Anxiety, uncertainty surround Halladay's first start

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Anxiety, uncertainty surround Halladay's first start

ATLANTA -- There was a time when Roy Halladay’s starts were some of the most exciting, most eagerly anticipated events in a Phillies season.

Who knows? Maybe they will be again someday.

But for now, all that surrounds Halladay’s first start of 2013 Wednesday night at Turner Field is anxiety and uncertainty.

The classy, two-time Cy Young Award winner and perfect game author is a different pitcher than he was during his prime in Toronto, a different pitcher than he was his first two seasons in Philadelphia when he combined for 40 wins and a 2.40 ERA.

Halladay’s transition from pitching wizard to muggle began last season when he was plagued by injury, a flagging fastball and ineffectiveness.

He had hoped a winter of hard work and a return to good health would put the zip and bite back on his pitches this spring, but all a month’s worth of Grapefruit League starts did is raise more questions.

So nobody is quite sure what to expect from Halladay on Wednesday night.

Will he provide the hint of encouragement that team officials have been waiting for?

Or will he continue to look like a pitcher in serious decline?

On Monday, manager Charlie Manuel was asked about his expectations for Halladay and his hedging answer was indicative of the uncertainty surrounding this start in particular and Halladay’s future in general.

“I think he’s going to be OK,” Manuel said. “I think he’s going to be fine, and, of course, I’m hoping he’s going to be OK. I’m a little concerned about it, but I wouldn’t say I’m overly concerned because I think he’ll eventually get it going and have a big season.

“I think he’s ready to pitch and (pitching coach Rich) Dubee thinks he’s ready. Roy thinks he’s ready to pitch and the doctors think he’s ready. We’re going to see where he’s at. I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you how he’s going to do. If I could tell you, he’d throw a no-hitter and strike out 15.”

It’s important to note: Halladay says he is completely healthy. As a matter of fact, he says he feels better physically coming out of this spring training than he has any of the last five years. He says his back feels good. He says his shoulder feels good.

Despite this good health, Halladay had a brutal spring. His velocity lagged -- as it did last spring and season. His location -- control within control -- was poor. He appeared to have trouble keeping the ball down and was hit hard. In six official spring starts, he gave up 21 hits and 11 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings for a 6.06 ERA.

The pitcher’s struggles might just be as simple as this: He turns 36 in May and has thrown over 3,300 innings as a professional. Wear and tear might be just taking its toll.

Halladay acknowledged that he is not the same pitcher he was in his prime. He knows his velocity has dropped. He thinks he can win with good preparation, command, competitiveness and overall pitching knowledge.

Time will tell if he can.

Dubee remains Halladay’s biggest supporter and enforcer of positive vibes.

“This guy's still got plenty of ability, believe me, and he's got the utmost character on the mound,” Dubee said. “He's a winner. He may not have the same bullets, but he’s still going to be able to pitch us quality games and win ballgames for us."

Halladay will be going for his 200th regular-season win Wednesday night.

It won’t be easy -- and not just because of what we saw in spring training.

The opponent will be difficult.

The Atlanta Braves bruised Halladay for 30 hits, including six homers, and 22 runs in 17 2/3 innings (11.21 ER) over four starts last season. In their minds, Halladay is no longer invincible and that’s an important part of the equation because mental edge means a lot in the one-on-one, pitcher-hitter matchup.

Halladay’s waning velocity makes it imperative that he locate the ball with precision and keep it out of the heart of the plate without falling behind in counts. That was difficult for him in spring training and it was difficult for Cole Hamels against the Braves on Monday night. Hamels made mistakes over the plate and was tagged for three homers, two doubles and an opening day loss.

If Halladay makes similar mistakes over the plate against the Braves’ potent lineup, it could be a short night for him and a long night for the entire Phillies organization as questions about the pitcher’s long-term effectiveness rise anew.

If he’s precise with his location and gives the Phillies a chance to win, the concerns will dissipate, at least temporarily.

Despite buzz about promotion, Phillies prospect Scott Kingery remains calm

Despite buzz about promotion, Phillies prospect Scott Kingery remains calm

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – One look around spacious Coca-Cola Park told Scott Kingery one thing: This wasn’t Reading anymore, Toto.

“It looks like you can get one out to left,” the newest member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs said late Monday afternoon, “but it looks real deep to center.”

It was time for the 23-year-old second baseman to recalibrate, time for one of the Phillies’ brightest prospects to get his bearings before continuing a climb that now finds him nearing the major-league summit.

Kingery, the Phils’ second-round pick in 2015, was promoted from Double A Reading on Sunday, after his torrid start attracted the attention not only of management but a fanbase looking to latch onto something – anything – with the parent club struggling and regular second baseman Cesar Hernandez injured.

But everything in its time.

“I just try to block [the clamor] out the best I can,” Kingery said before making his Triple A debut against Pawtucket. “I know what I'm capable of and I know what I need to improve on. Wherever I'm at, I'm going to come out here and try to work on whatever I think I need to improve on and to give myself the best shot to get moved up.”

He went 1 for 5 with a steal and two spectacular defensive plays in the IronPigs’ 5-4, 10-inning loss on Monday night, after batting .313 with 18 homers and 44 RBIs in 69 games at Reading. And his one-day-at-a-time approach comes as no surprise to manager Dusty Wathan, who also had him late last season with the Fightin' Phils.

“He’s a guy that doesn’t change much,” Wathan said. “He’s really calm – not real high, not real low, much like (Lehigh Valley first baseman) Rhys Hoskins is.”

Wathan recalled Kingery’s struggles late last season – he wound up hitting .250 in 37 games for Reading, after moving up from Single A Clearwater – and how he handled it.

“You didn’t see the huge frustration or anything like that out of him,” the manager said. “I think he just embraced it and said this is what it is: ‘I’m a better player than this.’ He knew where he was at that time.”

Kingery was worn to a frazzle by season’s end – he lost 10 pounds, he said – and Wathan knew it. He nonetheless continued to play him “because,” the manager said, “I wanted him to feel that.”

“It's a good thing to have failure,” he added, “to feel that first season, to see how things end up for you.”

Kingery, listed at 5-10 and 180 pounds, said he gained back the 10 pounds he lost via offseason weight work, and that he tinkered with his swing as well. That contributed to his power surge, after he managed just eight homers in 197 games over his first two minor-league seasons.

So too did the dimensions of FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading’s cozy home park.

“Everybody talks about the Reading Factor, but to me it's probably only a couple home runs [each season],” Wathan said.

Kingery had 10 homers in 36 home games and eight in 33 on the road, and hit just one in his last 20 games at Reading, none in his last 11.

“I’m turning back into a singles guy,” he said.

But a hitter, to be sure. He batted .359 in his last 33 games at Double A to raise his average from .272 to .313. And on Sunday he was summoned to the office of Reading manager Greg Legg, who delivered the good news.
 
Kingery’s dad, Tom, had already heard; he tried to call his son repeatedly. So too had some other relatives.

So there he was on Monday. He singled in his first at-bat, and twice victimized Pawtucket third baseman Matt Dominguez with the glove, making a diving catch of his second-inning flare to short right and then back-handing Dominguez’s grounder up the middle in the sixth.

The first gem made SportsCenter. As for Kingery, he just keeps making steady progress toward the summit.

Best of MLB: Indians storm back with 13 unanswered runs in win over Rangers

Best of MLB: Indians storm back with 13 unanswered runs in win over Rangers

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor, Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana each had three RBIs to help the Cleveland Indians rally from a seven-run deficit and beat the Texas Rangers 15-9 on Monday night after manager Terry Francona left the game because he wasn't feeling well.

The Indians came back after trailing 9-2 in the fourth inning to avoid their first four-game losing streak since 2015.

Cleveland did not provide any other details about Francona, who presented Rangers first baseman and former Indian Mike Napoli with his American League Championship ring before the game. Bench coach Brad Mills came out to fetch starter Carlos Carrasco in the fourth inning.

The Indians scored a run in the fourth, four in the fifth, took the lead with five in the sixth and added three in the seventh.

Bryan Shaw (2-2) pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the win. Tanner Scheppers (0-1) allowed all three batters he faced to reach the base (see full recap).

Cubs hold off Nationals for win
WASHINGTON -- Wade Davis struck out big league batting leader Ryan Zimmerman with runners on second and third to end Washington's ninth-inning rally, and the Chicago Cubs held off the Nationals 5-4 Monday night.

In jeopardy of being shut out for the first time this season, the NL East-leading Nationals scored four times in the ninth. Their comeback began against Hector Rondon and continued when Davis entered.

With Washington down 5-3, Bryce Harper's single loaded the bases with two outs. Davis threw a wild pitch that scored a run before striking out a swinging Zimmerman, who's hitting .344. The final pitch bounced, and catcher Willson Contreras zipped a low throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to close out the victory.

Contreras hit a leadoff home run in his first career game-opening at-bat and Eddie Butler (4-2) worked five scoreless innings to keep the Cubs ahead (see full recap).

Sale strikes out 9 in Red Sox victory
BOSTON -- Chris Sale pitched 6 1/3 overpowering innings with nine strikeouts, Mitch Moreland hit a solo homer for the third straight game and the Boston Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1 on Monday in a matchup of two of the AL's top teams.

Dustin Pedroia had two hits and drove in a run and Moreland added a sacrifice for Boston, which kept pace with the New York Yankees atop the East.

Coming off a three-game sweep in Cleveland that had jumped them over the Indians into first in the Central, the Twins' offense was stymied by Sale and three relievers.

Sale (10-3) gave up one run and four hits, increasing his major-league strikeout total to 155. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 21st save.

Jose Berrios (7-2) allowed four runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. Chris Gimenez had a solo homer for Minnesota (see full recap).