Halladay wins possible last home game as Phillie

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Halladay wins possible last home game as Phillie

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Roy Halladay was two months into his tenure with the Phillies when he pitched a perfect game against the Florida Marlins on a warm Miami night in May 2010.

The image of the triumphant pitcher raising his arms as Juan Castro threw across the diamond to Ryan Howard for the final out is still fresh in the mind.

It was difficult not to reflect on Halladay’s perfect game Tuesday night. Three-and-a-half seasons after that exhilarating moment, Halladay found himself facing the Marlins once again, only this time at Citizens Bank Park.

Times change. Back in May 2010, Halladay was just beginning his time with the Phillies. He is older now. Injuries have taken a toll on his fastball. The euphoria of the perfect game has been replaced with the uneasiness of an uncertain future.

And so, there was a very real possibility that Halladay made his final start in home whites for the Phillies on Tuesday night. At least he came away with the win in the Phils’ 6-4 victory (see Instant Replay).

Robotic to the end, Halladay said he felt no pangs of nostalgia as he walked off the mound after holding the young Marlins to four hits and a run over six innings.

“Honestly, I did not think about that,” he said. “It’s not out of lack of respect for the fans or anything like that. I just didn’t think about it. I don’t let myself look that far ahead.”

The fans didn’t think about it that much, either. The announced crowd was 28,872, the second smallest of the season.

Halladay, of course, will be a free agent this offseason. He has struggled since coming back from shoulder surgery in late August. The darting fastball that used to carve up hitters has lost its bite and is less menacing. The void has been filled by a heavy reliance on off-speed stuff, trickery out of the Jamie Moyer handbook. Halladay would like return to the Phillies next season. It’s unclear whether management will offer him the opportunity. He will be 37 in May. There are questions about how much he has left in the tank.

“Unfortunately, that’s out of my control,” Halladay said. “So I’m going to continue to play as hard as I can for the organization and my teammates and hopefully I have a chance to pitch again.

“But I can’t worry about things that are out of my control.”

Chase Utley, another aging player who has had his share of injuries, received a contract extension last month.

He hopes Halladay gets one.

“It did not dawn on me,” Utley said of the possibility that this was Halladay’s last start in home whites in Philadelphia. “I hope that’s not the case.

“He’s improving. Coming off surgery with a new arm slot, it’s something that he has to get used to. It seems like his command is getting better. I’m a true believer that the more reps and the more comfortable he gets with that new arm slot, the stronger he’ll get.”

Halladay did not face a world-beating lineup Tuesday night. The Marlins are young -- four of their nine starters were rookies -- and their offense is terrible. They rank last in the NL in runs per game (3.21), batting average (.231) and OPS (.627).

Giancarlo Stanton -- a.k.a. Ruben Amaro Jr.’s obsession -- is the only real threat in the Marlins’ lineup. Halladay got him to pop out on a changeup with two men on base to end an uprising in the fifth.

This has become Halladay’s style of pitching -- finesse, lots of off-speed stuff. His best fastball was just 88 mph Tuesday night.

Manager Ryne Sandberg was asked if he believed Halladay would continue with this style.

“For the rest of September I do,” he said. “His stuff has pretty much stayed the same.”

And beyond September?

“I don’t know. That’s the unknown,” Sandberg said. “You would think that getting these innings under his belt, these games, being healthy, are good signs. It’s hard to tell, but with a normal offseason throwing program, I’d be optimistic that he could gain some velocity.”

Halladay, who walked five batters in each of his previous two starts, said he tried to be more aggressive in this game. He was able to do that thanks in part to run support. Battery mate Carlos Ruiz drove in two runs in the third inning and Utley smacked a three-run homer in the fifth. The defense was also strong behind Halladay.

Getting back on a mound less than four months after surgery is a courageous move, but Halladay is not being evaluated on courage. If he were, the Phillies would offer him a five-year extension today. The team had a gaggle of front office types -- from Amaro to Pat Gillick, Dallas Green, Marti Wolever and Charley Kerfeld -- at Tuesday night’s game. Using cold, clinical evaluation, Amaro and his team of advisers must decide whether Halladay can still consistently get major-league hitters out.

They will have two more looks at the pitcher next week, but those starts will come on the road.

The home portion of Halladay’s season is over and it’s fair to wonder if he has thrown his last pitch in Phillies’ home whites.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."