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.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

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The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

Best of MLB: Michael Conforto powers Mets to win over Padres

Best of MLB: Michael Conforto powers Mets to win over Padres

NEW YORK -- Michael Conforto homered twice and had a career-high four RBIs, including three on two hits during the Mets' biggest first inning in 13 years, and Matt Harvey won his first home start since getting suspended as New York routed the San Diego Padres 9-3 on Tuesday night.

Lucas Duda broke out of a slump with three hits and three RBIs, and manager Terry Collins earned his 500th victory with the Mets. His team got a leadoff homer and a two-run single from Conforto in a seven-run first against Jhoulys Chacin.

Given a huge early cushion, Harvey (3-3) labored through five innings to win for the first time since April 11 at Philadelphia. The embattled former ace was 0-3 in his previous six starts and got banned three days by the Mets after skipping a home game this month following a late night on the town.

Chacin (4-4) got only two outs in the shortest and worst of his 145 career starts over nine major league seasons. He gave up seven runs and eight hits (see full recap).

Rendon, Nationals clobber Mariners
WASHINGTON -- Anthony Rendon homered twice and drove in five runs, Joe Ross returned from the minors to allow one run over a career high-tying eight innings, and the Washington Nationals routed the Seattle Mariners 10-1 on Tuesday night.

Bryce Harper added his 14th homer and Jayson Werth hit his seventh off Chris Bergman (1-2), who allowed all of the Nationals' runs and 14 of their 15 hits.

Rendon doubled before his second homer -- and seventh of the season -- completed an eight-run fourth inning. Ryan Zimmerman also had three hits.

Mike Zunino homered off Ross (2-0) in his return from his own minor league stint. Robinson Cano was hitless in his first game back from the disabled list following a thigh injury as Seattle dropped its fourth straight (see full recap).

Lester pitches 4-hitter in Cubs’ win
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester pitched a four-hitter for Chicago's first complete game of the season, and the Cubs beat Johnny Cueto and the San Francisco Giants 4-1 on Tuesday night in a rainy rematch of last year's playoff opener.

Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer as Chicago improved to 5-2 on its nine-game home stand. Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward also connected, helping the Cubs bounce back from their 6-4 loss to the Giants on Monday night.

Lester and Cueto hooked up in a memorable pitchers' duel in Game 1 of the NL Division Series last October, with Chicago winning 1-0 on Javier Baez's eighth-inning homer. The Cubs eliminated the Giants in four games and went on to their first World Series title in 108 years.

Lester (3-2) was sharp once again in the low-profile reunion. Cueto (4-4) was just OK, striking out eight in six innings, but surrendering each of Chicago's three homers (see full recap).