last 12 games.

Erik Kratz turned an 11-pitch at-bat into a leadoff walk in the fifth, which led to two more runs to make it 4-2. The Phillies scored three more runs in the eighth inning to put the game away.

Brown singled to score Howard in the eighth to finish his night 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs. After his averaged dropped to .206 on April 23, Brown is hitting .387 (12-for-31) with two doubles, two homers and seven RBIs in his last eight games.

"I'm going to tell you something," Manuel said about Brown. "He definitely can fit into our offense. I've always said he's going to be a good hitter, if you guys remember. I'm not just saying that because he got some hits tonight. Really. He's got talent to be a good hitter. He's got talent to hit the ball out of the yard."

Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick allowed two runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five in seven innings, halting the Phillies' two-game losing streak. Somebody called him a stopper afterward. It might be too early for that label, but it is worth noting the Phillies have won each of his previous three starts following losses.

Kendrick is 12-10 with a 3.30 ERA in 29 starts from May 5, 2012, through Thursday. He has evolved into a quality pitcher, although some fans still have trouble looking at him that way. Maybe another few good months will change their thinking.

"I've always kind of expected this out of me," Kendrick said. "I know it hasn't been there in the past like I've wanted, the fans have wanted it, my teammates, the coaches, the organization. But I expect this out of me. Hopefully now I can be consistent like that and every time out give us a chance to win the game. That's the main thing as a starting pitcher. I'm feeling comfortable and confident I can do that every time out."

It was important he pitched well Thursday. Anybody can beat anybody, like Manuel said, but the Phillies need to beat bad teams like the Marlins. If they do, maybe they can stay within striking distance in the National League East, like Delmon Young said. And then who knows what might happen?

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