Howard's two-run homer, Kendrick's pitching power Phillies

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A couple of days out of the starting lineup might have been just what Ryan Howard needed.

The slumping Phillies slugger homered as part of a five-run first inning, and Kyle Kendrick pitched into the eighth to help Philadelphia beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-4 on Saturday night.

The Phillies have won three straight and six of seven.

Pirates starter Matt Morris retired the first two hitters he faced, but the next seven reached safely. Chase Utley started things off with a single to right field and Howard followed with his fifth home run of the season to deep center.

"The velocity just wasn't there to get it by him," Morris said of the four-seam fastball he tried to sneak past Howard. "I left the (pitch) up, and he did what he does best. Even though he's struggling, you knew it wouldn't be for long."

Howard had been relegated to pinch-hitting duties as he works his way out of an offensive slump. He finished 1-for-4 with a walk and two strike outs, and is hitting .178 with 37 strike outs in 90 at-bats this season.

"I felt pretty good today at the plate with seeing pitches and running the count," Howard said. "All-in-all, it was positive. I'll definitely take the home run."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Howard's timing has improved during batting practice.

"The ball has been jumping off his bat better," Manuel said. "The home run he hit, the pitch was close to him. That's what he needs to do, let the ball get close to him. He'll get it. He's coming around."

Eric Bruntlett added a run-scoring single in the first, and two errors by Pittsburgh led to the other two runs.

Philadelphia made it 6-0 in the second when Geoff Jenkins' two-out single scored Utley, ending Morris' night. It was the second game in a row the Phillies jumped out to a 6-0 lead on the Pirates.

Morris (0-4) needed 49 pitches to get out of the first, and wound up yielding six runs and six hits with a walk and a strikeout. Morris has a 9.67 ERA and has struggled in all five of his starts this season, raising the question of whether he will remain in Pittsburgh's rotation.

"To make that decision tonight wouldn't be fair," Pirates manager John Russell said. "It was a tough outing for him. His command wasn't where it needs to be. When you leave the ball up, you're going to get hit, especially against a team like Philadelphia."

Kendrick (2-2) allowed four runs and seven hits before being removed after allowing Nate McLouth's home run and a single to Freddy Sanchez leading off the eighth. Kendrick walked none and struck out two, winning for the first time since his first start of the season April 4 against Cincinnati.

"It was huge for us to get that big lead and for me to go out there and not mess it up," Kendrick said. "I made up my mind, after we put up five in the first, that I was going to go out there and attack the hitters. The most important inning for me was the first. I didn't want to go out there and give up a couple of runs."

Manuel was happy with his pitcher's aggressiveness.

"He did a good job," Manuel said. "He might have gotten a little tired in the end. They jumped on first pitches in the eighth. I thought he might give us eight innings tonight."

McLouth, who had a 19-game hitting streak stopped Tuesday, broke out of an 0-for-15 slump with an RBI single in the third. He finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

Game notes
Howard's homer was the first of his career against Pittsburgh. He's now homered against every major league team he's faced. ... Utley went 2-for-4 with a walk and has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games. ... Pittsburgh's Xavier Nady doubled in the fourth and has now hit in 14 straight games.