'Frustrated' Halladay resolves to turn things around

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'Frustrated' Halladay resolves to turn things around

ATLANTA -- The latest chapter of the Roy Halladay pitching drama was as troubling as the last one.

The struggles of spring training followed Halladay into the regular season Wednesday night as he was knocked out the game early by a free-swinging Atlanta Braves team that scored a 9-2 win over the Phillies, dropping them to 0-2 on the young season (see Instant Replay).

Halladay, who has maintained his hallmark competitiveness while his fastball has waned, traded punches with the rugged Braves’ lineup. Nine of the 10 outs he recorded came on strikeouts (eight swinging) as he got the Braves to chase his changeup and sweeping breaking ball.

Halladay, 35, appeared reluctant to challenge hitters with the old cutter-sinker (fastball) tandem that helped him win two Cy Young awards in his prime. Two of the fastballs that he did throw were hit out of the park. Justin Upton belted a two-run homer on a sinker in the first inning and rookie Evan Gattis smacked a solo homer on a cutter in the fourth.

Command was a problem for Halladay in spring training and it was again on this rainy night.

He needed 40 pitches to get through the first inning and 95 (55 strikes) to get 10 outs. He went to three-ball counts on eight of 19 hitters. In all, he was tagged for six hits, five runs and three walks in 3 1/3 innings. Halladay’s fastball touched 92 mph on the stadium radar gun in the first inning, but sat mostly 88 to 90 mph. That’s enough to win some games -- if he can locate it down in the zone.

Halladay’s health problems (back and shoulder) and ineffectiveness last season created worry throughout the Phillies organization and the right-hander’s poor spring (6.06 ERA) only heightened the anxiety. If Wednesday night’s outing added to the angst, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. wasn’t letting on.

“I was oddly encouraged,” said Amaro, who took in the game from a box above home plate. “Any time you can get that many swings and misses it’s a good sign. The stuff was good. He just didn’t command it in the strike zone. He still needs reps with some of the mechanical changes he’s made.”

Manager Charlie Manuel was also upbeat.

“I’ve seen improvement the last three times out,” he said. “I still think he’s going to be OK. The velocity is improving. We’ll see.”

Halladay was clearly dejected as he spoke softly at his locker after the game.

“I’m frustrated,” he said. “I should have gone deeper than that. I wasn’t aggressive enough early in the count. I went deep counts. Really, that’s the most frustrating part.

“I’m going to clean that up and be more aggressive. I shouldn’t take three or four pitches to put guys away. We can get ground balls earlier in the count or do something to be more efficient and get deeper in the game. I’d rather get beat 20-0 and pitch eight innings than pitch 3 1/3. That’s got to change.”

Halladay said the rainy conditions were tough, but no excuse for his lack of command.

He wasn’t happy about either home run pitch. Gattis’ home run came on a mistake, Halladay said. The Upton home run came on a 1-2 pitch that he was “not fully committed to.” Catcher Erik Kratz set up down and in on Upton. In retrospect, Halladay said he should have come up and in on Upton to set him up for something away. Kratz is filling in for starting catcher Carlos Ruiz, a Halladay favorite. Ruiz is serving a 25-game suspension for testing positive for a PED.

Halladay’s postgame analysis of his work was interesting. He admitted to trying to pick corners last year because his velocity was down. He believes his arm strength is returning and he can start challenging hitters more.

“Every pitch doesn’t have to be on black,” he said. “I just need to be down (in the strike zone) and we’ll be more efficient. That’s something that needs to be addressed quickly. As far as arm strength, I feel I can open it up and not try to be so fine, which I’ve always done. I need to open it up a little and let movement and everything else take care of itself. I need to be more aggressive in the strike zone and make them put the ball in play.”

The question remains: Can Halladay get the ball down consistently? That was a problem in spring training.

Halladay seems aware that his struggles have become one of the major sporting issues in Philadelphia. He has faith in himself that he will turn things around.

“Honestly, I don’t care what you guys write,” he told a group of reporters at his locker. “You’re welcome to write whatever you want. I feel like the progression has been there. The results haven’t and that’s frustrating. I feel like they are going to come. I wanted them to come sooner than they have and I’m pushing for them to come sooner than they have and sometimes that’s part of the problem.”

Phillies show fight in 7-run comeback but see 3-game winning streak snapped in loss to Brewers

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Phillies show fight in 7-run comeback but see 3-game winning streak snapped in loss to Brewers

BOX SCORE

The big-picture implications of Jeremy Hellickson’s start Saturday against Milwaukee — i.e., his trade value, potential destination, etc. — were left to others to ponder.

Hellickson was more concerned about smaller matters.

Like the eight pitches he threw to Eric Thames in the third inning.

Or the three batters who followed Thames.

In Hellickson’s mind, that’s where the game was lost, as opposed to when the Brewers’ Domingo Santana lined a single to left off Hector Neris in the ninth, chasing home the tie-breaking run in a 9-8 Milwaukee victory (see Instant Replay).

Hellickson, left with a messy no-decision after the Phillies wiped out an 8-1 deficit, was more than willing to shoulder responsibility for the result.

“It just sucks, you know, scoring eight runs and you lose,” the veteran right-hander said. “Usually that falls on the starter, which it did tonight.”

Others might point to the decision by manager Pete Mackanin to bunt amid a three-run eighth inning or the sign that was missed by rookie Cameron Perkins on that play. But that was Hellickson’s story, and he was sticking to it.

In his next-to-last outing before the July 31 trade deadline, he was nicked for six runs in five innings. His ERA, 1.80 in April, is 5.81 since. He is in the last year of his contract and thus might have value as a rental to some team looking for an arm.

But again, there’s the small picture.

“That's not a start I want,” he said, “no matter what's going on.”

Lost in the debris was a 4 for 4 night by Odubel Herrera, who’s hitting .331 since June 1, not to mention three-run homers by Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp, the second of which forged the 8-8 tie in the eighth.

“That was a tough one to take,” Mackanin said. “You’re down by seven runs, 8-1. I thought we had the momentum going in our favor, and we just couldn’t get it done.”

Hellickson rolled through the first two innings, and had two outs and a man on in the third when Thames came to the plate.

An eight-pitch duel following, ending with a walk.

“That was a good at-bat,” Hellickson said. “He put a couple good at-bats on me today. Especially with the humidity and (Ryan) Braun coming up, it was a good at-bat.”

Braun, a certified Phillie-killer (.379 lifetime against them, .398 in Citizens Bank Park), had lined a single through the box in the first. This time he roped a double into the right field corner to score the game’s first two runs.

Braun took third on the throw, then scored on a wild pitch with Travis Shaw at the plate. Shaw rocketed Hellickson’s 2-1 changeup to center for a double and came home when Santana singled on a first-pitch curveball.

So, 4-0.

“I think (the start) was good except for that four-batter span there in that third inning,” Hellickson said. “Can't walk Thames with two outs. … I’ve just got to find a way to get out of that inning after the second out.”

Braun, 3 for 3 in the game, also hit a two-run homer in the fifth. Herrera, who also doubled twice, answered with a solo shot in the bottom of that inning.

Milwaukee’s lead grew to 8-1 in the seventh. Braun drew a walk from reliever Adam Morgan, but Morgan later had him dead to rights on a pickoff attempt. Trouble is, first baseman Tommy Joseph overthrew second base, and leftfielder Howie Kendrick allowed the ball to get through him. Braun, as a result, came all the way around to score.

The paying customers, you may be sure, were not thrilled — even less so when Shaw followed with a homer.

The comeback followed. Four runs in the seventh, including Hernandez’s tracer into the seats in right-center. Rupp’s opposite-field shot an inning later.

Perkins singled after Rupp’s homer, the Phillies’ fourth straight hit off struggling reliever Jacob Barnes. Mackanin then asked Hernandez to sacrifice, but he popped up to Shaw, who was charging from third.

Perkins “misinterpreted” the sign, according to Mackanin, thinking the hit-and-run was on. He was, as a result, doubled off first. Inning over. Comeback, too.

“It was fun to watch,” Hellickson said of the rally. “Just got to find a way to get that third out with nobody on base.”

That’s how things looked from his vantage point, anyway. Others were, in the meantime, scanning the big picture.

Best of MLB: Cubs rally in 8th, edge Cardinals after pitchers' duel

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Best of MLB: Cubs rally in 8th, edge Cardinals after pitchers' duel

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant galloped home from first base on Anthony Rizzo's bloop double, capping a three-run rally in the eighth inning that sent the Chicago Cubs over the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Saturday in the ever-tightening NL Central race.

A classic pitchers' duel between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright kept it scoreless into the eighth. The Cubs began the day one game behind shaky Milwaukee for the division lead, with the Cardinals 3 1/2 back of the Brewers.

After Paul DeJong and Randal Grichuk hit two-out homers off Lester for a 2-0 lead, the Cubs came back.

Ben Zobrist's RBI double with two outs made it 2-1 and chased Wainwright. Bryant greeted reliever Matt Bowman (2-4) with a broken-bat single that tied it.

Brett Cecil then relieved and on a 3-2 pitch, Rizzo followed a looper toward left-center. Bryant ran hard the whole way and slid home as catcher Yadier Molina couldn't control center fielder Dexter Fowler's one-hop throw.

Lester (7-6), who had a perfect game until Wainwright singled with two outs in the sixth, struck out 10. Wade Davis walked a pair with two outs before striking out Molina for his 19th saves in 19 chances (see full recap).

Hundley's single lifts Giants past Padres in 12
SAN FRANCISCO -- Nick Hundley singled in Kelby Tomlinson with two outs in the 12th inning, lifting the San Francisco Giants to a 5-4 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday.

Pinch-hitter Tomlinson reached on a fielder's choice and took second on a wild pitch from Kevin Quackenbush (0-2). After Hunter Pence flied out, Hundley lined an 0-1 pitch over the head of left fielder Jose Pirela as Tomlinson rounded third and scored without a throw.

It was the Giants' second win in the last nine games against their division rivals at AT&T Park.

Eduardo Nunez had three hits and two RBIs, Hundley singled twice and San Francisco took advantage of an error by San Diego shortstop Allen Cordoba that led to three unearned runs.

Will Myers hit his second homer in two days as part of San Diego's four-run fourth but the Padres wasted multiple opportunities and lost for the fourth time in six games (see full recap).

Rangers turn 3 Rays miscues into win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Texas turned three Tampa Bay miscues into a three-run sixth inning and the Rangers beat the Rays 4-3 on Saturday night.

The Rangers took a 4-3 lead during the decisive sixth when two runs scored after center fielder Mallex Smith misplayed Adrian Beltre's two-out deep fly ball, and Beltre scored on two wild pitches by Chris Archer with Mike Napoli at the plate.

Elvis Andrus, who entered the series hitless in 16 at-bats, homered in his second consecutive three-hit game for the Rangers, who have won two straight following a five-game skid.

Andrew Cashner (5-8) gave up three runs and four hits over six innings. Alex Claudio, the third Rangers reliever, got four outs for his fourth save.

Claudio went two scoreless innings in Texas' 4-3, 10-inning win over the Rays Friday night to get his second win.

Archer (7-6) allowed four runs, four hits and struck out 11 to set a team record with his 24th career game with double-digit strikeouts. game. David Price had 23 double-digit strikeout games with the Rays (see full recap).

Lindor's home run in 10th inning lifts Indians past Toronto
CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 10th inning and the Cleveland Indians defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 on Saturday night.

Lindor hit a 2-2 pitch from Danny Barnes (2-3) to right field for his 15th homer of the season just as a hard rain began to fall. Lindor dashed around the bases and was mobbed his teammates at home plate and was doused by several coolers of water.

The Progressive Field grounds crew put the tarp on the field while Cleveland's players were still celebrating the victory.

Bryan Shaw (3-4) retired Kevin Pillar on a groundout with two on to end the 10th.

Danny Salazar came off the disabled list and held Toronto to one hit in seven innings. Cleveland led 1-0, but Justin Smoak homered on Andrew Miller's first pitch in the eighth (see full recap).