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.

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with eight homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253/24/57/.815.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

A few Phillies thoughts between NFL playoff games:
 
Jerad Eickhoff was in town the other day putting smiles on the faces of some special kids at CSN Philly’s annual Shining Star Awards dinner, which benefits the March of Dimes.
 
Before the event, Eickhoff was a guest on Philly Sports Talk and he was asked about the possibility of being the Phillies' opening day starter April 3 in Cincinnati. The right-hander said all the right things, noting that there were several worthy candidates and that the decision ultimately would be made by manager Pete Mackanin, and he was right on all counts.
 
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who gets the ball on opening day. The goal of every starter is to stay healthy for a full season and if he does that he’ll end up with 33 starts and ample opportunity to pitch himself to the top of the rotation.
 
Still, starting on opening day is a big honor, even if a lot of folks won’t remember who got the ball for the opener much beyond Memorial Day.
 
The 2017 Phillies have two legitimate candidates for opening day starter: Jeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff. 

Hellickson got the nod last year and did nothing to suggest he does not deserve the honor again this year. The veteran right-hander pitched 189 innings over 32 starts and was a pro’s pro from the moment he stepped foot in the clubhouse.
 
But with all due respect to Hellickson, this early vote for the opening day assignment goes to Eickhoff for a number of reasons.
 
First of all, he’s earned it with his performance. He led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) in 2017. He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure constantly stress to the staff the importance of throwing strikes. Eickhoff responded in 2016. His ratio of 1.92 walks per nine innings was the fourth-best mark among National League starters in 2016.

In addition, he's earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.

All of this leads us to another reason that Eickhoff should get the opening day nod: The Phillies are a building team and Eickhoff, 26 years old and under team control for five more seasons, is going to be around for a while. Hellickson will likely depart for free agency after this season. Ditto Clay Buchholz. Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future. 
 
And as for the notion that holding Eickhoff back until the second or third game of the season would help keep him away from opposing teams’ top pitchers and get him better matchups and possibly more run support. Well, Eickhoff already knows what it’s like to face top rivals and keep his team in the game. Last year, he matched up against Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and twice against both Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke. Late in the season, he faced NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and lefty stud Chris Sale once. He pitched 19 innings in those three starts and allowed six runs. Pretty solid.
 
It’s certainly not the most important decision that Mackanin & Co. will face between now and April, but when it comes to opening day starter, well, we like Eick.
 
• Spring training is less than a month away, but the Phillies’ offseason roster construction remains in progress. You can pretty much bank on the club adding a bat, likely a left-handed-hitting outfielder, in the coming days.
 
Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders, both free-agent outfielders, remain the most likely targets, with Moss probably the best fit because of his ability to help out at first base.
 
The Phillies have had longstanding interest in Jay Bruce, who is on the Mets’ trading block, but sources say the price for him is two prospects. The rebuilding Phillies are committed to hanging on to their prospects. Moss or Saunders would cost just money, making them better fits on a short-term deal.

• The Phillies will officially open their new developmental academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The club has leased four different facilities since ramping up efforts in the DR in 1994. The new facility, built on 45 acres in Boca Chica, is co-owned by the Phillies and Minnesota Twins. The two teams have separate baseball facilities and dormitories for up to 78 players. The clubs share kitchen, dining and field maintenance costs.
 
Read more about the new facility here.
  
• Agreeing at the midpoint and avoiding a hearing is always the goal when a player and his team exchange salary figures during the arbitration process. Cesar Hernandez submitted a figure of $2.8 million and the Phillies came in at $2 million. Shake hands at $2.4 million and move on.
 
• We mentioned this recently, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so remarkable. At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
• Phillies prospect Carlos Tocci is a strong candidate for the rookie of the year award in the Venezuelan winter league. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .323 with a .403 on-base percentage in 59 games for the Aragua ballclub.
 
Odubel Herrera was rookie of the year and batting champion in the Venezuelan league two years ago.
 
• And finally, Phillies chairman David Montgomery was among the honorees at the 14th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation In the Spirit of the Game awards dinner Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California.
 
Montgomery received the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Executive Leadership Award. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Bo Jackson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a host of legendary scouts were among the other honorees at the event.
 
It was nice to see an organization dedicated to scouting recognize Montgomery, who served as Phillies president from 1997 to 2014. As leader of the Phillies, Montgomery always realized the importance of scouts in building a successful organization, and in his typical style built personal relationships with every member of his club’s scouting staff, right down to the area guys who drive around baseball’s backstreets in search of young talent. Winning the 2008 World Series was the highlight of Montgomery’s time as club president and that team was built on the back of good scouting.
 
So congratulations to one of the classiest and most respected men in the game on a most fitting honor.