A day after leaving Cincinnati having lost three of four games to the club they are chasing in the National League Wild Card hunt, the D-backs will head to Philadelphia to begin a weekend set against the Phillies on Friday -- 1990's Retro Night at Citizens Bank Park.
Unfortunately for Arizona, things won't be any easier just because the club is facing a team out of the playoff picture. The Phillies will send ace Cole Hamels to the mound in the opener.
Since finishing June with a 4.58 ERA, Hamels has been dominant over the last two months, boasting a 2.57 ERA in July and a minuscule 1.45 ERA through four starts in August.
The only knock against the 29-year-old of late is that he hasn't been winning very many games, not that the lack of victories is his fault. Although he has surrendered just five runs in 31 innings this month, Hamels has only one win to show for the effort. In his last outing, the southpaw held the hottest team in baseball, the Dodgers, to two runs over seven innings, but the Phillies only managed to give him a pair of runs of support.
Still, Hamels has gone at least six innings in 13 of his last 14 outings, and has a 2.66 ERA in that span.
"I guess they're getting back to normal," Hamels said about his numbers. "That's kind of the thing in baseball -- you have to keep pushing yourself. You can't be satisfied with what's gone on in the past. You have to keep preparing for the next game and you have to keep expecting to do things well."
Hamels took a hard-luck loss earlier this season vs. the D-backs back on May 9, limiting the Snakes to two runs in six innings of work as the Phillies lost, 2-1.
Countering Hamels for Arizona on Friday will be another left-hander in Wade Miley, who has been just as good as his counterpart in July and August. The 26-year-old has a 2.06 ERA over the last two months and has won five of his last six decisions.
Miley pitched well enough to win his last time out against the Pirates, working eight strong frames and allowing just two earned runs, but was left with a no-decision as the game went 16 innings.
"He has really simplified things," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said of Miley recent stretch. "He got in a spot earlier where he was overthinking and he couldn't control the ball. Now he's just throwing the ball where he wants to more."
Phillies: Howard likely out until 2014
Interim manager Ryne Sandberg said on Thursday that it would be "counterproductive" to hurry first baseman Ryan Howard back into action this season. The slugger had left knee surgery in July. Sandberg said he expects Howard to return for Spring Training.
"You don't want any fallbacks or anything," Sandberg said. "I think until he gets into baseball shape, which is not going to happen between now and the middle of September or the end of September ... we'll have him get in baseball shape."
• New addition Roger Bernadina got his first start with the Phillies on Thursday, a day after he made his team debut in a pinch-hit appearance. Philadelphia signed the outfielder on Wednesday, two days after the Nationals released him.
Bernadina went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Thursday.
"He's an athletic guy with ability and tools and also has the ability to play in center field," Sandberg said. "He'll get his opportunity, and he'll get a good look. With the way things are set up here personnel-wise, he needs to look at that as an opportunity to show what he can do."
D-backs: Parra gets glove help
When Gerardo Parra gets a new glove, the outfielder enlists help from an unusual suspect to help break it in: Miley.
"He likes to break in my gloves," Parra said. "I tell him what I like and he does it. I like his attitude, everything with him is positive. Everything he does is positive."
Parra likes to have the thumb of his glove flared out a bit and a deep pocket. He explained that to Miley last year and was pleased with the result. Miley said he has no secret to breaking in gloves. He just takes it into the batting cage located behind the D-backs' dugout and plays catch with the pitching machine, nicknamed "Iron Mike."
"I just go in there and start letting it sling baseballs at me, and I just catch them," Miley said. "I do stand to the side just to be safe, because you never know what you're getting out of 'Iron Mike' sometimes."
• The Phillies have lost 16 of their last 17 games in which they've scored three runs or fewer.
• The D-backs are 27-16 in one-run games, but one of the losses came on Thursday to the Reds.
• The Phillies are 4-3 since Sandberg took over as interim manager.
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.