Halladay returns to Phils in time to see Kendrick's latest win

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Halladay returns to Phils in time to see Kendrick's latest win

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SAN FRANCISCO – Wednesday will be a busy day in the Phillies’ corner of the world.

They will go for their first sweep in San Francisco since 1984.

But before they take the field, they will come to grips with the reality facing Roy Halladay.

How hurt is he?

Does he need surgery?

Will he pitch again this season?

Will he pitch again at all?

Phillies officials and Halladay will issue an update on the pitcher’s condition in the wake of Tuesday’s examination in Los Angeles. Halladay made it from Los Angeles to San Francisco in time to see the end of the Phillies’ 6-2 win over the Giants on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay), but was not available for comment and team officials were closed-mouthed on his condition.

“He stopped in to chat with [GM] Ruben [Amaro] and I,” manager Charlie Manuel said about 15 minutes after the final pitch of the game.

“We’ll give an update [Wednesday] when we get all the information,” Amaro said.

The general tone around the Phillies is that Halladay will be out for a while.

“We’ve got to step up,” Kyle Kendrick said. “To lose a guy like that who has been so good for so long. Everyone has to step up, especially the starters, and give us a chance to win every game.”

The Phillies will recall Tyler Cloyd to fill Halladay’s spot on Friday.

Kendrick backed up his words about stepping up on Tuesday night. The 28-year-old right-hander delivered another strong start in improving to 4-1 on the season. He scattered six hits over seven innings, allowed just two runs, did not walk a batter and struck out six in out-pitching two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.

It was the second straight night the Phils got a zero-walk effort from their starting pitcher. Cliff Lee allowed two runs and did not walk a batter in eight innings in Monday night’s win.

In both wins, the Phils got timely hitting. Michael Young has delivered run-scoring doubles with two outs in both games.

In Tuesday night’s win, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both homered and drove in two runs.

“We’ve played two solid games,” Manuel said. “We’ve been moving runners and scoring the runs we’re supposed to score. Everything has been really good.”

The two wins against the Giants were preceded by two losses to lowly Miami. The Phils had a combined five hits in those games.

“We’re having better at-bats, working more counts, swinging at our pitches in the zone and we’re getting hits to show for it,” Utley said.

Utley’s seventh homer of the season was a bomb to right-center on a first-pitch slider to open the fifth against Lincecum.

“I was looking for something in the zone and I squared it up good,” Utley said. “This is a big yard. I wasn’t sure where it would go.”

It went halfway to Oakland.

“His power is there,” Manuel said. “I always thought if he could get his core strong and get back to playing regular he’d have a good chance to getting it back.”

For the second night in a row, the Phils built a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Pitchers love working with a lead.

“It’s always nice to get early runs,” Kendrick said.

Utley became the latest to mention Kendrick’s poise. It showed in the fourth inning when Young kicked a potential double-play ball at third, putting runners at first and second with no outs in a 3-2 game. Kendrick stayed cool, got two strikeouts and a groundout to end the threat.

“He stayed composed,” Utley said. “He’s getting out of big jams and making big pitches when he needs to.”

Kendrick is 11-4 with a 2.44 ERA in his last 17 starts dating to mid-August.

He has arrived as a dependable big-league starter and with the possibility that Halladay could be out for some time, his timing couldn’t be better.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Phils go for a three-game sweep of the Giants.

They’ll also come to grips with Halladay’s situation.

It’ll be a big day by the bay.

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

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When Aaron Nola pitches like he did Thursday, there aren't too many teams capable of beating him.

Nola was locked in against the Cardinals in the Phillies' 5-1 win, allowing just one run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings with a season-high eight strikeouts (see Instant Replay). His first seven innings were scoreless and his pitch count was at just 89, so he had the chance for his first-ever complete game and the Phillies' first of the season.

But Paul DeJong greeted Nola in the eighth with a solo homer, and after a one-out walk to Matt Carpenter, Nola's day was done. He left to a loud ovation from Phillies fans who have been waiting a long time to see this guy again.

"Well that's the Nola we all have come to know and love," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was outstanding today. ... He was painting on both sides of the plate. Real good curveball. Threw a lot of good changeups. I think he got tired in that eighth inning, but it was great to see him rebound from the struggles he's been going through."

Nola had elite command of his two-seam fastball and curveball on this day. Five of his eight strikeouts were looking as he continuously froze Cardinals hitters with two-seamers that started outside and darted back over the outside corner. Everything was low in the zone. The curveball was sharp and biting with late life, and St. Louis' hitters kept swinging over top of it.

This was the Nola worth drafting in the first round. This was the Nola who can legitimately be a top-of-the-rotation arm.

"I know what I'm capable of and I know what I can do and today was me," Nola said. "I felt confident in all my pitches today and commanding all my pitches when I wanted to. It was all good in those areas.

"I always try to visualize [success]. I know what I'm capable of doing and what pitches I can command. It's just those days where you feel really good about it and you're really confident about executing to both sides of the plate."

Last year during spring training, Mackanin compared Nola's skill set to that of a pitcher he managed in 1985 in the Class A Midwest League. That pitcher was Greg Maddux. 

"I'll just say this and I probably shouldn't, but I'm just gonna say it: Aaron Nola reminds me a bit of [Maddux]," Mackanin said last February.

"He shows no fear, he's very confident in his abilities and he has the uncanny ability to locate his fastball down in the zone on both sides of the plate. And he really believes in himself."

On Thursday, Nola fit every piece of that description. And just like Nick Pivetta built confidence with his nine-strikeout performance last week against the Red Sox that carried over into a 10-K night against the Cardinals (see story), this has a chance to be a real building block for Nola.

Throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of 24 hitters will get you a long way.

"He got ahead of almost every hitter I guarantee you, he was strike one," catcher Cameron Rupp said.  

"And when you do that, that opens up so many doors with your pitch sequence, being able to pitch and get in on guys, maybe throw a purpose pitch for a ball, maybe they swing and you're 0-2 and that opens up the outer half even bigger. He threw strikes, he pounded the zone, and when you do that, you're going to have so much success. 

"That's what he did his first year-and-a-half up here. He got away from locating his pitches and the injuries, I'm sure, didn't help, but he attacked the zone and did a great job for us. ... When you do that, the sky is the limit, and he showed that today."

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Phillies reliever Pat Neshek is having a tremendous, All-Star season, but the restrictions on his usage have become a real concern.

Neshek, who has a 0.63 ERA and 30 scoreless appearances out of 31, induced an inning-ending double play Thursday to get the Phillies to the ninth with a two-run lead. He threw just five pitches in the 5-1 win (see Instant Replay).

But even if the Phillies didn't tack on two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, Neshek was not going back out for a save situation in the ninth, Mackanin said.

"I asked him to go back out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He said he would rather not, he didn't feel like he had it. 

"I would have liked to have sent him back out, obviously, because he's been so effective. However, we've got a good thing going there and if he can only pitch one inning for us, I'll take it. 

"He's been that good and I don't want to disrupt that. That's one area that I don't have to worry about. So, I did ask if he could go back out, he just thought it was better that he didn't."

Moments later, Neshek said he was not asked to go back out for the ninth.

It's the second straight day there have been conflicting messages when it comes to Neshek's availability. Wednesday night, when the Phillies blew a five-run lead and allowed runs in both the eighth and ninth innings as Neshek stayed in the bullpen, Mackanin said that Neshek had told him earlier he was unavailable. But then Neshek said that he was the one told he'd have the day off.

Whichever order of operations has actually occurred the last two games, these restrictions on Neshek's usage are affecting the Phillies late in games and they're sure to have an impact on his trade value as well.

The trade value is the more important thing here long-term because the Phillies are 25 games under .500. Neshek and Howie Kendrick are their two best trade assets, but if you're a contending team, why give up anything of substance for a half-season of Neshek if you don't even know if you can send him out two games in a row?

"He gave me the off day when I showed up," Neshek said Thursday about the middle game of the series. "I don’t know. You guys (the media) are making a big deal out of it."

Did he feel better Thursday?

"Yeah," he said. "I went out there and got the double play.

"We’ve been used a lot this week. I was kind of hoping that I might get a day today. But I understand the state of the bullpen. You have to suck it up and go out there."

Neshek has been used five times in the last seven days, so he does have a point, he has been used a lot. That's the byproduct of being your team's most reliable reliever.

At this stage, Neshek is a safe bet to be the Phillies' All-Star representative, especially because he'd serve an actual purpose in the All-Star Game as a right-handed specialist capable of retiring the best of the best.

"It could happen," he said. "There’s a couple other guys. It’s going to come down to who Joe Maddon wants for his bench. Is it going to be an extra pitcher? Is it going to be an extra hitter? They usually don’t stick with middle relief guys. Yeah, I have the numbers. But the All-Star Game is kind of a hairy thing if you’re not the star guy, if you’re not the save guy. It’s going to come down to do we need a pitcher or do we need a hitter.

"It’s really tough to make it as a middle reliever. It’s hard to get excited about anything that hasn’t happened yet."