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-Diamondbacks 5 things: Nothing but quality from Ben Lively?

Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Nothing but quality from Ben Lively?

Phillies (24-48) at Diamondbacks (46-28)
10:10 p.m. on TCN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies, believe it or not, bring a two-game winning streak into Saturday night. Seriously! Led by six strong innings from Mark Leiter Jr., the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks 6-1 on Friday, picking up their first win over the D-backs this season. Can Ben Lively make it three straight? Or will Robbie Ray turn out the lights on the Phillies offense?

Here are five things to know for late Saturday night:

1. High quality
In tonight's start, Lively has the opportunity to become first Phillie since 1943 to begin his career with five quality starts. His first four starts have made him the most reliable starter in the Phils' rotation despite the team's 1-3 record in those appearances.

Better yet for Lively, he's coming off a strong start against these very same D-backs. It was a rocky beginning for the 25-year-old righty. He gave up two home runs within the first five batters he faced and ceded a 3-0 lead to his opposition. Plenty of pitchers -- see the rest of the staff this season -- would have folded after such a lackluster start. But Lively had some moxie in him. 

He gave up just four hits over his last five innings. He worked his way out of a third-and-first, no-out jam. And he finished his afternoon with a 1-2-3 inning. You never would have guessed watching the first inning that he'd actually leave in line for the win.

Lively also began to actually strike people out. That was his main bugaboo in his first few starts. With just 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings, one would predict he'd sport a higher ERA. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is 4.88, a run and a half higher than his 3.33 ERA. Maybe Chase Field will be his Waterloo, but Citizens Bank Park could have easily played a similar role.

A side-note, but Lively's nickname is Bee-bo. I don't know what we should do with that, but it is worth mentioning. I'm sure that will help explain his results tonight, good or bad.

2. Ray of Ks
While the Phillies offense has looked pedestrian at times this year, they got to the hottest pitcher in baseball on Sunday. 

Ray came into Sunday with some downright filthy numbers over his previous five games: He was 5-0 with a 0.24 ERA, allowing just one run over 37 innings. He struck out 48 batters in that span and allowed just 24 baserunners, including just 14 hits. Batters hit just .115/.182/.164 against him. 

The Phils? Well, they broke out the bats and got to him on a hot afternoon at CBP. They produced 12 baserunners (eight hits, four walks) and four runs, smacking two solo homers against the 25-year-old lefty. He lasted just 5 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since May 14.

For the season, Ray is 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA and 114 Ks in 87 2/3 innings. It's a far cry from his 4.90 ERA last season, although his strikeout rate is about the same. He walks more batters than ever (four per nine innings) but limits hits at a career-best rate, bringing his WHIP down to 1.141. 

As for a repertoire, Ray works off his mid-90s fastball, turning to his mid-80s slider and low-80s curveball for offspeed offerings. All three pitches have been effective this season, but his offspeed stuff has been particularly strong. 

3. Torey Lovullo and a real contender
When the baseball season began back in April, it was tough to see the Diamondbacks as legitimate contenders. At 69-93 in 2016, the team was just one game better than the worst record in the National League and they didn't make many appreciable changes to the roster. 

The main changes came up top: Mike Hazen was hired as the team's new general manager and Torey Lovullo came aboard as manager. Whatever magic they've brought with them has made a big impact as the team is within a game of the Dodgers for the NL West crown. Even better, they lead the NL wild card chase and are nine games clear of a playoff spot. Sure, it's only June 24, but that's a nice place to be. 

The managerial role can be overrated in baseball. The skipper can be handed the blame for a team that isn't performing even when it is mostly due to a roster that can't get it done. But Lovullo seems to have this team working well. He had received rave reviews when he filled in for John Farrell in 2015. His short stint made him a top candidate for the position and Hazen, also a Red Sox alum, was able to pluck him from Boston.

And things have fallen in line in the desert. Zack Greinke has bounced back to form along with the rest of the rotation. The Bullpen has looked pretty good since Fernando Rodney snapped into form after April. And their lineup, as Corey detailed yesterday, is a force with which to be reckoned. Having those three factors working for them -- together with some aggressive baserunning -- and D-backs have a real contending chance this year.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: With his two-run shot in the ninth inning on Friday, Tommy Joseph has hit home runs in back-to-back games for the second time this year (May 9-10 vs. the Mariners)

Diamondbacks: Shortstop Chris Owings has a nine-game hitting streak going after a single in the series opener. He had a home run off Lively on Sunday.

5. This and that
• This year is starting to look like last year, at least in how the Phillies are playing the D-backs. In 2016, they were swept at CBP before returning the favor at Chase Field. This year, a sweep at CBP before taking the first game in the desert. 

• As mentioned above, Arizona makes things happen on the basepaths. Going into this series, the team led baseball with 18.2 base running runs above average according to Fangraphs. The Phillies are 24th with -7.0 runs above average.

• Howie Kendrick, Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr all have home runs off Ray in their careers. Kendrick is 5 for 22 with two walks against the lefty. Odubel Herrera is 4 for 9. 

• Lively allowed homers to Owings and Paul Goldschmidt on Sunday. Brandon Drury went 2 for 2 with a double.

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whit Merrifield hit a two-run, two-out double that capped a four-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 on Friday night to reach .500 for the first time since April.

With their 10th win in 12 games, the Royals improved to 36-36. They were 6-6 before play on April 20, then went on a nine-game losing streak that night and dropped as low as 10-20, seven games out of first place. They trail AL Central-leading Cleveland by three games.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and extended it when Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles off Joakim Soria (4-2) (see full recap).

Dodgers cruise past Rockies for 8th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig homered and left-hander Alex Wood kept his record perfect as the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the NL West rival Colorado Rockies 6-1 on Friday night for their eighth consecutive victory.

The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 games. They have scored at least six runs in seven consecutive games.

Wood (8-0) allowed one run in six innings. He gave up only three hits and walked two, retiring his last 10 batters.

The Dodgers have homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history. The last time they managed it was in 1977. Their record is 24 consecutive games with a home run.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Freeman (8-4) allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits and three walks in six innings (see full recap).

Torreyes hits walk-off single to lift Yanks over Rangers
NEW YORK -- Ronald Torreyes hit a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning after midnight, and the New York Yankees edged the Texas Rangers 2-1 on a rainy Friday night for just their second win in 10 games.

Brett Gardner lined a tying home run with one out in the New York ninth off closer Matt Bush. After Chasen Shreve (2-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th, Torreyes kept the Yankees atop the AL East.

Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka kept it scoreless into the late innings in the first major league meeting between the Japanese stars (see full recap).