Location issues hurt Lilly in loss to Phils
Lefty allows pair of two-run shots, while Hamels stifles Cubs
PHILADELPHIA -- Location, location, location. Ted Lilly can't seem to get his pitches to go where he wants.
Pedro Feliz and Ryan Howard each hit two-run homers off Lilly, and Cole Hamels held Chicago to one hit over seven innings as the Phillies posted a 7-1 victory over the Cubs on Saturday night.
"We didn't do much," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We didn't do much hitting, we didn't do much pitching."
Lilly (0-2) did not have a good spring, and he's having the same recurring nightmare -- bad location. Against the Phillies, he served up five runs on seven hits and two walks over 4 1/3 innings, and his ERA jumped to 9.95. Piniella has talked to Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
"I don't think there's a definitive answer," Piniella said.
Lilly has yet to pitch past the fifth inning in his three starts this year. Last season, he didn't go five in just three games, but only once was that because of his performance. He was ousted after two-thirds of an inning June 10 at Atlanta when he was ejected, and pulled after two innings Sept. 30 against Cincinnati because the start was to prepare him for the postseason.
"Every start so far, I can say the same thing," Lilly said. "One thing you can look at on tape that I've been able to see is inconsistency in location on the pitches. Even if I walk a guy in a certain situation, that's not the concerning thing. I'm giving up a lot of hits and leaving balls over the middle of the plate. That's the thing I would put as the No. 1 issue I have going on right now."
Spring didn't go well for Lilly, either.
"No, but I felt good out of spring," he said. "It was kind of the same thing and my location was inconsistent. I definitely had the expectations that I could get to where I needed to be and I'm certainly still not there.
"We're 15, 16, 17 games into the season and I haven't contributed yet," he said. "It's definitely getting frustrating at this point. After three opportunities to help us out, I haven't done that yet. It's a long four days between starts."
In the Cubs' six wins so far, the starting pitcher has picked up the win twice -- Ryan Dempster did so April 3 against Milwaukee, and Carlos Zambrano won April 6 against Houston. Meanwhile, relievers Jon Lieber and Kevin Hart have two wins apiece. Chicago's starters have a combined ERA of 4.68.
"My expectations were very high going into the season," Lilly said. "I felt I'd prepared myself well."
What does Lilly do now to correct things?
"I think just trying to work on the side, and try to get back to where I was mechanically, to where I was locating my fastball more consistently than I am now, that's what's next," he said. "It's a tough game. I can't go out there and throw four bullpens between my starts. I wish I could. It doesn't work that way."
Last year, Lilly posted 20 quality starts out of his 34 games, and matched a career high with 15 wins. He didn't have a slump like this in 2007. Batters now are hitting .333 off him.
"I've definitely had some tough stretches, as we all do," Lilly said. "It seems like it's been too long at this point."
Hamels (2-1) cruised, and the only hit off him was a double by Derrek Lee with one out in the fourth. The Phillies lefty struck out five, and walked Ryan Theriot with one out in the third, and Lee leading off the seventh. In his last three career starts against the Cubs, Hamels has given up three earned runs over 22 innings, and is 3-0.
"He's very good -- he's got a very good changeup," said Alfonso Soriano of Hamels. "We have a very good lineup, and we only got one hit. You have to give credit to him."
Soriano did collect an RBI single, but it was off Ryan Madson in the eighth. It was too little, too late.
"When [Hamels] got out, I thought maybe we had a chance to do something," Soriano said. "We didn't play very good today, we didn't hit today."
Lilly walked Pat Burrell to start the Phillies second, and Feliz followed with his second homer off a 1-0 pitch to take a 2-0 lead. Philadelphia loaded the bases but Lilly got Chase Utley on a popup to end the inning.
Shane Victorino singled to open the fifth, and one out later, reached third on Utley's double down the right-field line. Victorino scored on a wild pitch by Lilly to make it 3-0, and Howard launched a towering home run to go ahead 5-0.
"They hit him," Piniella said of Lilly. "He's got to locate better."
Lilly fell behind in the count to Howard with his changeup, and tried to get the Phillies slugger out with a two-strike fastball, but he was able to pull his hands in and drive the ball.
"It wasn't a good pitch, but it was almost so bad of a pitch that I was hoping he'd pop it up," Lilly said. "I think we've all seen him hit some of those balls before. That's what guys like him do when pitchers leave pitches like that out over the plate."
The Cubs, who came into this series riding a five-game winning streak, now find themselves trying to avoid being swept.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.