PHILADELPHIA — Ryan Howard walked up to the plate to a loud standing ovation and drove the second pitch he saw deep to right-center for a double.
With all their regulars back, it was just like old times for the Philadelphia Phillies. Except the end result.
Brian McCann hit a grand slam, Tim Hudson tossed four-hit ball over seven innings and the Atlanta Braves beat the struggling Phillies 5-0 to spoil Howard’s season debut Friday night.
“It felt good, but the outcome didn’t go the way we wanted it,” Howard said.
Howard was 2-for-4 in his first game since rupturing his left Achilles tendon on the final swing in a postseason elimination loss to St. Louis last October. But the last-place Phillies generated nothing else on offense.
The five-time defending NL East champions are a season-worst 11 games under .500. Since five-time All-Star Chase Utley returned last week, the Phillies are 1-8.
“We still control our own destiny,” Howard said. “We have to go out and win series. If we can do that, we’ll find ourselves in the mix.”
Hudson (7-4) nearly went pitch-for-pitch with Kyle Kendrick, who also threw seven scoreless innings and allowed four hits. Kendrick had five strikeouts; Hudson had none. But Hudson got the W.
“Today was probably the best I felt through this whole process,” Hudson said. “I felt like my fastball, velocity-wise, was pretty close to normal. I know for the last three or four starts, I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence to really let it go.”
Antonio Bastardo (2-3) replaced Kendrick to start the eighth and immediately ran into trouble. Pinch-hitter Matt Diaz led off with a single and Michael Bourn walked. After Martin Prado hit a shallow fly and Jason Heyward popped out, Chipper Jones walked to load the bases. Freddie Freeman then walked to force in the first run.
McCann followed with a shot to straightaway center for his ninth career slam, giving the Braves a 5-0 lead.
“I love hitting with the bases loaded because they have to come at you,” McCann said. “They really can’t walk you. It’s definitely a good feeling to stand in the box and know they have to come see you.”
Kendrick warmed up to force Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez’s hand. But manager Charlie Manuel went with Bastardo after left-handed hitting Juan Francisco was announced as a pinch-hitter.
“Bastardo’s been our eighth-inning guy,” Manuel said. “We wanted him on the lefties. It didn’t work out.”
Kendrick wanted to stay in.
“It’s his move. I respect it,” Kendrick said.
Bastardo left the mound to a chorus of boos from frustrated fans, who’ve watched the NL’s highest-paid team underachieve all season. Injuries, of course, have been a factor.
Utley missed 76 games. Howard, the 2006 NL MVP, missed 84. Roy Halladay hasn’t pitched since May.
Even with the addition of a second wild-card team, it’ll take a monumental turnaround for these Phillies to reach the postseason for a sixth straight year.
Howard easily made it to second base standing after hitting a high drive to the warning track to lead off the second. But he stayed there. Carlos Ruiz flied out to shallow right, and Hunter Pence and Juan Pierre grounded out.
Hudson ran into trouble after needing nine pitches to retire Kendrick for the second out in the sixth. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino followed with consecutive singles, getting a runner to third base for the first time for either team. But Utley hit a slow tapper to first to end the inning.
Kendrick worked out of a jam in the seventh after Jones and Freeman started with singles. McCann was called out on strikes, Dan Uggla fouled out and Andrelton Simmons grounded out.
Kendrick was 0-4 with a 7.67 ERA in his previous five starts.
NOTES: Jones extended his hitting streak to 12. ... With Howard missing from the lineup, Manuel tried six different cleanup hitters. Pence (43 games) and Ruiz (23) were most used in that spot. ... Kendrick remains 6-1 vs. Atlanta. ... Howard has six homers in 55 career at-bats against Hudson. ... Uggla, the NL starting 2B in the All-Star games, was dropped to seventh in the batting order. He went 0 for 3 and is hitting .223. ... Howard isn’t slated to start on Saturday, but should return to the lineup Sunday. Utley may start three straight games for first time since returning. ... The Phillies had their 262nd straight sellout, counting postseason. ... Tommy Hanson (9-5, 3.70) starts for the Braves against Philadelphia’s Joe Blanton (7-7, 4.85) on Saturday night.