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.

MLB Notes: Nationals ace Max Scherzer scratched with sore neck

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MLB Notes: Nationals ace Max Scherzer scratched with sore neck

SAN DIEGO -- Max Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start Friday night due to a sore neck and the Washington Nationals turned to left-hander Matt Grace to face the San Diego Padres.

Manager Dusty Baker announced the move about two hours before first pitch.

Scherzer was coming off a 10-strikeout performance against San Francisco.

Grace is 1-0 with a 4.46 ERA. He grew up in the Los Angeles area and played at UCLA.

Scherzer is 12-5 with a 2.25 ERA this season.

Cubs: Lester placed on 10-day DL
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs got an encouraging report on Jon Lester before placing the ace left-hander on the 10-day disabled list on Friday.

Lester was examined by team physician Dr. Stephen Gryzlo after he left Chicago's 13-10 loss to Cincinnati on Thursday in the second inning. He was diagnosed with tightness in his left lat and general shoulder fatigue, but his shoulder and side were deemed structurally sound.

"I think the big thing is just the overall performance was not there," Lester said. "This is something that we tried to manage and get through. It just got to a point where you're doing a disservice to your team by going out there and not being able to perform.

"You feel like you can't help (going on the DL), but at the same time I wasn't helping out there. Let's get this thing right and get back to being myself" (see full story).

Dodgers: Gonzalez activated from DL
DETROIT -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have activated first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the disabled list, and he's set to start Friday night against Detroit.

The 35-year-old Gonzalez has missed over two months because of a herniated lumbar disk. He last played for the Dodgers on June 11.

Gonzalez went 6 for 31 with a home run and six RBIs during a nine-game rehab assignment with Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera out 4th straight game; DL stint coming?

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CSN

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera out 4th straight game; DL stint coming?

Odubel Herrera to the disabled list is looking more and more likely.

Herrera, nursing a left hamstring injury, is out of the lineup Friday night for a fourth straight game as the Phillies play Game 2 of their four-game series against the Giants at AT&T Park.

Well before Friday's game, the centerfielder tested his hamstring on the field with an athletic trainer and walked off in not-so-promising fashion, according to CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury.

At this point, the Phillies are contemplating a DL stint for their hottest hitter.

"It's a day-to-day thing," manager Pete Mackanin said Thursday. "He might be going on the DL. We're thinking about it."

The team is awaiting word from its medical staff on that decision, Mackanin said.

Herrera has hit safely in 17 straight games, a stretch in which he's slashing .379/.431/.636 with three homers, two triples, four doubles and 10 RBIs.

Nick Williams will make his fourth straight start in center field. Cameron Perkins will get the nod in right field and hit eighth, while Jorge Alfaro is slotted behind the plate to catch Zach Eflin and bat seventh.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph are in the fifth and sixth spots, respectively. Both are struggling mightily. Franco is hitting .190 in August with one homer, 11 strikeouts and no walks, while Joseph is 5 for his last 52 (.096) with just one extra-base hit (a double) over that span.

Eflin opposes Giants left-hander Matt Moore. For more on the game, read Corey Seidman's game notes right here (see story).

Here are the lineups:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Maikel Franco, 3B
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Jorge Alfaro, C
8. Cameron Perkins, RF
9. Zach Eflin, P

Giants
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Hunter Pence, RF
3. Jarrett Park, LF
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
6. Brandon Crawford, SS
7. Ryder Jones, 1B
8. Kelby Tomlinson, 2B
9. Matt Moore, P