LOS ANGELES -- The Phillies are a better team with Cole Hamels on the mound, no question about it.
It should show over the next five months.
It showed after he left Wednesday night's 5-2 loss to the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium following the sixth inning. He had thrown just 86 pitches, but Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said he had pitched enough in his 2014 debut and handed the game to a bullpen that finished the night with the highest ERA in the Majors.
A close game turned into a three-run loss.
"I had plenty in the tank," Hamels said. "It was [surprising]. I don't make the decisions. I just have to go out there and pitch, and not really think about, oh, I've hit a certain pitch count, or this is the pitch count for me. It's just going out there and trying to be competitive and trying to keep the team in the ballgame."
Sandberg recently said Hamels would have no restrictions in his start.
"Well, no restrictions, but also first time out, he did his job right there," Sandberg said.
Hamels believed he could have pitched deeper and said he politicked for the opportunity.
"I guess as much as I'm allowed to," he said.
"I've been good to go for the last month," he said. "Every time I go out there I'm able to go a little bit beyond the pitch count they had set forth for all the rehab starts. Therefore I know when I was able to pitch today, I was able to go up to 100, 105. But that's their decision and I have to abide by it."
The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Matt Kemp doubled, advanced to third on a single from Scott Van Slyke and scored on Juan Uribe's sacrifice fly. The Phillies tied the game against Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke in the fourth when Jimmy Rollins doubled, advanced to third on a groundout by Chase Utley and scored on Ryan Howard's single to left.
Howard continues to swing a hot bat, extending his hitting streak to five games. He entered the night with an .880 OPS, which ranked 35th out of 199 qualifying hitters.
"I didn't try to keep him from scoring," said Greinke, who allowed five hits, two runs, one walk and struck out 11 in seven-plus innings. "As long as you limit it to one run, it's not that big a deal. That's the mindset, and it's been working."
Hamels struck out the first two batters he faced in the fifth, then allowed a single to right to Drew Butera on a 1-2 fastball. Butera entered the plate appearance just 2-for-15 this season. Hamels then walked Greinke on five pitches, which sent Yasiel Puig to the plate. Puig struck out in his previous two at-bats, but hit a first-pitch fastball to left field to score Butera to make it 2-1.
"You can't walk the pitcher," Hamels said. "I understand Greinke is a good hitter, but you have to let him hit his way on. You can never walk the pitcher. And that decided the ballgame. It set up what transpired over the next inning and not being able to … it racked up the pitch count."
Maybe if Hamels had an easier fifth he would have been sent back out for the seventh, instead of the bullpen. Phillies right-hander Jeff Manship entered Spring Training as a non-roster invitee on a Minor League contract, but he is one of just two remaining right-handers from the Opening Day bullpen, with Brad Lincoln outrighted and Justin De Fratus and B.J. Rosenberg optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Not having reliable right-handed relievers has hamstrung Sandberg.
"That's how it's gone so far with three guys not being here right now," he said.
Manship allowed a two-out double to Greinke and a triple to Puig to make it 3-1. He left with a 7.94 ERA in seven appearances. The run looked bigger after Jayson Nix hit a solo homer to left-center in the eighth to make it 3-2. Phillies left-hander Mario Hollands and right-hander Shawn Camp then combined to allow two runs in the eighth to make it 5-2.
The Phillies' bullpen has a 5.64 ERA. It pitched splendidly in Tuesday's 10-inning victory over the Dodgers, but failing to keep games close or hold leads continues to be a problem.
"Everyone has their job, and they all need to be used and there's different situations to use different guys, so it's important for guys to step up," Sandberg said.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.