Halladay's struggles continue in Phillies' win

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Halladay's struggles continue in Phillies' win

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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.

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- A tempestuous three-game series between the Red Sox and Baltimore wound up with Matt Barnes being ejected for throwing a fastball behind the head of Orioles star Manny Machado in Boston's 6-2 victory Sunday.

Barnes' ejection was the latest facet of this tense rivalry between AL East rivals. His high, very inside pitch came two days after Machado took out Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-high slide.

Pedroia watched from the dugout for a second straight day Sunday with knee and ankle injuries. Machado apologized with a text message on Friday night, but that evidently wasn't the end of it.

When Machado batted in the sixth inning, Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches down and in near the knees. He came up again in the eighth and Barnes' pitch whizzed behind Machado and hit his bat. The ball hit Machado and rolled foul, and plate umpire Andy Fletcher tossed Barnes (see full recap).

Bour's 3-run homer lifts Marlins past Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Justin Bour hit a three-run homer to cap the six-run sixth inning and help the Miami Marlins to a 7-3 victory Sunday against the San Diego Padres.

The first six Marlins batters reached and scored in the sixth, helping Tom Koehler (1-1) to his first win of the season.

San Diego's Luis Perdomo came off the disabled list and shut down the Marlins through five before hitting the wall in the sixth. Martin Prado hit a leadoff single, Christian Yelich walked and Giancarlo Stanton hit an RBI single to chase Perdomo.

Craig Stammen (0-1) came on and allowed Marcell Ozuna's RBI double just past the glove of first baseman Wil Myers and J.T. Realmuto's RBI single to left before Bour hit a no-doubter to right field, his third.

Kevin Quackenbush relieved and got three straight outs (see full recap).

Astros use 2-run 10th to beat Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel both had RBI singles in the 10th inning, and the Houston Astros rallied from an early four-run deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 on Sunday.

Carlos Beltran opened the 10th by drawing a walk from Ryan Garton (0-1) and went to second on Jose Altuve's single. After reaching third on Carlos Correa's fly to center, Beltran scored to make it 5-4 on McCann's hit to right.

Gurriel's two-out single put Houston ahead 6-4.

Luke Gregerson (1-1) went a scoreless ninth before Ken Giles got three out for his fifth save.

The Astros tied it at 4 on pinch-hitter Evan Gattis' sacrifice fly off closer Alex Colome, who was bidding for a two-inning save, in the ninth.

Brad Miller had an RBI triple, Steven Souza Jr. hit a two-run homer, and Jesus Sucre added a run-scoring single as the Rays went up 4-0 in the first (see full recap).

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

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A constant theme during the Phillies' playoff run from 2007-11 was that even when the offense was sputtering, it never felt like they were out of a game. That group of players picked up so many late hits and mounted so many comebacks that even a five-run deficit heading into the final three innings felt like a winnable game.

The 2017 Phillies are a much different, much less experienced, much less powerful team, but their late-game offense has been a surprisingly fun development this April.

The Phillies used back-to-back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning Sunday to pick up a 5-2 win over the Braves and a series sweep (see Instant Replay). Cesar Hernandez hit a go-ahead, two-run shot off hard-throwing reliever Arodys Vizcaino. Aaron Altherr followed with a solo shot on the next pitch. The Braves switched pitchers, then Odubel Herrera hit a solo homer of his own.

Just like that, ballgame.

The Phillies lead the majors with six home runs in the eighth inning. That's more than the Cubs, Red Sox, Rockies, Angels, Mariners, Pirates, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Giants and Astros have combined.

They've scored 14 runs in the eighth inning and 27 in innings 7-9. Both figures rank third-best in the National League behind only the Diamondbacks and Nationals.

Unexpected late-game heroics and unexpected power from some unlikely sources.

"It's always a bonus to have a team like that," manager Pete Mackanin said. "These guys pull for each other. We have a good bench, we have some interchangeable players that can step in and do a good job. ... They're fighters and it's good to see."

Hernandez continues to open eyes with his developing power. He has four home runs through 18 games after hitting six all of last season. He has more extra-base hits (nine) than Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt and Robinson Cano, among many others.

And he's done it without sacrificing his eye at the plate and slap-hitting ability. Hernandez is hitting .338 through 80 at-bats.

Hernandez gained muscle over the winter and reported to spring training looking noticeably bigger, but Mackanin credits the power surge to a change in his swing plane.

"He had an uppercut swing," Mackanin said. "He worked underneath the ball, which made him a low-ball hitter. I think the fact that we convinced him to level out his swing and stay on top of the ball -- work above the ball and work your way down through the strike zone -- I think has not only given him more power but also (the ability) to hit more line drives and use the whole field."

Makes sense. Managers, hitting coaches and players talk all the time about how you don't hit a home run when you're trying to hit a home run, you hit one when you're thinking up the middle and catch the ball with the barrel.

Hernandez hasn't lofted more balls because he's trying to loft them, he's done it by getting stronger and developing a more consistent swing.

"He's an on-base guy and a leadoff hitter and now I'm starting to think of him as a cleanup hitter as well," Mackanin said jokingly. "It is nice. It's good to see. He's not trying to hit home runs. He's trying to hit line drives and when you work above the ball and level your swing out and you hit the bottom half of the ball, the ball is going to go up with a line-drive swing. Because of that, he's hitting more gaps and hitting for more power."

In a way, it's similar to what Herrera did last season, jumping from eight home runs as a rookie to 15 as a sophomore as he continued learning the strike zone, learning major-league pitchers and learning of his own capabilities.

"I love watching Cesar hit the ball," Herrera said. "He has a beautiful swing and he makes great contact on the ball. It's great to be behind him."

With Hernandez leading off and Herrera batting third, the top of the Phillies' lineup has gotten on base a ton. They've gotten a .384 on-base percentage from the 1-3 spots in the order. Just imagine how many additional runs the Phillies would have produced to this point if Maikel Franco or Tommy Joseph were hitting consistently.

"I like all three right there," Mackanin said. "I like Howie Kendrick, also. I'm anxious for him to get back (from the DL) and then we'll go from there. We've got some good things going. We've got a good bench. We've got Altherr, (Daniel) Nava, (Andres) Blanco. We've got (Andrew) Knapp who's doing a good job behind the plate. I think we're in pretty good shape that way."

It's not going to be an explosive, league-leading offense, but it's certainly a deeper offense than it was a year ago. An addition like Nava, for example, has proven to be underrated and pay early dividends. Remember, he was one of the last men chosen for the opening day roster. So far this April, he's succeeded in every role in which the Phillies have used him.

Despite not playing regularly, Nava has reached base in 16 of his first 31 plate appearances, something no first-year Phillie has done since Jeremy Giambi in 2002.

"Nava is really valuable to us," Mackanin said. "He's a part-time player that gives you good at-bats, quality at-bats. He works the count, obviously the first game of the season he showed us he's got power. Gap power and the occasional home run from both sides of the plate. 

"Watching a guy like that, you can't help but notice. If it was me and I was a free swinger, I'd go up to him and ask him, 'How do I tone it down a little bit?' He just doesn't get himself out."