Halladay, Phils earn rain-shortened win over Cards

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Halladay, Phils earn rain-shortened win over Cards

BOX SCORE

It’s amazing what a few runs can do for a pitcher.

Just ask Roy Halladay.

He rode a five-run cushion in the first inning to his second straight win Friday night. The 35-year-old right-hander went seven strong innings and came away with his 67th career complete game in the Phillies’ rain-shortened 8-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a big difference pitching with a nice lead,” Halladay said. “Get five early runs, give one back and you get three more. It doesn’t happen very often, but it makes it a lot better because you can be aggressive and you are less tentative and tight. You can be aggressive and attack guys.”

Halladay was dead-on when he said early runs don’t happen very often -- at least with this team. Entering Friday night’s game, the Phils had scored just 13 runs in their previous seven games. None of those 13 runs were scored before the sixth inning.

Halladay’s effort Friday night evened his season record at 2-2 and snapped a four-game losing streak for the Phillies.

The Phillies’ offense snapped another troubling streak when it drew a walk for the first time since Sunday. The Phils actually had two walks in the game as they avoided becoming the first team since 1920 to go five straight games without a walk.

“We finally got a walk,” manager Charlie Manuel said with wide eyes after the game.

Manuel was in a good mood because, well, he’s always in a good mood when his team hits.

The Phils had 10 hits, four for extra bases. They chased lefty Jaime Garcia (eight runs, four earned, in three innings) early, a mild shocker considering they entered the game hitting just .131 (11 for 84) against lefties. Ryan Howard, who has struggled against left-handed pitching, got the night off. Manuel said Howard had a sore groin.

Ty Wigginton spent last season with the Phillies and made eight errors in 22 games at third base. Wigginton made another error at third in this game, but he did it for the Cardinals and it set up four of the five runs that the Phils scored in the first inning. Ben Revere (RBI triple) and Humberto Quintero (RBI double) followed the error with big hits.

The attendance was just 34,092, small by Phillies’ standards of recent seasons, but the crowd came alive with the early burst of runs.

“When we put together runs, that’ll bring life to your team,” Manuel said. “We got a break (the Wigginton error) and ran with it.”

Halladay was the story of the spring because of his consistent struggles on the mound. Whispers of a serious decline followed him into the regular season and grew louder when he was tagged for 12 hits and 12 runs over 7 1/3 innings in his first two starts.

Sunday in Miami, Halladay showed a major improvement when he pitched eight innings of one-run ball against the Miami Marlins. That was not a top test for Halladay -- even he acknowledged it -- because the Marlins, averaging just over two runs per game, are a threadbare team and they were without their best player, Giancarlo Stanton. The Cardinals, averaging over five runs per game, were a better test.

Though Halladay fell behind in a lot of counts -- he threw first-pitch strikes to just 11 of 25 hitters -- and had a poor ratio of strikes to balls (59/50), he had excellent results against the Cards. He allowed just two hits, solo homers by Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday, walked two and struck out six.

Working with a lead, catcher Quintero called a lot of sinkers. It was a good pitch for Halladay and it sat around 90 mph and hit 92 several times.

Over the winter, Halladay made mechanical changes to his delivery.

“Tonight was about as good as I’ve felt,” he said. “I still need to be more consistent, but I feel good where I’m at. I feel like it’s coming together the way it should. I’ll continue to work at it until I get more consistent.”

Halladay mentioned that his delivery got out of whack a few times, especially when he tried to “add” to pitches. That was a reference to overthrowing. He seemed to do that in his first couple of starts as he tried to generate velocity. He said he needs to avoid that temptation and believes he can now recognize it when he’s doing that and make a quick fix to his delivery.

“Obviously it was a struggle for me in spring training and the first two starts of the season,” he said. “I know it’s hard for you guys to believe but I always felt I was going in the right direction. I just needed time to put it together.”

As Halladay kept the Cardinals off balance Friday night, a more important drama played in Massachusetts, where law enforcement officials nabbed one of the lowlifes who killed and maimed innocent people with a bombing at the Boston Marathon. Halladay is known for his tunnel vision, but even he knew what was going down 300 or so miles to the north.

“We all realize how lucky we are to live in this country and have the freedoms we do,” Halladay said. “That (incident) was disappointing and heartbreaking. But to see how we overcome things is gratifying. We always become stronger after things like that. I’m glad to be part of a country like that.”

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup Tuesday night, batting fourth against Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. 

It's the second start in three games for Howard, who has actually been productive lately when he's gotten a chance to start. He went 2 for 3 on Saturday and had a homer in three of his previous five starts. Over that span he's gone 6 for 21 with three home runs and five RBIs as the Phillies' starting first baseman.

One of those homers was against Koehler last week at Citizens Bank Park, a two-run shot.

Howard's struggles this season have been well-documented and he's still hitting just .165, but he and Tommy Joseph have produced from a power standpoint. The only team in the majors that has more home runs from its first basemen than the Phillies (24) is the Cubs (26).

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

And for the Marlins:

1. Ichiro, CF (four hits away from 3,000)
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Chris Johnson, 1B
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Jeff Mathis, C
8. Miguel Rojas, 2B
9. Tom Koehler, P

Blanco's injury led to promotions for Phillies prospects Jesmuel Valentin, Scott Kingery

Blanco's injury led to promotions for Phillies prospects Jesmuel Valentin, Scott Kingery

The Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, was not considered for a promotion to the majors this week when Andres Blanco was placed on the 15-day DL with a fractured finger, but Blanco's injury did create a cascade effect that resulted in two of the organization's other middle infield prospects earning call-ups.

Second baseman Jesmuel Valentin was promoted this week from from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley to replace Taylor Featherston, who the Phillies added in Blanco's spot. And 2B Scott Kingery was promoted from High A Clearwater to Reading to take Valentin's place.

It's a positive development for the Phillies, who have stockpiled so many intriguing prospects that singles hitters like Valentin and Kingery were mostly afterthoughts much of the season. 

Valentin, the son of former big-league shortstop Jose Valentin and the 51st overall draft pick in 2012, was acquired by the Phillies in August 2014 from the Dodgers in exchange for Roberto Hernandez. 

Valentin, 22, made the Double A All-Star Game this season and hit .276/.346/.399 in 388 plate appearances with Reading before the promotion. He looks like a future utility infielder who could maybe turn into something more.

The Phillies also received 21-year-old reliever Victor Arano in that Hernandez trade. Arano has been excellent this season at Clearwater, posting a 2.29 ERA in 32 appearances with 68 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 59 innings. 

The Phillies got two legit pieces for Hernandez, a journeyman fifth starter who is now out of baseball. It's crazy to think they received a better return for Hernandez than for Chase Utley. 

As for the right-handed hitting Kingery, he made his Double A debut on Monday, going 0 for 3 for Reading. He had a good run at Clearwater, hitting .293/.360/.411 in 420 plate appearances with 29 doubles and 26 steals. He was the Phils' second-round pick last year out of the University of Arizona. Kingery is a 5-foot-10, speedy second baseman who has a solid approach at the plate. He probably won't hit for power, but Kingery looks like the type who could eventually hit for average and take walks, perhaps one day turning into a more polished, instinctive and consistent version of Cesar Hernandez.

Quinn finally back
Roman Quinn, out since June 4 with an oblique injury, began a rehab assignment Monday in the Gulf Coast League. In two games, the speedy, 23-year-old, switch-hitting centerfielder has gone 2 for 6 with a walk, a steal and two runs scored. 

He'll spend a few days in the GCL, where Mickey Moniak and Jhailyn Ortiz are currently playing, before advancing back up the chain. Moniak, by the way, had another multi-hit game Tuesday and is batting .321 through 90 plate appearances.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies (46-55) at Marlins (53-46)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

Another impressive start by Jeremy Hellickson and some timely late offense led the Phillies to a series-opening win in Miami Monday. Now they go for the quick series win, which would be their first in four tries since the All-Star break.

Let's take a closer look at Tuesday's matchup:

1. One donut shy of a dozen
The Phillies' 4-0 win last night was their 11th shutout victory of the season, the most in baseball. The Mets and Dodgers are tied for second with nine.

The Phils' pitching staff was obviously at its best in April, when it set the MLB record for strikeouts per nine innings in the month at 10.4. The Phillies had five shutouts in April, two in May, two in June and now two in July. 

And it's not like the Phils have just taken advantage of bad teams here, shutting out the Braves or Padres repeatedly. They've shut out the Nationals twice, the Mets, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Pirates, Marlins and Diamondbacks. All of those teams except Arizona (which has a good offense) is above .500 and in the playoff hunt.

It's been written here many times that the most important short-term decision the Phillies made this past offseason was to raise the floor of the starting rotation. They've done it, and more importantly they've done it with youth. The Phillies' mediocre, veteran-laden 2015 staff had just seven shutouts all season.

2. Walk this way
Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp both had productive nights Monday in their returns to the starting lineup. Franco went 1 for 2 with a double and three walks, scoring the Phillies' first and ultimately game-winning run in the eighth. Rupp went 0 for 2 but also walked three times and saw 26 pitches.

How rare is it for two Phillies to walk three times in the same game? It hadn't happened since Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz did it on April 5, 2010 at Nationals Park in Roy Halladay's Phillies debut.

Franco and Rupp may have been the two most unlikely Phillies to walk three times. Franco is an aggressive swinger, and Rupp walked just three times in the season's first two months. Rupp had just 11 in 248 plate appearances this season before Monday.

The Phillies averted disaster with two of their productive, young hitters after Franco was hit by a pitch on the wrist (again) in Pittsburgh and Rupp was hit on the helmet. 

3. Eickhoff's turn
Two of Jerad Eickhoff's last three starts have seen him start strong and fall apart in the middle innings. He allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits over five innings against the Marlins last week after beginning the game with three scoreless innings.

Right before the All-Star break, Eickhoff was cruising at Coors Field with four shutout innings before the umpire's strike zone shrunk and Eickhoff's control disappeared. He allowed two runs in the fifth and six in the sixth.

In between those two outings was a well-pitched game in which Eickhoff allowed two runs in six innings to the Mets for yet another quality start.

So even though the results lately have been ugly for Eickhoff, even though his ERA has risen from 3.30 to 3.98 in the span of three weeks, he hasn't been all that bad. He just needs to avoid that one big inning.

Eickhoff, who is 6-11 with a 3.98 ERA in 20 starts this season, is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA against the Marlins this season. He pitched six shutout innings against them in their lone meeting last year.

Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have caused the most problems for him, going a combined 6 for 15 with three doubles and two homers.

4. Time to hit Koehler
The Phillies have had three looks at mediocre Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) this season and failed to hit him all three times. 

On May 7, Koehler allowed one run on two hits over seven innings with eight strikeouts in a game the Phillies eventually won. 

On May 18, he allowed two runs to them in seven innings and induced 16 groundballs.

And then last week, matched up against Eickhoff, Koehler again gave up just two hits, this time over eight innings. He allowed two homers but only one of the Phils' three runs was earned.

It's hard to explain why, all the sudden, the Phils have stopped hitting the 6-foot-3 righty. Last season, a worse Phillies team scored 15 runs against him in 21 innings. 

The Phillies are familiar with Koehler's repertoire, which includes a fastball in the 93 to 95 mph range, a curveball, slider and changeup. In the first two meetings this season he threw them a ton of fastballs, 115 in all. But last week he threw just 38 fastballs among 110 pitches. He threw 34 curveballs in that game, by far the most he's thrown this season. Don't be surprised to see a similar game plan tonight given how well it worked last week.

Current Phillies have hit just .201 against Koehler with three homers (Ryan Howard, Cody Asche, Freddy Galvis) in 144 at-bats.

5. Marlins notes
• Ichiro has gone 0 for 4 as a pinch-hitter in the Marlins' last four games. He's sitting on 2,996 career hits, meaning he could get his historic 3,000th against the Phillies this week with a big game or two. It would require the Marlins to sit one of Ozuna, Yelich or Giancarlo Stanton, though.

• Stanton this season against the Phillies: 3 for 33 (.091), one extra-base hit (a homer), two RBIs, 14 strikeouts. 

Against everyone else, Stanton has hit .257/.350/.524 with 20 home runs and 53 RBIs. If you remove the Phillies from the equation, Stanton's OPS this season would be 52 points higher, .874 instead of .822.