On final day of shaky spring, Halladay preaches optimism


On final day of shaky spring, Halladay preaches optimism

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If you’re looking for someone who feels good about Roy Halladay’s spring, stop by Roy Halladay’s locker.

Despite his being hit hard and having poor control most of the spring, Halladay left Florida late Thursday afternoon feeling upbeat about what he’d done and optimistic about what is to come.

“Physically, this is as good as I’ve felt coming out of spring training in probably five years as far as total body,” the 35-year-old righthander said after his last exhibition start Thursday. “Stuff-wise and location and movement -- I’m just a click behind where I want to be.

“But with all the changes and adjustments we made, physically and mechanically, I’m excited to come out feeling the way I feel. I’m happy where I’m at.”

Halladay’s optimism might be real.

Or it might be the creation of a man who has always subscribed to the power of positive thinking.

Either way, it stands in stark contrast to the views of some baseball observers.

Scouts in Florida were not impressed with the way Halladay threw the ball this spring. His overall stuff appeared to be in decline. He struggled to reach 90 mph with his fastball. There were times when it looked like he was reluctant to challenge hitters and that led to a lot of deep counts. When he did come over the plate, he frequently got tagged.

In short, he didn’t look like the pitcher that won two Cy Young awards earlier in his career. He looked like the pitcher that began to decline during an injury-marred season last year -- only worse.

In six official Grapefruit League starts, Halladay recorded a 6.06 ERA (11 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings). He allowed 21 hits, including three homers, walked nine and struck out 16. Halladay pitched one of those games with a stomach bug that caused him to lose 10 pounds. He has slowly regained his strength.

Throughout the spring, Halladay insisted that health (of his shoulder and back) and mechanics were what mattered most to him. He said results were secondary.

On Wednesday night, results will matter. That’s when Halladay is scheduled to make his first start of the regular season against an Atlanta Braves team that mauled him for 30 hits and 22 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings (11.21 ERA) over four starts last season.

Halladay’s final spring start Thursday was a much-anticipated event. Would he show improvement from his previous outings, or take a step back?

In actuality, he probably treaded water.

He allowed eight hits and two runs over 4 1/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. He walked two and struck out six. The Jays made three outs on the bases and that helped Halladay.

On the positive side, Halladay’s velocity was a smidge better than previous outings. According to one scout, he was consistently 88 to 90 mph on the radar gun and touched 91. On the negative side, his command was poor. He needed 96 pitches to cover those 4 1/3 innings. He was frequently up in the strike zone and at one point in the second inning threw 10 balls in an 11-pitch span. He came back to end that inning with two strikeouts.

Halladay was pleased with his cutter, a bread-and-butter pitch that he’s been searching for all spring.

“It was really good today,” he said. “We threw them in to lefties and back-door. We threw a lot of sinkers to both sides of the plate. But the cutter today was as good as it has been all year.

“I’m happy with how I feel with my delivery. If I come out of my delivery, I feel like I can make a quick fix on the mound.”

Halladay’s best inning was the first when he set down all-stars Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista in order. Halladay seemed to come out with some anger in that inning. He seemed to pitch with some attitude.

“That’s not a bad thing,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a little fire in your boiler. This is a competitive son of a gun.”

Halladay might have been directing that attitude at his doubters. A number of them are scouts from rival clubs, men who evaluate with cold eyes, not warm hearts.

“I don’t know of any scout that’s ever been 100 percent,” Dubee said. “I don’t. First of all, when you’re looking at players, you have to look at first, ability, and second, you have to look at character. This guy still has plenty of ability, believe me, and the utmost character on the mound. He’s a winner. He may not have the same bullets, but he’s going to be able to pitch us quality games and win ballgames for us.”

How many quality games will Halladay pitch this season? How many ballgames will he win?

This is an evolving story. The next chapter begins Wednesday night in Atlanta.

6 months later, Cubs' Kyle Schwarber returns for World Series Game 1

6 months later, Cubs' Kyle Schwarber returns for World Series Game 1

CLEVELAND — Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber's rehab finished just in time for the World Series.

Schwarber will bat fifth and be the designated hitter for the National League champions in Game 1 on Tuesday night against Cleveland's Corey Kluber. Schwarber hasn't played in the majors since tearing ligaments in his left knee on April 7 in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler.

Dallas Cowboys orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel Cooper operated 12 days later to repair torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments. He was expected to miss the rest of the season but was cleared to return on Oct. 17.

Schwarber played a pair of games in the Arizona Fall League, going 1 for 6 with a double and two walks, and flew to Cleveland on Monday.

Once ridiculed in Philly, Terry Francona is 4 wins from Cooperstown

Once ridiculed in Philly, Terry Francona is 4 wins from Cooperstown

If Terry Francona wins four ballgames over these next nine days, he is going to Cooperstown.

And not as a visitor.

Francona sits at the helm of a Cleveland Indians team that has so far rolled through the postseason, winning eight of nine games as it opens play Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs in a World Series that is filled with compelling storylines.

Of course, the biggest storyline is the “Lovable Loser” angle.

Both clubs long ago became punch lines for their failures. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and their shortcomings have been blamed on everything from the curse of a billy goat to black cats to too many day games at Wrigley Field to Steve Bartman. The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. They were so notoriously synonymous with losing that Hollywood made a couple of movies about them. Well, sort of.

With four more wins, one of these teams will shed the Lovable Loser tag forever.

And if it’s Francona’s Indians, he will forever be honored with a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. You can bank on it. That’s where managers who win three World Series end up.

Time flies.

It was 20 years ago this week that the Phillies hired Francona for his first big-league managerial job. He was 37 at the time. He’d managed at the Double A level with the Chicago White Sox and been on the Detroit Tigers’ big-league coaching staff. Loaded with personality, smarts and the experience that came with growing up in baseball family (his dad played 15 seasons in the majors), being the best college player in the nation at the University of Arizona, and, probably most important, having been humbled by the ups and downs of 10 injury-riddled years as a big-league player, Francona was considered an excellent managerial prospect when the Phillies hired him. But he never deluded himself. He knew he got the job because the Phillies were rebuilding, because they were going to be young and bad for a while and he had the personality and youthful resilience to deal with it all. “If the Phillies were ready to win, they would have hired Jim Leyland or somebody like that,” he used to say.

Francona took over a 95-loss team in Philadelphia. He managed the club for four years, never had a winning season and was jeered out of town with slashed tires after the club lost 97 games in 2000.

Was Terry Francona a great manager in Philadelphia? Nope. Few people are great out of the gate in any line of work. But Francona had little chance to succeed in those Phillies years. There wasn’t close to enough talent on the field. The club was going through a sloooooow rebuild and the organizational focus in those years was probably more about getting a new stadium than putting a winning team on the field.

Francona was committed to becoming a successful manager when he left Philadelphia. That’s why he didn’t want to take a year off after he was fired. He wanted to stay in the game, stay in sight. He took a job in the Indians’ front office, then a year later was back in uniform, first as a coach with the Texas Rangers, then as a coach with the Oakland A’s.

In the fall of 2003, Francona interviewed for managerial jobs in Baltimore and in Boston. At the time, reporters in Baltimore asked him about the possibility of getting a second chance to manage.

“It would be like getting a mulligan,” Francona said.

The answer infuriated some in Philadelphia.

It shouldn’t have.

Francona’s use of the word ‘mulligan’ showed self-awareness, humility and accountability. It showed that he knew he had hooked his first chance into the woods, that he had made mistakes, that he’d learned from them and was ready to tee it up again. Francona’s use of the word mulligan showed how human he was and that is a priceless quality in the art of leading a group of men through the ups and downs of seven months of baseball and getting them to lay it all out for you night after night. Joe Torre had that quality. Charlie Manuel had it. Joe Maddon, the man Francona beat out for the Boston job and now squares off against in the World Series, has it. Francona has it. Just look at the way he kept the Indians believing after injuries wounded their starting pitching.

Of course, all of these aforementioned managers have or had talented players. That ultimately is how you win. Just ask Torre, who was dismissed as a loser until George Steinbrenner gave him some talent. Torre led it beautifully and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Francona got his second chance to manage in Boston in 2004 and quickly led a talented group of players to a curse-busting title, that franchise’s first World Series championship in 86 years.

He won another in 2007.

He has managed 12 seasons since leaving Philadelphia and the growth experience that it provided. He has won 90 or more games in eight of those seasons. Yeah, he has had good players. But he’s led them well. And he’s done it particularly well this month, maneuvering his bullpen pieces like a master chess champion.

The World Series is upon us and it should be a good one as baseball’s two Lovable Loser franchises vie to end decades of frustration.

And 20 years after his managerial odyssey began with many losses and much ridicule in Philadelphia, Terry Francona, already a big winner in his career, has a chance to punch his ticket to the ultimate winner’s circle, the Hall of Fame, with four more victories and another World Series title.