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-Braves 5 things: Two teams trending in opposite directions

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Two teams trending in opposite directions

Phillies (70-88) at Braves (65-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

Another embarrassing Phillies loss led to a players-only meeting last night, and hopefully the message resonated with some of the young guys because this is not the way to end a season (see story).

Let's take a look at the Phils' series finale in Atlanta, their final road game of 2016 and final game ever at generic Turner Field.

1. Tripping over themselves
The last six games, the Phillies have looked like the 2015 version — a team that so often got lackluster starting pitching performances, found itself down by four or more runs early and didn't have the offense to overcome that hole.

In these last six games, the Phillies are 1-5 and have been outscored 63-31. That's more than 10 runs allowed per game, and even in the lone win they allowed eight.

Adam Morgan was awful last night, pushing the Phils' team ERA in September to 5.10. The Phils have played 20 games this month and 44 percent of the runs they've allowed have come in the last six.

2. Opposite directions
The Phillies were seven games over .500 after six weeks this season; the Braves lost 66 of their first 99 games.

But these two teams have traveled in different directions since the All-Star break, with the Braves' offense coming alive and leading them to the majors' best on-base percentage in the second half.

The Braves are averaging 4.83 runs per game since the break. They've scored 58 more than the Phillies, who've averaged 3.99. The addition of Matt Kemp has surely helped and Atlanta is 28-24 since acquiring him from San Diego.

The Kemp acquisition was an example of something Pete Mackanin has mentioned a lot lately: A young team's need to add a bat. The Braves were not positioned to contend in 2016 or even 2017 when they acquired Kemp, but they bought low on him in an attempt to lengthen the lineup and add power behind Freddie Freeman. It's worked offensively, even though Kemp has some well-documented deficiencies in the field.

The Braves won't catch the Phillies for fourth place in the NL East, but they also won't lose 100 games. One of these teams is finishing strong and building confidence for next year. The other is getting slaughtered and has seemed disinterested in playing this last week.

3. Hellickson's final start
Jeremy Hellickson makes his 32nd and final start of the season tonight. It could be his last with the Phillies.

Hellickson is 12-10 with a 3.78 ERA in 185⅔ innings. He's struck out 150 and walked 45. It's been his best year since 2012, his second full season in the majors. Even though he's walked three batters in three of his last five starts, this walk rate of 2.2 per nine innings is the best of his career.

Hellickson struggled his last time out at Citi Field against the Mets, allowing six runs in 4⅓ innings. That came after his best start in years, a three-hit shutout of the Marlins on Sept. 17. Perhaps you can chalk up the last start to a bad matchup with the Mets — Hellickson was 1-3 with a 7.77 ERA against them in five starts and they hit seven homers in 24⅓ innings.

Hellickson has been just OK against the Braves this season. He held them to one earned run in six innings on July 6, gave up three in 5⅔ on July 30 and allowed four in six innings on Sept. 2. 

Most Braves have modest career numbers vs. him, but Kemp is 7 for 18 (.389) with a double, triple, homer and six RBIs.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Hellickson this winter. He'll be a free agent in a weak starting pitching class coming off a rebound year. If the Phillies extend him the $17 million qualifying offer, he could be in position to decline it if he thinks an offer in the four-year, $60 million range could come. And it very well could materialize given the lack of options teams will have.

Whether Hellickson is around next year or not, this was a good trade by GM Andy MacPhail, buying low on Hellickson and parting only with Sam McWilliams, a former eighth-round pick who was just OK this season at Single A.

Hellickson is opposed tonight by veteran right-hander Josh Collmenter, an average overhand thrower who is prone to meltdowns but is coming off decent starts against the Nationals and Marlins.

4. Hail Cesar
Two more walks last night for Cesar Hernandez, who is up to .293 with a .372 OBP. He leads the National League with 49 walks since the All-Star break and is second in the majors to only Mike Trout (55).

Hernandez's .417 on-base percentage in the second half is sixth in the majors, behind Joey Votto, Trout, Freeman, D.J. LeMahieu and Miguel Cabrera. Four of those guys are MVP candidates, one leads the NL in hitting (LeMahieu, .349) and the other is Hernandez.

Interestingly, Fangraphs has Hernandez pegged at 4.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) this season. That's a very high number. It's also one I struggle to believe in, given it incorporates defense and baserunning. According to Fangraphs, Hernandez has been worth plus-14.9 runs defensively and plus-1.0 runs on the bases this season. Hard to figure, but it doesn't take away from his developing on-base skills.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 2-7 against the Braves since the All-Star break.

• Freeman has a 30-game hitting streak. 

• Odubel Herrera's double was the Phillies' lone extra-base hit last night. He has eight extra-base hits in his last 13 games, as many as he had in his previous 44.

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

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ATLANTA — After every Phillies road game, it’s customary for reporters to enter the clubhouse and stop into the manager’s office to collect a few observations from the ol' skipper.
 
On Wednesday night, Pete Mackanin, still in his uniform pants and red undershirt, took the unusual step of leaving the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field and approaching a group of reporters as they waited in the hallway outside the room.
 
What gives?
 
Did the toilets overflow or something?
 
Well, in a sense, yes.
 
The stink of a 12-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves led some of the team’s elder statesmen to call a players-only team meeting (see Instant Replay). That meant Mackanin had to do his postmortems outside in the hallway.
 
“I don't know who called it, but it’s nice to see,” Mackanin said. “Somebody cares.”
 
Catcher Cameron Rupp revealed that the meeting was called by veterans Ryan Howard and A.J. Ellis. The Phillies have lost five of their last six games and given up a ridiculous 63 runs over that span. They lost, 17-0, Sunday in New York and blew a 6-0 lead in losing, 7-6, Tuesday night in Atlanta. Losing by a 10-spot on Wednesday night added to the embarrassment and dropped the Phillies to 70-88 with four games remaining in the season.
 
“We have some older guys, Howie and A.J., that have been around and they don’t want to see guys stumble to the finish line,” Rupp said. “Finish hard, finish strong. We’ve had a good year in a lot of guys’ eyes. We’ve improved on last year. There has been a lot of good things we can build off and that’s what the message was: Continue to work and get better.
 
“There are four games left — don’t quit,” Rupp said. “Come to the ballpark expecting to win and see where it takes you. We got pushed around the last couple of nights and in New York. Stuff happens. It’s part of the game. But with four games left, there’s a lot that each player can prove.
 
“A lot can happen in four days. We can ruin somebody else’s season.”
 
The Phillies play their final game at Turner Field on Thursday night — the Braves will open a new stadium next year — then return home Friday night to play the Mets, who are locked in a tight race for the National League wild card.
 
The weekend series against the Mets will mark Howard’s last three days in a Phillies uniform.
 
He has swung the bat lately like a man who still has pride. His part in the team meeting reflected that pride.
 
“A.J. and I felt like having a quick meeting and that we did,” Howard said. “We need to refocus on these last four games. We got beat up tonight. We have to put a halt to that momentum and refocus on the last four games.
 
“It’s important to finish strong. It would be easy to cash it in, but we want to go out on a high note and we have four games to try to do that.”

Mackanin admitted the series in New York — three losses in four games to the Mets — “took the life out of everybody” and the malaise followed the Phillies to Atlanta.
 
“It's all about pitching,” Mackanin said. “Pitching keeps you in games. That's why we won 70 games. Now we're not getting the pitching.”
 
The Phillies have struggled to score runs all season. In fact, they are the only team in the majors not to reach 600 runs. (They have 599.) But recently, the pitching has gone downhill, especially in the bullpen.
 
Mackanin tried to give the bullpen a break on Wednesday night. That’s why he had Adam Morgan suck up five innings on a night when he didn’t have it. The lefty allowed 10 hits and nine runs in his final start of the season.
 
“It’s pretty bad,” Morgan said. “It’s not the way that I wanted to go out.”
 
Morgan made strides recently as he picked up a two-seam fastball and used his changeup more. But he is 2-11 with a 6.04 ERA.
 
“Below average,” said Mackanin, assessing Morgan’s season. “It wasn't a successful season for him. He has ability, but the numbers matter. If you want to go by the numbers, they're not good. It doesn't mean I don't like him. It doesn't mean he doesn't have a future. At some point, you have to put up numbers.”
 
Speaking of numbers, the Phillies have put up some awful numbers against the NL East. They are 16-35 against the NL East in their last 51 divisional games.
 
“I look at the team statistics,” Mackanin said. “When you're 13th, 14th and 15th in 10 of those categories, that tells you all you need to know.
 
“We're down at the bottom in hitting. We're sinking fast in pitching.
 
“As far as a yardstick to measure, I look at those stats. Numbers matter. They tell you the story.”
 
In four days, the story of the 2016 Phillies will be over. Maybe Wednesday night’s players-only meeting will inspire a couple of final wins.

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