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.”

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.