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 getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Phillies getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Jorge Alfaro, one of the Phillies' most highly regarded prospects, is off to a big start at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
He entered Wednesday night's game hitting .377 (23 for 61) with a 1.003 OPS in his first 15 games. He had a double, two triples, three homers and 10 RBIs. Team officials would surely like to see the strikeouts (17) come down and the walks (1) go up, but no one is complaining about the production.
 
"I just looked at his numbers," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's doing very well — knocking the cover off the ball."
 
Alfaro, 23, is widely considered the Phillies' catcher of the future. He's an athletic talent with huge upside. Many scouts believe he could be an All-Star if he puts it all together.
 
Defense is the area where Alfaro needs the most work. Yes, he's got a "howitzer" for an arm, as Mackanin called it, so that doesn't need much work. But there's a lot more to catching than throwing. There's game-calling, receiving and blocking.
 
Alfaro made a cameo with the big club last September and did not impress club officials with his receiving or blocking. Instructors focused on improving those areas in spring training, and Mackanin reports that Alfaro has shown progress in the early season.
 
"We get a complete game report on what everyone does offensively and defensively," Mackanin said. "Apparently he looks very good defensively.
 
"He had some issues defensively. He wasn't getting down enough and he worked on that all spring. He's a big guy and it's a little more difficult for a big guy to get low.
 
"And we wanted him to just be a little more quiet behind the plate, less movement. He had a tendency to be moving while the pitcher was getting ready to pitch. We just want a guy sitting back there nice and quiet with a good target. That might seem pretty elementary, but if you're not concentrating on doing that you might not realize the importance of it.
 
"He's doing well blocking balls. He's doing everything well right now and hitting on top of it, so that's a nice sign."

Clay Buchholz optimistic he can still pitch in 2017 after surgery

Clay Buchholz optimistic he can still pitch in 2017 after surgery

Pitcher Clay Buchholz made his first appearance in the Phillies' clubhouse Wednesday since having surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm last week.  

Many initially believed Buchholz would be out for the remainder of the season -- and he still might be -- but he expressed optimism and believes he can return to the mound in September.

"My goal right now is to let this heal," Buchholz said. "Get it well and if this team keeps playing like they're playing right now, we'll be playing in September, October, so that's my goal."

Buchholz said he wasn't feeling 100 percent leading up to the April 11 game against the New York Mets when manager Pete Mackanin pulled him in the third inning. 

"I told [general manager Matt Klentak] that I was sorry, and the guys in here," Buchholz said. "I was brought here for a reason. I wanted to pitch, I wanted to be good. I guess it's a good thing we have a good farm system here because they've been able to step up and fill in."

Buchholz had a similar issue with the Boston Red Sox in July 2015 and missed the rest of the season. 

In his two starts with the Phillies, Buchholz allowed 10 runs and 19 baserunners over just 7 1/3 innings. 
 
Buchholz, 32, will become a free agent at the end of the season. Given his age and the possibility that he won't return this season, the injury could significantly affect his value heading into the offseason. He's the second-highest paid player on the Phillies' roster at $13.5 million

But Buchholz wants to build the strength in his forearm and continue to pitch in MLB following this season.

"There's a lot of guys that come back," Buchholz said. "I have a lot of buddies that played this game that have come back from major surgeries and played for eight or nine more years. It's all about once I do get healthy, being prepared and building a strong foundation around my muscles."