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.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Jake Thompson aims to follow Mark Leiter Jr.'s lead

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Jake Thompson aims to follow Mark Leiter Jr.'s lead

Phillies (46-79) vs. Marlins (62-63)
1:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies got back in the win column on Wednesday night after a pair of losses during Tuesday's doubleheader. The Phils aim for their second straight four-game split with Jake Thompson getting called up for the start. Former Phillies right-hander Vance Worley will take the hill for the Marlins.

Here are five things to know for the series finale on Thursday afternoon:

1. Calling on Thompson
Thompson returns to the rotation for the first time in three weeks after a lackluster outing in Anaheim on Aug. 2.

Thompson has made only five appearances this season, including two starts. Before allowing seven runs (two earned) on nine hits in five innings against the Angels, he threw five shutout innings in a spot start against the Braves at home. 

In 15 innings this year, he's allowed 12 runs on 20 hits (and seven walks). He's struck out 10 batters and allowed four home runs, three of which came against the Angels. 

The 23-year-old righty has made three starts in Triple A Lehigh Valley in the last few weeks. He had one quality start against Charlotte, the White Sox's Triple A team, but in 17 1/3 innings he has given up 21 hits and 10 runs. He's even walked 10 compared to just 14 strikeouts. 

He has a 4.20 ERA this season, but his peripherals suggest he's been much worse than that, particularly with his high walk and low strikeout rates. He has yet to face the Marlins in his career before Thursday.

2. Unleash the Vanimal
Worley, who spent his first few seasons in Philadelphia, returns to Citizens Bank Park for just the third time as an opposing player.

He's spent the entire season in the Marlins' system and has faced the Phillies twice in relief earlier this season, both times at Marlins Park. In four innings, he's allowed three runs, all of which came in one outing.

The "Vanimal" is back in the Marlins' rotation after spending over a month in relief. The 29-year-old righty has a 3.08 ERA in his last five starts and the team is 4-1 in his starts. His peripherals aren't ideal with just an 11-9 K-BB rate while allowing 23 hits in 26 1/3 innings. However, he's allowed only one home run, though all five starts came in pitcher's parks.

He has a 4.82 ERA in 56 innings this season and his strikeout rate is near his career low. Worley has been able to cut down on both his walks and home runs. He is not close to his 2011 rookie campaign with the Phils, but he's still been a serviceable pitcher in the Marlins' rotation.

Worley's fastball sits around 90 mph and he throws it 90 percent of the time. He throws three different fastballs — a sinker, cutter and four-seamer — while mixing in an occasional curveball.

In 13 career innings against the Phillies, he has a 4.85 ERA. Freddy Galvis is 4 for 6 with a BB against him. Tommy Joseph is 2 for 2 while Maikel Franco is 1 for 2 with a double.

3. Dog days of the rotation
While the Phillies are 33 games under .500, there is plenty to watch down the stretch, particularly in the team's rotation. 

After Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin were placed on the 60-day and 10-day disabled list, respectively, there are now a few rotation spots up for grabs surrounding Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff, now the longest-tenured members of the rotation. Even Eickhoff is getting an extra day between starts after his velocity drop last time around, so there is plenty of flux surrounding this staff.

It's hard not to be reminded of last season, when nearly every member of the rotation saw their season end early of Eickhoff and Jeremy Hellickson. That led to plenty of young starters, including Thompson, getting the chance to show off their stuff in the last month or two of the season. 

That is the benefit and curse of the Hellickson trade. The team no longer has a veteran innings eater, so the last 40 days of the season is a chance for pitchers like Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Thompson to sink or swim. Mark Leiter Jr. kept his hat firmly in the ring with seven shutout innings of one-hit ball on Wednesday (see story).

An interesting wild card in all of this is Henderson Alvarez, who the Phillies signed to a minor-league deal. The former All-Star underwent shoulder surgery for the second consecutive year in 2016 and couldn't find a deal in affiliated ball this season. He was solid for the Long Island Ducks in seven starts and one report had him hitting 98 mph with his fastball. 

You can laugh at independent ball like the Atlantic League all you want, but Rich Hill has made a pretty impressive comeback also starting with the Ducks and there are other success stories to point to.

While Rhys Hoskins and the other hitting prospects will likely grab the headlines for the Phils in the last month or so, how the rotation shakes out will also have a strong affect on next season and even the offseason. If pitchers like Thompson and Leiter don't impress down the stretch, the team may feel compelled to sign more veteran starters to take the innings next year.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Hoskins drilled another homer on Wednesday, his seventh of the year, and is now batting .271/.407/.729 through 14 career games. That's Aaron Judge/Cody Bellinger-esque right now.

Marlins: Another guy hitting like Judge and Bellinger is the man to whom Judge is most often compared: Giancarlo Stanton. He went 0 for 4 on Wendesday but he's up to 46 home runs this year, including 13 in August alone.

5. This and that
• Hill threw nine no-hit innings on Wednesday for the Dodgers before allowing a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. The last pitcher to throw 10 innings in a game? Cliff Lee on April 18, 2012, with the Phillies. 

Before Lee, the last two to do it were both former Phillies, although they each did it before they came to Philadelphia. Both Roy Halladay and Aaron Harang accomplished the feat in 2007.

• The Phillies are 5-6 against the Marlins this season, but they're 3-2 against the Fish at CBP. The Phils went 10-9 last season against Miami, the only team they had a winning record against in division. 

• After facing the Cubs for three games this weekend, the Phillies play 17 straight games in the division. Believe it or not, the team is actually 25-24 against NL East opponents this year, buoyed by an 11-2 mark against the Braves.

Phillies rookies Mark Leiter Jr., Rhys Hoskins star in shutout

Phillies rookies Mark Leiter Jr., Rhys Hoskins star in shutout

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There were two great storylines in the Phillies' 8-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

One of them was Rhys Hoskins. The hard-hitting rookie drove in five runs with a three-run homer and a two-run double. The homer, 445 feet into the second deck in left, was his seventh, all in the last 10 games. This game is obsessed with power and if the 24-year-old from Sacramento keeps this up, this town will soon be obsessed with him.

But as compelling as Hoskins' performance was in this game, it might have ranked second best on the night, especially when you look at it this way: Hoskins has been a top Phillies prospect for a couple of years now. He hit 38 homers in Double A last year and 29 more in Triple A before coming up earlier this month. He averaged 99 RBIs over his first three full minor-league seasons. People were eagerly awaiting his arrival and his early results in the major leagues aren't a complete surprise.

That brings us to the other great storyline in Wednesday's win. The top storyline.

Mark Leiter Jr. does not have Hoskins' minor-league credentials. He never made one of those top-10 prospects lists or was considered for the Futures Game. Heck, he didn't even get an invite to big-league spring training camp this year. He was a 22nd-round draft pick out of that baseball powerhouse known as the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He was an underdog, just a kid looking for a chance, from the moment he signed.

But in addition to being an underdog, he's a grinder, a determined bulldog who exudes Jersey toughness, pitching savvy and a full menu of pitches that he knows how to execute.

"Every day you come in and try to prove yourself," Leiter said. "You've got to believe in yourself, and when you get opportunities, you have to try to do your best."

Leiter was the story of Wednesday night's win because of what happened on Tuesday. The Phillies were swept by the Marlins in a doubleheader. Phillies pitching gave up 27 hits and 19 runs in the doubleheader, and the bullpen had to pick up 7 2/3 innings in the nightcap.

So Leiter had to be really good against a lineup that featured three big bats in Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. And he had to stick around a while to help a beat-up bullpen.

He succeeded on all fronts, pitching seven innings of shutout ball and giving up just one hit.

"I don’t know who my favorite player is, either Leiter or Hoskins right now," a pleased manager Pete Mackanin said after the win. "I’m trying to make a decision on that. Right now they’re about tied.

"Mark saved the bullpen. It was a sorely needed outing."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998.

After Wednesday's game, the younger Leiter checked his phone.

"Great job," was the text message from his dad.

Leiter opened the game with five no-hit innings. He struck out five in the first two innings. He got big run support thanks to a five-run third inning when the Phils hit for the cycle and Hoskins clubbed a three-run homer after actually asking Mackanin if he should simply try to move the runners. Mackanin laughed and told Hoskins, "We're paying you to drive in runs." Hoskins obliged.

"Rhys is a great hitter having a great year," Leiter said. "It's fun to see him come up and having that success and contribute to us scoring a lot of runs."

Leiter watched from the dugout as the Marlins lit up Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta on Tuesday. That did not create any anxiety in the 26-year-old right-hander. The guy doesn't get rattled.

"I just tried to command the strike zone and get ahead early," he said. "They have a great lineup over there. The key is getting ahead and keeping guys off balance as much as you can. It's the big leagues, so you have to be good every time. Every lineup can hurt you. You have to execute.

"The most important thing was going deep into the game and giving the guys in the bullpen a blow. You can't go out there and chase strikeouts. You have to try to say within yourself and get outs."

Leiter retired Stanton — owner of a majors-best 46 homers — three times.

"He's locked in," Leiter said. "You know he's in the lineup. You have to try to make sure no one is on base when he comes up and then keep him off balance. He's having a special season, and as a fan of baseball, it's fun to watch. I don't want to see me on too many of those highlights, but he's having a great year. He's got a chance at 60 or 61 homers. It hasn’t been done in a long time."

Leiter's role remains undefined. Basically, he is a swingman, someone who can pitch as a long reliever or make spot starts, like this one. Those guys are valuable to clubs.

Either way, Leiter has put himself on the map this season. Not bad for a guy who was so far off the radar that he didn't even get an invite to big-league camp in the spring.

"He's made a great impression," Mackanin said.