'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' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Jake Thompson faced the issues that a 22-year old starter in his 10th career appearance usually does Sunday against the Mets.
 
Thompson struggled with his command at times, walking the bases loaded in the fourth inning before escaping his self-induced jam with a flyout. He hit a batter and surrendered a home run to Curtis Granderson on a pitch that caught too much of the plate.
 
The righty departed after four innings in what manager Pete Mackanin declared postgame to be Thompson’s last start of the season.
 
But perhaps neither he nor the rest of the Phillies expected the extent to which his struggles would ripple through the bullpen. The Phillies’ relievers surrendered 14 runs, hit three batters and gave up a grand slam in a 17-0 loss, the franchise's worst shutout defeat in the modern era (see Instant Replay).
 
“Obviously the bullpen has scuffled for a while now,” Mackanin said. “That shows you how much the game is about pitching. It keeps you in games, gives you an opportunity to win like it did the first couple of months of the season for us. Now, the last month, it’s not keeping us in games or it’s losing games.”
 
The Phillies’ relievers were charged with 28 runs over the course of their four-game swing in New York. Their collective 4.69 ERA is the fourth-worst in the National League.
 
Sunday, Phil Klein — who hadn’t pitched since he was recalled from Lehigh Valley on Sept. 10 — and little-used Colton Murray and Patrick Schuster — who had combined for three appearances in the past two weeks — took the brunt of the damage.
 
Klein walked two batters, surrendered two singles and hit Mets catcher Rene Rivera in the left hand to force in a run. He left the bases loaded for Murray, who allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch. Murray was pulled in the seventh having gotten into a bases-loaded jam of his own. His replacement, Frank Herrmann, allowed all three runs to score on a walk and a grand slam by Asdrubal Cabrera.
 
Schuster was assigned five runs in the eighth after he was tagged for three hits, walked a batter and hit Gavin Cecchini.
 
Which pitchers — if any — out of the Phillies’ cadre of middle relivers will return next year is an open question and Mackanin made it clear that he will use the remaining six games in the season to evaluate his team’s arms.
 
“It’s another audition.” Mackanin said. “We want to see who might fit in.”
 
Thompson can clearly stake a claim to his role in the Phillies’ rebuilding effort. Despite the hiccup in his final outing, he has come a long way in just two months from being the pitcher that surrendered six runs to the light-hitting Padres in his Aug. 6 debut.

His changeup — a pitch that hitters had connected on for six home runs this year, according to data from Fangraphs — was particularly lively Sunday. Cabrera chased it out of the zone in the first inning for Thompson’s only strikeout.
 
“I think the changeup’s probably been my best pitch up here,” Thompson said. “I’ve given up a lot of homers on it, too. That just shows whenever you don’t execute it, it’s a tough pitch to throw in the zone. As far as the swing-and-misses that I was getting with it, it’s kind of night and day.
 
“At this point last year I pretty much had no changeup, so that’s a big thing for me.”
 
Only 23 on Opening Day next year, Thompson has plenty of room to improve.
 
The Phillies’ bullpen does, too.

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