Halladay and Chooch, Together Again: Will It Help Roy's Command?

Halladay and Chooch, Together Again: Will It Help Roy's Command?

If there's a better bromance in Philadelphia than Carlos Ruiz and Roy Halladay, I'd like to hear who it involves.

The battery mates will be reunited this evening in Cleveland when Roy Halladay (2-2, 5.08) and the Phillies take on right-hander Zach McAllister (1-3, 3.50) and the Indians (more on McAllister and the Phils futility against pitchers they haven't seen here).

The big news of the day is Delmon Young flying to Cleveland and Charlie Manuel wasting no time getting him in the lineup. Young will DH tonight and bat fifth, but Charlie told reporters this afternoon he'd like to see him in right field before the team heads home to face the Marlins on Thursday. That could be disastrous/hilarious.

7:05 start from the Forest City. For more on Halladay, check out the guest spot from Matt Hammond below.

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Next Step in Halladay's Progression: Command by Matt Hammond

Between 2010 and 2011, only one starter in baseball had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio, the consummate control metric, than Roy Halladay. (That guy, of course, was Cliff Lee.)

No matter how you slice it, be it BB% (3.4) or BB/9 (1.21), Halladay walked the fewest batters in baseball (again, with Lee) and did it with a handle matched by, well, maybe only Lee. But still.

Even amid Halladay’s remarkable turnaround – he’s gone 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his last three – that control has yet to catch up. With his Phillies in Cleveland tonight for the first of a two-game set to wrap the road trip, rediscovering his command is the next logical step for him.

Save for the home runs and near driver’s license-eligible ERA, what was scariest about Halladay’s first two starts was his 14.6% walk rate. Still, even in his last three, he gave freebies to 8.6%. Never in his career since 2004 had he walked more than 5.6% -- and even that was from last year.

One of his biggest issues so far has been falling behind. Halladay’s thrown first-pitch strikes on only 50.4% of at-bats, for the fifth-worst rate in baseball. And it’s actually gotten progressively worse as the rest of his game has so much improved: 55.2, 44.0, 40.9 in his last three. Granted, he’s done a good job of recovering or forcing bad balls in play (we’ll get there), and if this persists, that ability will be one of his biggest allies. Still, it’s just not a Halladay we’ve ever seen – even last year.

Part of the problem is there’s actually too much life in his cutter. Where it had just -0.1 of horizontal movement in 2010-11, it’s now got -3.9 – good (bad?) for the most in all of baseball. Clearly not helping keep runners off base, especially since they’re hitting .389 against the pitch this year.

If he can get a hold of that, watch out.

The hope tonight is that Cleveland doesn’t get a hold of Halladay. His HR/FB rate (20.8%) ranks fourth in baseball and is twice his career average. And it’s not just from his first two starts. Despite ranking 24th in home runs, the Cardinals took Halladay deep twice two weeks back. The Indians have the seventh most homers in baseball so far, and sixth best HR/FB (13.2%).

Also of concern: Halladay’s BABIP his last three starts is .194, from 54 balls put in play.

But hits and home runs will happen, even to Halladay.

Of chief concern now is whether the guys running/trotting the base paths walked to get there.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).