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CIN@PHI: Asche drills three-run homer, pads late lead

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies had looked lifeless on the field and frustrated in the clubhouse for much of the month of May.

Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel often and correctly mentioned it is impossible for a team to look energetic when the offense is not scoring runs. Can anybody truly name a lively team that suffers four shutout losses in a 10-game span, like the Phillies did before this weekend's games against the Reds at Citizens Bank Park?

But after a 12-run outburst in a victory on Saturday and an 8-3 victory on Sunday, the Phillies have won a series and hope they have awoken an offense that must score more runs consistently to help them get back to .500 and climb into postseason contention in the National League.

"I think we've seen glimpses of it," Phillies third baseman Cody Asche said about the team's offensive potential. "I think you just saw in the last two days what can happen when we put together all three phases of the game, pitching and defense and our offense. We have been missing a piece or two here or there a couple games, and dropped a couple tough ones. But I think you saw the potential of the team, not just the offense."

Potential is an intangible thing. Home runs are tangible. The Phillies finally showed some power this weekend. They hit just three home runs in that 10-game span, in which they went 2-8 and scored just 26 runs.

They hit six homers and scored 20 runs the last two days and won both games.

It is not a coincidence.

"Potentially, with some warmer weather," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said, when asked if his team can hit for more power. "But we have potential up and down the lineup with guys getting hot, and hopefully that continues."

The Phillies' pitching staff certainly would welcome more power from the offense. Left-hander Cliff Lee allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in five of seven innings as he battled throughout the afternoon, but he enjoyed some rare run support to improve to 4-4.

"It's definitely easier to pitch with a lead," Lee said. "It's easier to attack the strike zone. You can use a little more of the plate and not worry too much if you give up a solo homer. It's not going to hurt you as bad. Whether it's a close game or a low-scoring game, every pitch is important. Not that it's not with a lead, but there's just definitely more room for error and you can get away with a couple more mistakes."

The Reds took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but the Phillies struck back immediately in the bottom of the inning to tie the game.

Jimmy Rollins, hitting first in the Phillies' lineup for the third consecutive game, hit a home run to left field to make it 2-1. It was the 46th leadoff homer of his career. Wil Nieves, hitting higher than sixth in a starting lineup for the first time in his career, followed with a homer to left field. It was Nieves' first homer of the season and ninth of his career.

It also was the first time the Phillies hit back-to-back home runs to start a game since Sept. 9, 2004, at Turner Field, where Rollins and Placido Polanco homered against Braves right-hander Russ Ortiz.

"I like it," Nieves said about hitting second. "It caught me by surprise, but it's always good to be hitting in front of good hitters in the lineup. I've done it before in my career and I like it. I like hit-and-runs and things ... so I was happy to see that."

The Phillies took a 3-2 lead in the fifth, when Lee hit a leadoff single to left and advanced to second when Reds third baseman Todd Frazier could not handle a ball Rollins smashed at him. Nieves' sacrifice bunt advanced runners to second and third, and Chase Utley's fielder's choice to first base scored Lee.

Marlon Byrd's solo homer to right in the sixth -- his fifth homer of the season -- made it 4-2.

The Phillies broke open the game in the seventh when Byrd singled to center to score Rollins and Asche followed with a three-run home run to right field. Asche is hitting .333 (16-for-48) with five doubles, three home runs, 12 RBIs and a 1.043 OPS in 14 games in May.

"I just think good at-bats are contagious, really, up and down the lineup," Asche said. "You saw that the last two days. Guys are just putting together really good at-bats."

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