On final day of shaky spring, Halladay preaches optimism

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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.

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.

Roman Quinn hopes new offseason plan results in that elusive healthy season

Roman Quinn hopes new offseason plan results in that elusive healthy season

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Roman Quinn’s bio covers a wide range of body parts. There’s the Achilles tendon, as in torn, the quad, as in torn, and the oblique, as in strained. Twice. The word concussion also appears in there.
 
Sick and tired of having things go ‘pop’ in his body, Quinn decided to try something new after last season.
 
In early November, he rented an apartment “two minutes” from the Phillies’ spring-training facility and for three-plus months worked under the supervision of Paul Fournier, the team’s strength and conditioning guru.
 
“Paul and I worked five days a week,” Quinn said Saturday. “Strength. Flexibility. It was something I wanted to do because in the past I was doing something wrong in the offseason. I was ready for the season but I ended up getting leg injuries. Paul put together a plan to get my body right and he was there the whole time to tell me if I was doing something wrong. I’m going to carry it into the season.”
 
Quinn, 23, made a solid showing in a big-league cameo with the Phillies in September. In 15 games, he had a .373 on-base percentage and showed off a big arm in the outfield. Alas, he did not play in the final five games of the season after injuring his oblique for a second time.
 
Quinn’s play in September fueled speculation that he would be in the Phillies’ opening day outfield this season. Even manager Pete Mackanin said there was a good chance it could happen. But that late-season oblique injury served as one last reminder of Quinn’s inability to stay healthy and the Phillies ended up bringing in two outfielders, Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, this offseason.
 
Kendrick and Saunders were added first and foremost to provide some veteran impact and offense in the lineup. But you have to believe Phillies officials might have stopped at one veteran bat or brought in a semi-regular player to share time with Quinn if Quinn’s health history wasn’t such an issue. He’s never stayed on the field for a full season.
 
“If that was the case I can definitely see where they’re coming from,” Quinn said. “I know I need to play a full season and be healthy and prove that I can play 160-something games.”
 
Saunders’ signing last month pretty much made it official: Quinn will open the season in center field for Triple A Lehigh Valley. Quinn said he was not disappointed by that. He applauded the signing of Saunders.
 
“I think it was a good team decision,” he said. “He’s a really good player and he’s going to provide a lot for this team.
 
“Those things are out of my control. All I can do is go out and compete and play my heart out.
 
“I’ve never played at Triple A. If I do end up in Triple A, I’m going to make the most of it and play hard and compete like I have throughout my time in the minor leagues.”
 
When Quinn is healthy and on the field, he is a dynamic player, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound switch-hitter with gap power and blazing speed. He has 159 stolen bases in 356 minor-league games since being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft and passing on a scholarship to Florida State to sign with the Phils.
 
Quinn has the arm to play any outfield position. He showed that September 14 when he gunned down Sean Rodriguez at the plate in the ninth inning to help preserve a win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Philadelphia. The throw registered 96 mph on MLB.com Statcast.
 
96.
 
The Phillies have one starting pitcher — Vince Velasquez — who throws that hard.
 
“It was a pretty cool feeling,” Quinn said.
 
In high school, Quinn was often used as a closer. He said he hit 94 mph on the radar gun back then.
 
Though Quinn is ticketed for Triple A, Phillies management is eager to see him play in Grapefruit League games. He was arguably the most exciting player on the field during his time in big-league camp last year.
 
“What we saw in September was a really exciting player with a lot of promise who has a chance to be an impactful big leaguer,” general manger Matt Klentak said. “But we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for Roman developmentally. He’s never had an at-bat at the Triple A level and we don’t believe some additional time in the minor leagues will stunt his development.”
 
At Lehigh Valley, Quinn will be flanked by Dylan Cozens and Nick Williams in a prospect-studded outfield. All three could be in Philadelphia at some point this season.
 
“If I do end up at Triple A, we’re going to have a pretty stacked team,” Quinn said. “It will be exciting because we all could be knocking on the door of the big leagues.
 
“I know just getting that little taste last year made me feel like it was somewhere I belong. I’m hungry.”