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.

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens stopped by the winter meetings on Monday and left with a little something extra in his wallet.

Cozens was honored with the Joe Bauman Award, given annually to minor league baseball’s home run king. The award came with an $8,000 check — $200 for each homer he hit in 2016.

“That will make shopping this holiday season a lot easier,” Cozens joked.

Cozens, a left-handed-hitting rightfielder, hit .276 with 40 home runs and 125 RBIs for the Double A Reading Fightin Phils. He was named Eastern League MVP. During his acceptance speech at Monday’s awards luncheon, Cozens thanked his Reading teammate, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, for pushing him to his power heights. Hoskins also had a huge season with the bat. He hit 38 homers and had 116 RBIs on his way to becoming the Eastern League’s Rookie of the Year. Night after night in Reading, Cozens and Hoskins staged a friendly power competition. At the end of the season, they shared the Paul Owens Award, given annually to the Phillies’ minor-league player of the year.

Cozens, 22, recently finished a 25-game hitch in the Dominican winter league. Despite hitting just .165 for the Aguilas club, he had four home runs — all against lefty pitching, which has been a nemesis.

Cozens, a 6-6, 250-pound behemoth, made some off-the-field news in the DR when he was involved in a pregame fight with teammate Boog Powell, a Seattle Mariners prospect. Cozens downplayed the incident.

“Just a little boys-being-boys type thing,” he said. “I feel like it was blown out of proportion like almost everything is these days. But, after it happened we became good friends. It was more the level of respect there and I’d say we’re still friends, so it’s good.”

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said the incident was in the past and would have no long-range ramifications for Cozens.

“There is no concern,” Klentak said. “Dylan is an intense kid and he plays the game really hard. That is a good thing. If you’ve watched that, you can see that in his at-bats and when he runs the bases and is running around in the outfield. That’s just his style of play. That aggressive nature at times can boil over. You hope that it doesn’t boil over into altercations with teammates. But we have no long-term concerns with that at all.”

Cozens was recently added to the 40-man roster and will be in big-league spring training camp. Though he projects to open the 2017 season at Triple A, he’s conceding nothing.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to get better, turn some heads and make people notice and hopefully get called up as soon as possible,” he said. 

Plate discipline and strike-zone management are the areas in which Cozens needs the most improvement. He struck out 186 times and walked 61 times in 134 games in 2016. Phillies officials would like to see the strikeouts come down.
 
“I’m learning how to take my walks more often, having better strike-zone judgment, maybe not chase after as many pitches,” Cozens said. “I want to be aggressive, but if they don’t want to pitch to me, just take a walk. I feel like I did not do a good job of that and it’s something I can improve on next year.”