Halladay, Phils earn rain-shortened win over Cards

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Halladay, Phils earn rain-shortened win over Cards

BOX SCORE

It’s amazing what a few runs can do for a pitcher.

Just ask Roy Halladay.

He rode a five-run cushion in the first inning to his second straight win Friday night. The 35-year-old right-hander went seven strong innings and came away with his 67th career complete game in the Phillies’ rain-shortened 8-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a big difference pitching with a nice lead,” Halladay said. “Get five early runs, give one back and you get three more. It doesn’t happen very often, but it makes it a lot better because you can be aggressive and you are less tentative and tight. You can be aggressive and attack guys.”

Halladay was dead-on when he said early runs don’t happen very often -- at least with this team. Entering Friday night’s game, the Phils had scored just 13 runs in their previous seven games. None of those 13 runs were scored before the sixth inning.

Halladay’s effort Friday night evened his season record at 2-2 and snapped a four-game losing streak for the Phillies.

The Phillies’ offense snapped another troubling streak when it drew a walk for the first time since Sunday. The Phils actually had two walks in the game as they avoided becoming the first team since 1920 to go five straight games without a walk.

“We finally got a walk,” manager Charlie Manuel said with wide eyes after the game.

Manuel was in a good mood because, well, he’s always in a good mood when his team hits.

The Phils had 10 hits, four for extra bases. They chased lefty Jaime Garcia (eight runs, four earned, in three innings) early, a mild shocker considering they entered the game hitting just .131 (11 for 84) against lefties. Ryan Howard, who has struggled against left-handed pitching, got the night off. Manuel said Howard had a sore groin.

Ty Wigginton spent last season with the Phillies and made eight errors in 22 games at third base. Wigginton made another error at third in this game, but he did it for the Cardinals and it set up four of the five runs that the Phils scored in the first inning. Ben Revere (RBI triple) and Humberto Quintero (RBI double) followed the error with big hits.

The attendance was just 34,092, small by Phillies’ standards of recent seasons, but the crowd came alive with the early burst of runs.

“When we put together runs, that’ll bring life to your team,” Manuel said. “We got a break (the Wigginton error) and ran with it.”

Halladay was the story of the spring because of his consistent struggles on the mound. Whispers of a serious decline followed him into the regular season and grew louder when he was tagged for 12 hits and 12 runs over 7 1/3 innings in his first two starts.

Sunday in Miami, Halladay showed a major improvement when he pitched eight innings of one-run ball against the Miami Marlins. That was not a top test for Halladay -- even he acknowledged it -- because the Marlins, averaging just over two runs per game, are a threadbare team and they were without their best player, Giancarlo Stanton. The Cardinals, averaging over five runs per game, were a better test.

Though Halladay fell behind in a lot of counts -- he threw first-pitch strikes to just 11 of 25 hitters -- and had a poor ratio of strikes to balls (59/50), he had excellent results against the Cards. He allowed just two hits, solo homers by Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday, walked two and struck out six.

Working with a lead, catcher Quintero called a lot of sinkers. It was a good pitch for Halladay and it sat around 90 mph and hit 92 several times.

Over the winter, Halladay made mechanical changes to his delivery.

“Tonight was about as good as I’ve felt,” he said. “I still need to be more consistent, but I feel good where I’m at. I feel like it’s coming together the way it should. I’ll continue to work at it until I get more consistent.”

Halladay mentioned that his delivery got out of whack a few times, especially when he tried to “add” to pitches. That was a reference to overthrowing. He seemed to do that in his first couple of starts as he tried to generate velocity. He said he needs to avoid that temptation and believes he can now recognize it when he’s doing that and make a quick fix to his delivery.

“Obviously it was a struggle for me in spring training and the first two starts of the season,” he said. “I know it’s hard for you guys to believe but I always felt I was going in the right direction. I just needed time to put it together.”

As Halladay kept the Cardinals off balance Friday night, a more important drama played in Massachusetts, where law enforcement officials nabbed one of the lowlifes who killed and maimed innocent people with a bombing at the Boston Marathon. Halladay is known for his tunnel vision, but even he knew what was going down 300 or so miles to the north.

“We all realize how lucky we are to live in this country and have the freedoms we do,” Halladay said. “That (incident) was disappointing and heartbreaking. But to see how we overcome things is gratifying. We always become stronger after things like that. I’m glad to be part of a country like that.”

Pete Mackanin hints that Jeremy Hellickson will be Phillies’ opening-day starter

Pete Mackanin hints that Jeremy Hellickson will be Phillies’ opening-day starter

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Monday said he was not ready to name an opening day starter “because anything can happen in the spring.”

But Mackanin dropped a strong hint that veteran Jeremy Hellickson will get the nod for the second straight year when the Phillies open the season in Cincinnati on April 3.

“He’s probably got the best chance to be our opening-day starter,” Mackanin said after Monday’s workout. “I’m not going to definitely announce it because anything can happen in the spring. He was last year. I’m not making the announcement that he will be, but there’s a good chance he might be.”

Jerad Eickhoff, who led the Phillies' starting staff in innings (197⅓) and ERA (3.65) last season, is another candidate for the start, but it sounds as if he will slot in behind Hellickson.

On paper, the Phillies’ opening week rotation — barring something unforeseen — could be Hellickson, Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Of course, as Mackanin said, “anything can happen in the spring,” so all of this is early-camp guess work.

Hellickson, who turns 30 on April 8, went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season. He returned when the club extended him a $17.2 million qualifying offer for 2017. Hellickson accepted the Phillies’ one-year offer after considering free agency.

“He feels great,” Mackanin said. “He’s in a great frame of mind. I’m sure he would like to have gotten a five-year, $100 million contract from someone, but he’s real happy to be here and we’re happy to have him.”

Eflin takes the mound
Right-hander Zach Eflin returned to a bullpen mound Monday after being slowed last week by a bout of knee inflammation. He threw 40 pitches and reported no problems.

Eflin had double knee surgery in the fall so the Phils will take it slow with him. He projects to be in the Triple A rotation.

Looking good
Phillies pitchers continued to throw “live” batting practice Monday. Mackanin roamed four fields and got a look at all the arms. He liked what he saw of Pat Neshek, the submarine right-handed reliever that the Phils acquired from Houston in an offseason trade.

“I was watching Neshek throw live BP,” Mackanin said. “Not only does he have good movement on his fastball and a real nice sharp-breaking slider, but he threw some outrageous changeups that seemed to stop halfway to the plate. So I’m looking forward to seeing him compete in games.”

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozen baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot of attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coghlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could affect Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95 (mph), it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game-calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good, long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”

Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.