PITTSBURGH -- Returning to the lineup after sitting out two games, slumping slugger Ryan Howard crushed a two-run homer in a five-run first inning as the Phillies defeated the Pirates, 8-4, on Saturday night at PNC Park.

Chase Utley had two hits and was one of seven players who scored at least a run as the Phils won their third in a row and sixth out of seven.

Kyle Kendrick (2-2) pitched seven-plus strong innings to win for the first time since his first start of the season. The five-run first against struggling Pirates starter Matt Morris proved to be enough for Philadelphia, which improved to 5-1 on a seven-game road trip that ends Sunday.

"It felt good," Howard said of his fifth homer, just his second since April 12. "The first AB was kind of tough because of the shadows and glare off the wall, but to be able to come through the first at-bat felt even better. It felt pretty good. Today I felt a little better at the plate, seeing pitches and kind of running the count a little bit deep."

Howard, who had only six hits in 12 games since his last homer, entered the game hitless in nine at-bats.

"He stayed on the ball better," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He was on the ball a little bit. He'll get it. He's coming around."

Nate McLouth homered and had two hits, two runs and two RBIs for Pittsburgh, which has lost nine of 11.

After Morris (0-4) retired the first two batters of the game, seven consecutive Phils reached base -- on four hits, a walk and two errors. Utley singled and scored on Howard's homer to right-center, and Pat Burrell scored when Geoff Jenkins' liner to deep right was dropped by Xavier Nady. Jenkins was driven in by an Eric Bruntlett single to center, and Bruntlett came home when Kendrick's grounder to short was booted by Brian Bixler.

"It was huge for us to get that big lead and for me not to go out there and mess around and just go after guys," said Kendrick, who pitched into the eighth inning for only the second time in his career. "I made my mind up that after that first inning we got five and I was going to get a quick inning and attack. That was the biggest inning for me personally to not go out there and mess around and let them back in the game."

For the second consecutive night, the Phillies grabbed a 6-0 lead. When a Jenkins single scored Utley with two outs in the second, Morris' night was over. The beleaguered starter allowed six runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings and 49 pitches.

"I think when [Kendrick] pitches, if we can get off quick for him, it would help," Manuel said. "Of course, for almost any pitcher it's like that. Or it should be. But I think he gets pumped up, he gets going more if he has a lead."

After Kendrick retired the first seven Pirates, Pittsburgh got two runs in the third when Bixler was hit by a pitch and scored on McLouth's single. McLouth then came home on a Freddy Sanchez double.

But the Phils added two more in the sixth off back-to-back doubles by Jayson Werth and pinch-hitter Pedro Feliz.

"It was big to add those two runs," Manuel said. "It was a very big inning in the game."

Kendrick (2-2) allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits and no walks while striking out two. In addition to retiring the first seven batters, he retired nine in a row later in the contest.

"Kendrick did a good job," Manuel said. "He was probably getting a little tired there at the end. They jumped on first pitches in that [eighth] inning, gave him some problems. But I thought maybe he'd give us eight innings tonight. He did a good job. He was aggressive. He pitched well late into the game, didn't walk anyone."

Kendrick threw only 10 pitches in the first (eight strikes) and only 26 through two innings. He recorded four 1-2-3 innings.

"They were swinging early," Kendrick said. "If I'm going good, I'm getting ground balls. I got a lot ground balls tonight and I was on my game. Give credit to the offense, they put some runs early. It was nice -- just like last year, they put up some early runs. That makes you want to go out there and compete for your team and for yourself personally."