Halladay's transition on display in Phillies' loss

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Halladay's transition on display in Phillies' loss

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It was just three years ago that Roy Halladay pitched a playoff no-hitter at Citizens Bank Park, just two years ago that he allowed only one run in eight innings in a heartbreaking playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Halladay is such a different pitcher, such a different physical specimen now.

Back then, he carved up hitters with a lively fastball that he could cut or sink away from the barrel of a bat. When he stood on the mound, he looked like the baddest man in town, his shoulders broad, his neck strong.

The life on Halladay’s fastball is gone now, maybe never to return. Physically, he no longer looks like the baddest man in town. He is thinner. Truth be told, he looks gaunt. Where once his uniform top fit snugly over his strong shoulders, it now appears to hang off him as if it belongs to his big brother.

The difference in Halladay from then to now was never more apparent than Wednesday night when the 36-year-old right-hander, once noted for his surgeon-like control, allowed five of the first 10 batters he faced to reach base on four walks and a hit batter.

It was very un-Halladay-like.

But while Halladay’s fastball has waned, his competitive drive has not. With lackluster stuff, he bobbed and weaved his way through six innings and actually left with a one-run lead only to see the bullpen let it get away in the Phillies’ 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay).

Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman homered against Zach Miner to tie the game in the seventh and Jake Diekman saw his run of 10 straight scoreless outings go up in smoke as the Nats turned his four-pitch walk to Wilson Ramos into the go-ahead run in the eighth.

The Nationals made a couple of outstanding defensive plays in the seventh and eighth innings to put the game away, and, yes, interim manager Ryne Sandberg did sound a lot like Charlie Manuel when he said, “We had our chances …” Phillies hitters were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

With the Phillies long out of the race, the final outcome doesn’t matter a whole lot these days. There are other storylines to follow and every fifth day, the storyline is Halladay.

Can he be effective enough to resemble the old Doc again? Will he be effective enough to tempt the Phillies to offer him a contract extension?

Halladay has four more starts to impress the Phillies' brass. While he impressed with his guts and perseverance on Wednesday, he did not with his actual pitching. In six innings, he walked five (one intentionally) and hit two batters. He gave up just one run but it could have been worse hadn’t he gotten a pair of inning-ending ground balls with the bases loaded. One was a double play that ended the top of the first. Halladay walked three in the inning and threw 29 pitches, 15 of which were balls.

“He had a rough start command-wise,” Sandberg said. “But he was able to minimize damage.”

Washington manager Davey Johnson did Halladay a favor by not pinch-hitting for pitcher Jordan Zimmermann with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth. Halladay got Zimmermann on a comebacker.

“I was feeling sorry for him the first couple of innings,” Johnson said of Halladay. “Then I was hating him as he went along because he got better.”

Halladay got better in the third, fourth and fifth innings because he started featuring his curveball and changeup. Unable to command his fastball and carve up hitters with it the way he used to, Halladay began tricking them a la Jamie Moyer. While Halladay believes his fastball will improve -- he was in the high 80s in this game -- he has mentioned that he might have to become more of a finesse guy like Moyer. In this game, he offered glimpses of that and the Nats’ hitters helped him by chasing.

Halladay has revamped his mechanics and he’s still trying to get comfortable with those changes. He blamed his early control problems on that.

“This is still a little like spring training for me,” said Halladay, who has now made three big-league starts since returning from the disabled list. “I’m dealing with different mechanics than I had before, a different arm slot. It took me a little bit to feel the right balance of everything. That’s going to be a little bit of a battle at times.”

Halladay said his switch to more soft stuff after his first time through the lineup was more game plan than trying to avoid throwing his fastball.

“Looking at video, they have a lot of guys looking for fastballs,” Halladay said. “They can feast if you get behind in the count and throw a lot of fastballs. When I got behind in counts I didn’t want to give away hits, so we went soft.”

That pitching style produced some results, if not style points, for Halladay on Wednesday night. But can it do so consistently? Can Halladay continue to afford such poor control and keep his team in games? Time will tell.

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

NEW YORK – It wasn’t easy leaving the only professional organization he’d ever been part of, but new Phillie A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade Thursday, is coming to terms with it.

“To find out that the trade went down, it was hard,” Ellis said upon reporting to his new club Saturday. “It was so immediate and sudden, really hard to say goodbye to a lot of relationships I had been blessed to forge for more than a decade.

“But the waves of emotion are getting farther and farther apart, which is a good thing.”

Ellis, 35, was drafted by the Dodgers in 2003 and rose to the majors with them in 2008. With the Phillies, he will serve a similar role to the one he played with the Dodgers – backup catcher. Ellis wasted no time getting to know the pitching staff he will now work with. He arrived at Citi Field early Saturday afternoon and caught Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff in their between-starts bullpen sessions.

Ellis said “Eichorn” when referring to Eickhoff. He’s forgiven. It’s been a whirlwind week.

“See?” he said. “I’m still learning names.”

Ellis, who served as the personal catcher for Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw, was blindsided by the trade.

“When I was summoned to the ballpark, that’s never really a good thing, especially when the front office wants to meet with you as far as where you’re at with the club, you know some kind of transition is happening,” he said. “The first 12 hours were definitely the hardest.

“But to arrive here and arrive in the clubhouse, meeting the staff, I’m starting to feel re-energized, refilled with a sense of purpose as to why I’ve been placed here, and why this is where I need to be at this time. I’m excited about that.

"I know I have huge shoes to fill. Carlos Ruiz is such a fixture in the Phillies organization. The work that he’s done here behind the plate, you can’t fill. This guy is a world champion catcher who has been back there for so many great baseball memories. So it’s up to me to do my part to fill the void.”

Manager Pete Mackanin thought about putting Ellis in the lineup Saturday night then had some mercy when he figured facing hard-throwing Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard might not be the best indoctrination for a guy who just flew cross-country. Ellis is likely to start Sunday afternoon’s series finale and catch Vince Velasquez.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t asked to make a contribution to Saturday night’s game. Mackanin said he wanted Ellis to speak with the Phillies hitters about the weaknesses the Dodger pitchers tried to exploit.

“We talk to them about this stuff all the time, but it might help to hear it from an outside source,” Mackanin said.

Ellis left a first-place club for a rebuilding team. That’s not easy. He has come to terms with that. He likes the young talent on the Phillies’ roster and hopes to help it come to flower.

“Guys are playing for their careers,” he said. “Guys are playing to make their mark in this game and create a winning franchise once again in Philadelphia. 

"You see the talent, you see their desire to learn, their desire to get better. You just know the youth on this staff, the talent level on this staff. And if I can in some short time here impact some wisdom on those guys, share some of the wisdom along the way that I’ve picked up from some great mentors I’ve had in my time in the game, I need to pay it back, from what all has been given to me.”

Ellis hit just .197 with a .285 on-base percentage in 53 games for the Dodgers this season. That’s one of the reasons the Dodgers acquired Ruiz – to get more production from their right-handed-hitting backup catcher. Ruiz had a .369 on-base percentage at the time of the trade.

Phillies’ general manager Matt Klentak was “adamant” that Ellis come back on the deal because he wanted someone who could fill Ruiz’ void on (behind the plate) and off (with clubhouse leadership) the field. Ellis’ time with the Phillies might be short. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and his playing time might be scant as September unfolds. The Phils will probably add prospect Jorge Alfaro to the catching mix sometime during that month. Management seems eager to get a look at him while still getting No. 1 catcher Cameron Rupp the game reps he needs.

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

After watching his club get smacked around in a 9-4 loss to the Mets on Friday, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has tinkered with his lineup for Saturday's game at Citi Field.

Odubel Herrera moves up to the two-hole after hitting sixth Friday, while Aaron Altherr goes from second to third and Jimmy Paredes gets the start in left and bats seventh. Ryan Howard starts again at first base and bats fifth.

Herrera, who has been struggling since the All-Star break with a .257 average, has lost his leadoff spot to Cesar Hernandez but is starting to find his swing again.

In the last seven days, Herrera is 5 for 17 with a double and a run scored. In August, the centerfielder is hitting .288 with two homers and five RBIs.

Altherr, who played left field Friday, moves over to right field and Peter Bourjos gets the night off. Altherr is hitting .255 with four home runs and 19 RBIs on the season.

Here is the full Phillies lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

For more on tonight's's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes.

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

As expected, the Phillies on Saturday optioned prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading after a one game stint with the big club.

Alfaro was called up for Friday's series opener in New York against the Mets because newly acquired veteran backstop A.J. Ellis had yet to arrive with the team. Ellis was acquired Thursday from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the trade that sent Carlos Ruiz to L.A.

The 23-year-old Alfaro is expected to return to the Phillies once Reading's season is over and MLB rosters expand in September. The Fightin Phils, at 83-48, are the Eastern League's top team and very much could make it to the championship series.

Alfaro, acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last summer, has a .279 average with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in 90 games with Reading this season. He did not get play Friday night against the Mets.