'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.”

Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

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Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

With eight games left in the Phillies' season, Pete Mackanin is still playing to win.

After dropping the series opener in Atlanta, 7-2, Friday, Mackanin made several changes to his lineup for Game 2 tonight. His first change is at the top of the order, as Cesar Hernandez sits and Odubel Herrera moves up to the leadoff spot.

The decision to rest Hernandez appears based on his poor career numbers against Atlanta's starter, Julio Teheran. Hernandez is 3-28 against Teheran, while Herrera is 5-23. Teheran is 1-2 this season against the Phillies. He won his previous start against them on Aug. 30, allowing just one run and striking out eight in 6 2/3 innings pitched. 

Herrera has no hits and six strikeouts in his last 12 at-bats. He's also been chasing a lot of pitches outside of the strike zone and has only one walk since Sept. 9. At .281, his batting average is the lowest it has been since Aug. 6.  

J.P. Crawford, who has looked smooth at third base, shifts to second base to accommodate the change. Maikel Franco slots back in at third.

Mackanin's final change is swapping catcher Jorge Alfaro for Cameron Rupp. With the Phillies getting an extended look at Alfaro, Rupp's playing time has recently decreased. This is his first start since Sept. 17 against Oakland.

In his second start for the Phillies, Henderson Alvarez won't have to do much to better Ben Lively's outing Friday night. Lively conceded six hits and five runs before recording an out. Alvarez's start Sunday, when he allowed four runs in five innings, was his first major league game in the past 28 months. An All-Star in 2014, Alvarez's career was derailed by injuries. 

Below is Saturday's lineup:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, LF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. J.P. Crawford, 2B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Henderson Alvarez, P

And the Braves' lineup:

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Ozzie Albies, 2B
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Tyler Flowers, C
5. Matt Adams, 1B
6. Dansby Swanson, SS
7. Rio Ruiz, 3B
8. Jace Peterson, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

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Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella drew a bases-loaded walk off All-Star closer Corey Knebel with one out in the 10th inning, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 on Friday night to tighten their grip on the NL Central.

The Cubs hold a five-game lead with nine days left in the regular season after winning their second straight tense game over the Brewers. Milwaukee dropped into third in the division, 5 1/2 games behind Chicago, after St. Louis beat Pittsburgh earlier Friday.

The Brewers had the tying run at first with one out in the bottom of the 10th, but Eric Sogard was called out at second trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. Shortstop Addison Russell appeared to hold the tag as Sogard's foot lifted off second for a split-second, and the call was confirmed on review (see full recap).

Ryan Goins' hidden-ball trick, grand slam lead Blue Jays over Yankees
TORONTO -- Ryan Goins successfully pulled off a hidden ball trick and hit his second career grand slam, leading the Toronto Blue Jays over Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees 8-1 Friday night and ensuring New York had to wait at least one more day to clinch a playoff berth.

With Todd Frazier on base following a leadoff double in the third, Jose Bautista made a running catch just in front of the right field warning track on Jacoby Ellsbury's one-out drive. Goins caught Bautista's throw while standing near second base, then pretended to toss the ball to pitcher Marco Estrada while slipping in into his glove.

Goins turned his back to Frazier, who had returned to the base, and when Frazier briefly lifted his left foot off the base, Goins tagged him on the left thigh. Frazier insisted he had maintained contact with the base, but umpire Mark Carlson called him out to end the inning (see full recap).

Red Sox rally for win over Reds, extend AL East lead
CINCINNATI -- Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Boston Red Sox extended their AL East lead to four games by overcoming Scooter Gennett's fourth grand slam of the season for a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 (89-64).

Their AL Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam -- a Reds' season record -- in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games -- most in the majors -- after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young (see full recap).

Cardinals rally past Pirates in 9th
PITTSBURGH -- Randal Grichuk scored after an error by Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, capping a frantic ninth-rally that lifted the surging St. Louis Cardinals over Pittsburgh 4-3 on Friday night.

The playoff-chasing Cardinals won their fifth straight, despite trailing by a run entering the ninth.

Stephen Piscotty led off with a double to right against closer Felipe Rivero (5-3), and Jedd Gyorko followed with a pinch-hit RBI single. After Tommy Pham's single, Grichuk pinch-ran for Gyorko at third. He scored when Mercer misplayed Dexter Fowler's sharp groundball.

Former Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio (4-5) got the win after working the eighth and ninth. Fowler and Piscotty had two hits each.

David Freese had an RBI double for the Pirates, who have dropped eight of nine. Rivero blew a save for only the second time in 20 chances this season (see full recap).

Twins stay on track in postseason race with win over Tigers
DETROIT -- Max Kepler and Brian Dozier homered, Byron Buxton had three hits and the playoff-chasing Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 7-3 on Friday night.

Buxton's two-run double in the fourth put the Twins ahead to stay against a Detroit team that announced before the game that manager Brad Ausmus will not be back in 2018.

Minnesota came into the night leading the race for the American League's second wild card by 2 games over Texas and the Los Angeles Angels.

Kyle Gibson (12-10) allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings for the Twins. He struck out six and walked two.

Daniel Norris (4-8) allowed five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Nicholas Castellanos and Ian Kinsler homered for Detroit, but the Tigers dropped to 4-18 in September (see full recap).