FIFTH STARTER.

Fifth of five.

That was supposed to be Jonathan Pettibone's job while John Lannan found himself on the disabled list. It is a job with low expectations and, simultaneously, with real meaning - especially for a team like the Phillies, a team that has had so much trouble generating consistent offense and that has been underwater in the standings for weeks.

Pettibone arrived unheralded. No one knew what to expect, not really. When he pitched well in his first game, the Phillies were not even ready to acknowledge immediately that he would get a second start. Then he did - and two starts became three, and three became four, and four became five.

And now he is 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA. And now, with Roy Halladay about to have shoulder surgery, Pettibone is really the fourth starter until Lannan gets back (likely in a couple of weeks). Fifth, fourth, whatever: even for a scuffling baseball team - and, maybe, especially for a scuffling baseball team - this success cannot be ignored.

"All I really wanted to do when I got called up was to give the team an opportunity to win each time I go out there," Pettibone said, after the Phillies beat the Cleveland Indians, 6-2. "I didn't want to try to do too much . . . Just give the team a chance to win, and let the offense and the back of the bullpen take care of the rest."

On Tuesday night against the Indians, Pettibone threw 92 pitches in 6 2/3 innings. He allowed two runs on four hits. He gave up two runs on three hits in the bottom of the second inning. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, two of the runners reaching after being hit by pitches. But it was pretty much flawless after that.

The outing was Pettibone's longest of the season. And as for his demeanor, the 22-year-old continues to impress with his overall calm.

"He pitched a good game," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He kept his composure, threw his fastball on both sides of the plate, got his breaking ball over at the right times . . . For the first time in the major leagues, I think he's doing a tremendous job."

He joins a list of guys over the last couple of years - the J.A. Happs, the Vance Worleys - who have been delivered into the hands of pitching coach Rich Dubee and tasted early success in the same kind of trial-by-fire situation. Again, for a struggling team with an iffy middle of the bullpen, this has been a substantial plus.

Pettibone has been here for less than a month. But when you ask him to describe the difference he sees in himself, he is quick to say, "It's almost night and day."

He said, "That first start [against Pittsburgh on April 22], I didn't even sleep that night [before]. Now I can get a full night's sleep. It's just kind of a confidence thing. You just build off each start. When you have success, that's where your confidence comes from . . .

"I try not to show any emotions [to the hitters]. You don't want to let them know that you're struggling or you're down or whatever. That's just the biggest thing, kind of [staying] even-keel. That's just kind of my personality as it is."

He continues to demonstrate competence. He continues to try not to think about his long-term future. To attempt to project where Pettibone will be in a month, or a year, would be foolish. He says he does his best not even to allow his mind to wander down those kinds of paths.

"I don't think you can," Pettibone said. "I just want to take each start and hope for the best. That's all I can focus on, doing the job each start. If you do that, the rest will take care of itself.

"I think that's the best way to look at it. You don't want to look deeper into the season. You don't want to get into wishful thinking, or whatever it is. I have a task at hand. I have to complete that task."

So far, he has - beyond any reasonable expectations.

Today on PhillyDailyNews.com: David Murphy writes about Chase Utley and the day of rest that manager Charlie Manuel gave him.

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