'Frustrated' Halladay resolves to turn things around

'Frustrated' Halladay resolves to turn things around

April 4, 2013, 12:15 am
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Roy Halladay allowed five earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings against the Braves. (USA Today Images)

ATLANTA -- The latest chapter of the Roy Halladay pitching drama was as troubling as the last one.

The struggles of spring training followed Halladay into the regular season Wednesday night as he was knocked out the game early by a free-swinging Atlanta Braves team that scored a 9-2 win over the Phillies, dropping them to 0-2 on the young season (see Instant Replay).

Halladay, who has maintained his hallmark competitiveness while his fastball has waned, traded punches with the rugged Braves’ lineup. Nine of the 10 outs he recorded came on strikeouts (eight swinging) as he got the Braves to chase his changeup and sweeping breaking ball.

Halladay, 35, appeared reluctant to challenge hitters with the old cutter-sinker (fastball) tandem that helped him win two Cy Young awards in his prime. Two of the fastballs that he did throw were hit out of the park. Justin Upton belted a two-run homer on a sinker in the first inning and rookie Evan Gattis smacked a solo homer on a cutter in the fourth.

Command was a problem for Halladay in spring training and it was again on this rainy night.

He needed 40 pitches to get through the first inning and 95 (55 strikes) to get 10 outs. He went to three-ball counts on eight of 19 hitters. In all, he was tagged for six hits, five runs and three walks in 3 1/3 innings. Halladay’s fastball touched 92 mph on the stadium radar gun in the first inning, but sat mostly 88 to 90 mph. That’s enough to win some games -- if he can locate it down in the zone.

Halladay’s health problems (back and shoulder) and ineffectiveness last season created worry throughout the Phillies organization and the right-hander’s poor spring (6.06 ERA) only heightened the anxiety. If Wednesday night’s outing added to the angst, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. wasn’t letting on.

“I was oddly encouraged,” said Amaro, who took in the game from a box above home plate. “Any time you can get that many swings and misses it’s a good sign. The stuff was good. He just didn’t command it in the strike zone. He still needs reps with some of the mechanical changes he’s made.”

Manager Charlie Manuel was also upbeat.

“I’ve seen improvement the last three times out,” he said. “I still think he’s going to be OK. The velocity is improving. We’ll see.”

Halladay was clearly dejected as he spoke softly at his locker after the game.

“I’m frustrated,” he said. “I should have gone deeper than that. I wasn’t aggressive enough early in the count. I went deep counts. Really, that’s the most frustrating part.

“I’m going to clean that up and be more aggressive. I shouldn’t take three or four pitches to put guys away. We can get ground balls earlier in the count or do something to be more efficient and get deeper in the game. I’d rather get beat 20-0 and pitch eight innings than pitch 3 1/3. That’s got to change.”

Halladay said the rainy conditions were tough, but no excuse for his lack of command.

He wasn’t happy about either home run pitch. Gattis’ home run came on a mistake, Halladay said. The Upton home run came on a 1-2 pitch that he was “not fully committed to.” Catcher Erik Kratz set up down and in on Upton. In retrospect, Halladay said he should have come up and in on Upton to set him up for something away. Kratz is filling in for starting catcher Carlos Ruiz, a Halladay favorite. Ruiz is serving a 25-game suspension for testing positive for a PED.

Halladay’s postgame analysis of his work was interesting. He admitted to trying to pick corners last year because his velocity was down. He believes his arm strength is returning and he can start challenging hitters more.

“Every pitch doesn’t have to be on black,” he said. “I just need to be down (in the strike zone) and we’ll be more efficient. That’s something that needs to be addressed quickly. As far as arm strength, I feel I can open it up and not try to be so fine, which I’ve always done. I need to open it up a little and let movement and everything else take care of itself. I need to be more aggressive in the strike zone and make them put the ball in play.”

The question remains: Can Halladay get the ball down consistently? That was a problem in spring training.

Halladay seems aware that his struggles have become one of the major sporting issues in Philadelphia. He has faith in himself that he will turn things around.

“Honestly, I don’t care what you guys write,” he told a group of reporters at his locker. “You’re welcome to write whatever you want. I feel like the progression has been there. The results haven’t and that’s frustrating. I feel like they are going to come. I wanted them to come sooner than they have and I’m pushing for them to come sooner than they have and sometimes that’s part of the problem.”