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 likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The likelihood of the Phillies going with a rookie backup catcher in 2017 increased dramatically when the Miami Marlins signed free agent A.J. Ellis on Wednesday.

Ellis spent the final month of the 2016 season with the Phillies after coming over from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade. Ellis, 35, got high marks for his work with the Phillies’ young pitching staff and the Phils had some interest in bringing him back. The interest, however, was complicated by a tight 40-man roster, which already includes three catchers — starter Cameron Rupp and minor-league prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.

With Ellis out of the picture, the Phillies will likely use either Alfaro or Knapp as the backup catcher in 2017. Knapp spent a full year at Triple A in 2016 and could end up being the guy as Alfaro moves to Triple A for another year of seasoning.

General manager Matt Klentak spoke earlier this week of the possibility of going with a rookie at backup catcher.

“Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A,” Klentak said. “He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

It’s not all that surprising that Ellis ended up with the Marlins on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. He played for Marlins manager Don Mattingly during the latter’s time as manager of the Dodgers.

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.