Halladay's struggles continue in Phillies' win

slideshow-phillies-roy-halladay-ap.jpg

Halladay's struggles continue in Phillies' win

BOX SCORE

It’s not easy getting older and trying to recover that old magic. That’s especially the case for an elite athlete like Roy Halladay who is used to stepping onto a pitcher’s mound and doing whatever he wants.

But in this case it’s extra rough for Halladay, who says he feels healthy for the first time in two-and-a-half years following shoulder surgery in May. The thing is Halladay is healthy and strong, but he’s not quite ready to run yet.

In Thursday night’s 10-5 victory over the San Diego Padres at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), Halladay showed glimpses of his strength and health, allowing just one run on three hits and a walk with six strikeouts over the first four innings.

Then the fifth inning rolled around.

Halladay faced six hitters in the fifth inning, retiring the first hitter and giving up a soft infield single to the last man he faced. In between, Halladay walked four straight batters for the first time of his big-league career as the Padres posted four runs off the two-time Cy Young Award winner without the ball ever leaving the infield.

“I kind of lost my base in the fifth inning. I was just kind of collapsing,” Halladay said. “It was frustrating because I felt good, I was really looking forward to pitching today. For the most part we were right where we wanted to be and then that fifth inning, my lower half kind of disappeared from me. In the past I’ve been able to make things work, but it seems like right now I need everything to click. When I lost my lower half it was tough to really drive and stay strong on the front side, and as a result a lot of the balls were down.”

It’s more than pitching mechanics and command for Halladay, though. Staked to six runs in the first, the Phillies’ hitters made it easy for the right-hander as they went on to score double digits for just the fourth time this season.

But Halladay is like a truck stuck in the mud and spinning his tires. Every time he jumps on the gas in attempt to get out of it, the deeper he gets stuck in the mud. It’s especially frustrating because Halladay wants to pitch and he feels good. He says he worked really hard to get back and pitch this season when the easy thing would have been to go home, recover and wait for next spring training.

Sometimes Halladay says he doesn’t recognize himself. It’s as if he’s on the outside watching himself pitch and wondering, “Who’s that?”

“It’s not so much frustration as it is patience. It’s hard to be patient,” Halladay said. “You go from not knowing if you’re ever going to pitch again to getting back and then as soon as you’re back you expect to dominate. It’s just not the way it works. I have to be patient with that. I feel like I’ve come a long way and I’m very optimistic moving forward and I feel like I’m going in the right direction. It’s just a matter of avoiding an inning or two -- avoiding certain mechanical things or stuff like that. That’s what’s tough for me.”

Sure, Halladay takes pride in the fact that he was able to have surgery in May and come back to pitch in August. He knows he has to have perspective and understand that it’s going to take some time. Interim manager Ryne Sandberg can see the positives from Halladay’s four starts since having surgery. He sees how Halladay will get stronger and will fine tune his mechanics. He didn’t just lose it.

“You could call that ahead of schedule, when he came back here and pitched and continue to pitch, to be in the rotation,” Sandberg said. “But the perception is that he is healthy and he’ll gain from this. He’ll gain strength and really feel the difference after the offseason going into next year.”

Sandberg also knows what it’s like to be an elite player and see things slow down. He went through it when his Hall-of-Fame career ended in 1997. Halladay gets it, too. He just also believes that the results should matter, too.

It’s one thing to make an admirable comeback, but it’s another thing to be productive and competitive.

“In all honesty, I’m proud of the fact that I made it back and that a lot of guys my age could be at home, could be not pitching, could never pitch again,” Halladay said. “I feel like I beat some of those odds and that’s what I look at. I woke up this morning and it’s like Christmas morning getting to pitch again after sitting out and watching the team and not being a part of it. It’s a completely different thrill to be able to go out there and pitch now. I want to do a better job for us.”

Halladay will get another turn in five days, though he might have to pitch without the run support. Behind three hits, two walks and three RBIs from Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies went 5 for 11 with runners in scoring position, drew eight walks and picked up 14 hits.

In his last 20 games, Ruiz is batting .389 with three homers and 16 RBIs.

“Chooch has been steady, quality, right guy at the right spot at the plate with guys on base. Clutch hits. Just really locked in,” Sandberg said. “I think that in a lot of ways, he was the one that started being hot and it seems like the rest of guys have fed off him being hot.”

Following Ruiz’s lead, the Phillies have won five out of their last six and took back-to-back series. They will look to keep it going this weekend in Washington in a three-game series that begins on Friday night.

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

BOX SCORE

Before beginning their season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeout Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year (see story)”. 

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five (reliable) guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”

Phillies-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

Phillies-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola’s likely final appearance of 2017 was another good one, but also his 11th loss. 

The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits and struck out nine in six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the NL East champion Washington Nationals on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. 

With the Phillies using a six-man rotation and an off day Thursday, manager Pete Mackanin said Nola was “most likely” making his last start. He gave up a two-run home run on a 3-1 fastball to Michael A. Taylor in the second inning before getting into a groove with his curveball. 

Nola (12-11) retired eight of the final 10 batters he faced and left with a 3.54 ERA as the Phillies kicked off a season-ending six-game homestand with their fourth loss in five games. 

Odubel Herrera hit an 0-2 mistake fastball for a solo shot to right in the fourth for the Phillies’ lone run. They struggled against A.J. Cole (3-5), who allowed six hits over 5 2/3 innings and collected his first major-league hit.

• It marked the 18th time in 27 starts that Nola allowed two earned runs or fewer. He gave up only eight earned runs in four starts against Washington. 

• The Phillies have scored seven runs in the past four games. 

• Rhys Hoskins hit a nubber toward first in the fourth inning that Ryan Zimmerman fielded facing the mound and blindly flipped backward to Cole covering first for the out. Hoskins flied deep to center to end the fifth and finished 0 for 4. He’s 2 for 21 in the past four games and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14. 

• Nick Williams went 1 for 4 with a single and three strikeouts. 

• Maikel Franco popped out on the 11th pitch of his at-bat to lead off the ninth against Sean Doolittle (24th save). 

• Hoskins made two fine plays at first base. He made a nice scoop of Freddy Galvis’ low throw in the first and made a leaping grab of Cesar Hernandez’s high and wide throw and tagged Matt Weiters going by for the out in the fourth. 

• Nationals slugger Bryce Harper’s return from a left knee injury was delayed by illness. Manager Dusty Baker said Harper, out since Aug. 12, woke up feeling sick. He was at the park early to get treatment and could play Tuesday. “He probably doesn’t like to hit here,” Mackanin joked. Harper’s 12 home runs at Citizens Bank Park are the most he’s hit in any road stadium. 

• Nola twice came up with runners at first and second and two outs. He grounded to first in the second and fanned in the fourth. 

• Mackanin planned to give his team a pep talk. “If they think they’re tired and ready to go home — it’s been a long season — I’m going to remind them, ‘If you want to go to the World Series, you’re going to play another entire month,’” he said. 

• With Nola likely finished for the season, it’s lining up for Henderson Alvarez to start Saturday and Nick Pivetta to go in the season finale Sunday. 

• All players from both teams on the field before the game stood for the national anthem. Baker, who is black, said he opposes kneeling, but understands the frustrations of those athletes who do it. “We’ve been talking about the same problems I had when I was 18 or 19 years old, so have we made progress or have we regressed?” Baker said. “It’s up to us to try to figure out how to come up with a solution.” 

• The Phillies dropped to 33 1/2 games behind the Nationals. They must win one of their final five games to avoid 100 losses. The Nationals must finish 5-1 to win 100 games. 

• Right-hander Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14 ERA) will make his fourth start against the Nationals this season when he faces lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night.