The Miami Marlins are hoping a win over the defending World Series champions will help them turn a corner.
Seeking back-to-back victories for the first time in nearly a month, Miami sends Josh Johnson to the hill opposite Lee as these NL East rivals open a three-game set Friday night at Marlins Park.
While Miami (35-40) was eight games above .500 and just percentage points behind division-leading Washington as recently as June 3, it's been a very different story since. The Marlins have been outscored 136-65 and hit .191 with runners in scoring position during a 4-17 skid.
Miami, though, is coming off the most recent of those wins, salvaging Wednesday's series finale against St. Louis with a 5-3 victory. John Buck and pinch-hitter Logan Morrison hit back-to-back homers in the seventh to put Miami ahead for good.
"Any time you beat the Cardinals, it's a good win especially when they're playing that well," Buck said. "Hopefully it can be momentum we can build on and start our own little stretch here."
While Miami likely wouldn't normally be looking forward to a matchup with Lee (0-4, 3.72 ERA), the 2008 AL Cy Young winner hasn't been nearly as sharp as in years past. The left-hander has especially struggled in his last three outings, compiling a 6.30 ERA and a .309 opponents' batting average.
Lee gave up a season worst-tying five runs and struck out nine over seven innings of a 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay in the nightcap of Sunday's doubleheader.
"It's not like his stuff is not there, because it is," manager Charlie Manuel told MLB's official website. "His stuff is there. He's very capable of pitching much better than that, we know that, but it's just one of those things. It's hard for me to explain that."
Lee, however, has been superb in his last two starts versus Miami. He threw a two-hitter during a 3-0 win June 16, 2011, then fanned 12 over nine innings of one-run ball in a 2-1, 10-inning victory Sept. 15.
Johnson (4-5, 3.96), meanwhile, appears to have found his groove. He is 4-2 with a 2.56 ERA in his last nine starts and was very good in his most recent appearance. The right-hander gave up one run, two hits and struck out seven in as many innings Saturday but didn't factor in the decision of a 7-1 loss to Toronto.
"J.J. battled today like the ace he is," center fielder Justin Ruggiano said. " ... He deserved a win here. I know all of us on the field wanted to give it to him."
Johnson has experienced mixed results against Philadelphia (36-42) of late, going 1-3 with a 4.08 ERA over his last six starts in the series. He's allowed one earned run total in half those outings and a combined 15 in the other three - including six and a career-worst 11 hits over 3 2-3 innings during a 7-1 loss at Citizens Bank Park on April 11.
Johnson could post better results this time around against a Phillies club that went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position during Thursday's 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh.
"We definitely had chances to win the game, but couldn't get the big hit," said Manuel, whose club has dropped six of eight on the road.
Chase Utley was held out as a precaution Thursday after going 3 for 5 and homering in his first at-bat during his season debut the night before. He's expected back in the starting lineup in this game.
|June 25, 2012||Brian Schneider||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle - out 3-5 weeks|
|June 07, 2012||Freddy Galvis||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|June 05, 2012||Placido Polanco||Day-to-Day||Left game - left index finger laceration|
|June 02, 2012||Jose Contreras||60-Day DL||Torn UCL, right elbow - out for season|
|May 28, 2012||Roy Halladay||15-Day DL||Right latissimus dorsi strain|
|May 16, 2012||Placido Polanco||Day-to-Day||Left knee contusion|
|June 16, 2012||Sandy Rosario||15-Day DL||Strained right quad|
|May 23, 2012||Austin Kearns||15-Day DL||Strained right hamstring|
|May 23, 2012||Austin Kearns||15-Day DL||Strained right hamstring|
|May 19, 2012||Emilio Bonifacio||15-Day DL||Left thumb sprain|
|May 18, 2012||Emilio Bonifacio||Day-to-Day||Left game - left thumb sprain|
|May 04, 2012||Logan Morrison||Day-to-Day||Right knee soreness|
MIAMI (AP) -- With the way he's pitching these days, Josh Johnson needs very little run support.
Johnson (5-5) pitched six strong innings to help the Miami Marlins win consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month and keep Cliff Lee winless with a 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.
Johnson wrapped up June with a 2-2 record and 1.87 ERA in five starts.
"He's our ace for a reason," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Johnson (5-5) allowed one run and four hits while striking out six. He threw 69 of 108 pitches for strikes.
"This month wasn't the best pitching-wise, but someone had to step up and try to help the bullpen out a little bit," Johnson said.
Justin Ruggiano tied a career high with three hits and drove in two runs for Miami, which last won consecutive games June 2-3 at Philadelphia. The Marlins were 4-17 since.
"I didn't think we had back-to-back wins since spring training," Guillen said. "It seems like we're coming around little by little."
Lee (0-5) allowed six runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings, falling to 0-2 with a 7.30 ERA in his last four starts.
"It was just weird," Lee said. "It seemed everything they hit went between third and short. They got a lot of hits. It was one of those nights. I can't really explain it."
Hunter Pence homered for the Phillies, who played for the first time at the new Marlins Park.
"Nice, real nice," said Phillies left fielder Juan Pierre , a former Marlin. "They did a real good job with it. The fans are in here and it's loud, that's for sure. Miami deserves to have a stadium."
It was Ruggiano's first three-hit game since June 12, 2011, at Baltimore while with Tampa Bay, and the third of his career.
"He rakes," Johnson said. "We were talking about it after his third hit, he never stops hitting."
Jose Reyes doubled to lead off the bottom of the first inning for the Marlins and scored on a groundout by Logan Morrison .
"When you jump up 1-0 with J.J. on the mound, it is a different ballgame," Guillen said.
The Marlins strung together four straight hits in the third including an RBI single by Giancarlo Stanton . Omar Infante 's sacrifice fly pushed the lead to 3-0.
Pence cut the deficit to 3-1 with his 15th homer over the right-field fence.
"Johnson was good tonight," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Johnson's a good pitcher. Give him credit, too, but at the same time, we scored one run off him and we didn't play well enough to win."
Ruggiano's two-run double followed by John Buck 's RBI single ended Lee's outing.
"Anytime you can get a couple runs extra on the board, it allows everyone to relax a little bit and take a breath," Ruggiano said.
Pence added an RBI single in the ninth.
NOTES: Ruggiano leads the Marlins with a .396 batting average (19 for 48) in June. ... Pence is batting .462 (12 for 26) with three home runs and seven RBIs in seven games against the Marlins this season. .... Marlins RHP Edward Mujica took a grounder off his right foot in the seventh inning and will get an X-ray. ... Phillies 1B Ryan Howard (left Achilles) played in his first rehab game on Thursday with Single-A Lakewood and went 2 for 4 with three RBIs. ... Philadelphia will send LHP Cole Hamels (10-3, 3.03 ERA) to the mound on Saturday to face Marlins LHP Mark Buehrle (6-8, 3.55 ERA), who is 3-2 in five starts against the Phillies. Hamels is 6-9 in 21 starts against Miami.