Halladay opens up after struggling again in Phillies' loss

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Halladay opens up after struggling again in Phillies' loss

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Roy Halladay is hurting.

Maybe not physically.

But definitely mentally and emotionally.

That much was clear after the one-time “Best Pitcher in Baseball” absorbed another beating, this time in a 7-2 loss to the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night (see Instant Replay).

To get a read on just how much of a toll his struggles have taken on him, you have to know this about Halladay: He is an intensely private man, who seldom offers a look into the personal side of his life. In his dealings with reporters, he prefers to keep things “on the field,” as they say.

But after failing to get an out in the fifth inning and seeing his ERA rise to an unsightly 14.73, Halladay briefly took reporters to a hidden place. He revealed that he received a text from his oldest son, 12-year-old Braden, moments after the game ended.

“I got a text from my son saying I am his hero,” Halladay said. “It meant a lot.”

For a brief second, it appeared as if Halladay was going to become emotional, but he caught himself and continued answering questions about what has gone wrong with him, the Phillies' pitching staff and this team that has gotten off to such a disappointing 2-5 start that Citizens Bank Park, once the place to be for Philadelphia sports fans, seems lifeless. Monday night’s crowd of 35,393 was the smallest since April 2009.

Halladay has had a major hand in the poor start, losing both his starts. He has lasted just 3 1/3 innings and four-plus in the two starts, while allowing 12 hits, 12 runs, three homers and six walks. Halladay, who once had the control of a surgeon, has struggled since spring training to command his pitches, forcing high pitch counts and resulting in hard-hit balls and early exits.

He’s a proud man and this is tough on him.

“It’s tough because you care about the game, you care about your teammates, you care about the fans, you care about the organization,” said Halladay, who turns 36 next month. “You want it badly. Unfortunately, when you go out there everybody’s watching you. You’re not doing it in front of five people that don’t care. Everybody out there cares and everybody wants it and you want it just as much as they do, so that makes it tough.”

Halladay said 95 percent of his problems are mental. In sporting parlance, he is pressing. He says he’s trying too hard to put the ball in good places and it’s all coming unraveled from there.

“That’s the hardest thing to force,” he said of command. “When you try to force a ball to a spot instead of just letting it go there … The more you force it the more it goes away from there. You need to be tension-free instead of forcing your will on what you want to happen.”

Halladay said his command is fine in the bullpen. He said he’s having trouble taking it into games.

Again, he offered a glimpse into the personal side of his life when he spoke of his mentor, the late sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.

“Harvey used to tell me when you try to catch a bird if you’re flailing at it trying to grab for it you’re never going to catch it,” Halladay said. “You have to hold your hands out and let it land in your hands. It’s the same way with pitching. You have to stick to your routine, stick to your program and let it come to you.”

Time will tell if it indeed comes back to Halladay.

For what it’s worth, the Mets noticed a difference in him Monday night.

“That’s not Doc,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “That’s not the guy we know, for sure.”

Halladay threw 99 pitches in four-plus innings. He needed nine pitches to put away the opposing pitcher, Matt Harvey, in the fourth inning. The old Halladay used to breeze through opposing pitchers.

“I wasn’t able to make the pitches I wanted,” he said. “Instead of trusting it, I was forcing it and guiding it.”

Said Manager Charlie Manuel: “I think what you’re watching is a pitcher who is trying to find his strike zone and how he used to carve up hitters with command and control.”

The fastball (sinkers and cutters) used to be Halladay’s weapon of mass destruction. Now, hitters tee off on it. In the second inning, Halladay allowed a one-out double to Marlon Byrd on a cutter. He then hit Lucas Duda with a cutter before allowing a three-run homer to John Buck on another cutter.

The Phillies never recovered from Buck’s big blow. Their starting pitcher did not keep them in the game -- nothing new considering Halladay and Cole Hamels are a combined 0-4 with 12.50 ERA -- and the bullpen, namely struggling Chad Durbin, did not keep it close.

Seven games into the season, the Phillies have a team ERA of 7.08. That will lose you some ball games.

Halladay addressed one mini-controversy, saying that Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero, the catchers who are filling in for Carlos Ruiz, have nothing to do with the pitching problems.

“We have to execute pitches,” Halladay said. “I don’t think that falls on the catchers.”

It shouldn’t.

If the Phillies have a pitching problem -- as they do -- it starts with the men on the mound and Monday night it started with Roy Halladay. Again.

“This is a game of failure and I’ve had my fair share,” he said. “Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while. It’s something I’ve dealt with in the past and I think I can overcome.”

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."