Halladay endorses Hamels, seeks winning urgency

Halladay endorses Hamels, seeks winning urgency

February 21, 2013, 1:30 pm
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CLEARWATER, Fla. -– Grapefruit League games mean nothing, right?

Wrong, says Roy Halladay. He would like to see the Phillies focus on winning when the exhibition schedule starts Saturday.

He believes that mindset will serve the Phillies well when they open the regular season April 1 with Cole Hamels on the mound.

Yes, Halladay on Thursday became the second high-profile Phillie –- joining Jimmy Rollins –- to endorse Hamels for the opening-day start.

“He deserves that and I think that’s the way it should be,” Halladay said after throwing to hitters for the final time before he makes his first Grapefruit League start on Sunday. “It’s his time. It should have been his spot a long time ago. It’s time for him to establish himself as the head of the staff.”

Hamels actually did that last season and the Phillies recognized his importance by preempting his bid for free agency and signing him to a six-year, $144 million contract.

Manager Charlie Manuel has yet to name an opening-day starter. Halladay has started the last three and 10 straight dating to his time in Toronto.

Despite Hamels’ 17 wins in 2012, the Phillies saw their run of five straight NL East titles come to an end largely because they could not recover from a slow start that saw them go 37-50 before for the all-star break. Injuries to Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley contributed to that slow start. Now the Phillies are healthy, and Halladay wants to see them establish a winning mindset even before going north.

“I think the only tendency we’ve had in the past is we’ve had such good players and such good teams that we can kind of turn it on later in the season and make up any ground we’ve lost or extend our lead or whatever it may be,” Halladay said. “But I think the older you get, the tougher the division gets -- it’s more imperative to start holding that competitiveness and finding ways to win games.

“I know we’re going to have regular players go out for two or three innings and starters (pitchers) going three innings, but I want to win games. I want to win games down here and I think that will translate into the season.”

Halladay expects some intensity from his teammates in Grapefruit League play and he’s backing up his words. With the World Baseball Classic being played in March, this is a longer spring training than usual. Halladay could throw a bullpen session or simulated game this weekend and still get plenty of game time to be ready for the season. But he wants to pitch on his turn Sunday against the Tigers in Lakeland. (Hamels starts the exhibition opener Saturday in Clearwater.)

“For me, facing hitters as soon as I can is important and I feel good to do it right now,” Halladay said. “We came in ready and I’m looking forward to it.”

Halladay has thrown a number of bullpen sessions and faced hitters twice in live batting practice. He is happy with the way he feels after a winter of conditioning his core to help avoid the back problems that he believes were the root of his struggles last season.

“I feel good with where I’m at right now,” he said. “There’s a long way to go in camp and there’s still a lot of things to accomplish, but I’m happy with the way I feel and the way things are going.

“I haven’t had a day where I’ve been sore from the core up. Those first couple of days, you’re going to be sore. Your legs will be sore from the drills and stuff, but from the core up I haven’t been sore and that’s a good sign. When you’re trying to play catch-up early in camp and you’re trying to keep your arm going, that’s the tough part of spring training. If you can avoid that, that’s always a good sign, so I feel good going forward.”

Halladay won’t throw his full pitch repertoire Sunday. Pitchers mostly focus on fastball command in their first start of the spring. His goal won’t be to dazzle the hitters. It will be to locate and come out feeling good.

“To me, those are the important things right now,” Halladay said. “You’re going to give up hits and things like that. I know what I’m looking for those first couple times out and that’s my goal -- to go out and execute pitches and not be overly concerned with the swings and what have you.”

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