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.”

Pete Mackanin talks Phillies' need for more offense, contract status

Pete Mackanin talks Phillies' need for more offense, contract status

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As the 2016 season was winding down, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin surveyed his low-scoring club and made public an offseason wish list that included “two professional hitters.”

So far this winter, he’s gotten one — Howie Kendrick.

Is that going to be enough to satisfy the skipper?

“You know what, I'm happy that we acquired Kendrick because we needed a solid, professional hitter,” Mackanin said at the winter meetings Tuesday. “Howie Kendrick is one of those guys. He knows how to give you good at-bats, grind out at-bats.

“We have guys like (Maikel) Franco and Freddy (Galvis), to name a few, who really need a better plan at the plate. I think Howie is going to help them out just by watching him take at-bats and go about his business. I think that's going to help a lot of our guys improve.

“I would like to get another guy. You can always use more hitting, more pitching, better players. But I'm pretty happy with Howie.”

There’s no doubt that Mackanin would like to add another hitter to an offense that ranked last in the majors in runs scored (610) and second to last in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385).

“Yeah, it would be nice,” Mackanin conceded. “We have to improve offensively.”

General manager Matt Klentak has spoken often this winter about the quandary he’s facing. He would like to add another bat in a corner outfield spot, but not necessarily at the cost of taking away an opportunity from a young player such as Roman Quinn or blocking the ultimate ascension of Dylan Cozens or Nick Williams. This is the tightrope that the GM of a rebuilding club must walk.

There are several corner outfield bats (J.D. Martinez, Jay Bruce, Andre Ethier) available in potential trades and others (such as Michael Saunders) on the free-agent market.

“It’s about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time,” Klentak said.

Mackanin understands all this. But he’d still love to have another bat.

Does he think he’ll eventually get one?

“That's hard to say,” he said. “Obviously I would like to have a solid hitter for the team, for the fans, for everybody. We would like to win more games. I think it would be very important, obviously, to improve our offense. … I think we owe it to the pitchers to create more offense so that they are in more games. Everything is still up in the air. It's early. Deals may be made in January or in spring training when things happen. So one move might create an opening in another. If we trade a pitcher, we get a position player. A lot of things can change, so it is a little too soon to think too much about that.”

Contract talk
Mackanin is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2017. He has a club option for 2018.

Will the Phillies pick up Mackanin’s option before spring training to prevent a lame-duck situation?

Klentak was noncommittal on the subject Tuesday.

“We have time to do that,” he said. “Obviously last year we talked about his status in spring training and I’m sure the time will come when we’ll sit down and talk about it again.”

In March, the Phillies gave Mackanin a two-year contract with a club option for 2018.

“I hope they pick it up but that's not up to me,” Mackanin said. “That's up to them. I feel that when it's time for them to let me know, they let me know.

“But in the meantime, I'm not consumed by it. Hopefully it will happen, but it doesn't help me thinking about it.”

Phillies set stage for a spring-training closer competition

Phillies set stage for a spring-training closer competition

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies on Tuesday announced the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit and with that set the stage for some spring-training drama.

Who will be this team’s closer in 2017?

Benoit figures to be one of three candidates, joining Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez. Heck, you could even throw Edubray Ramos into the mix because he has the stuff to close, though his time might come further down the road when he's gained more experience.

“As we sit here today, I think we’ll probably enter spring training with a competition,” general manager Matt Klentak said of the closer role.

Phillies relievers had a 5.01 ERA last season, which ranked 28th in the majors. Klentak is trying to build a complete bullpen, not just find a closer. However, the closer role is the headline grabber in the bullpen and it’s difficult to settle upon other roles until a closer is anointed. So this will be one of the more interesting storylines in spring training.

Gomez fell into the job after others failed early last season and had a very nice five-month run. He recorded 37 saves before struggling badly down the stretch and giving way to Neris, whose fastball-splitter repertoire allowed him to strike out over 11 batters per nine innings last season. 

Neris could be the favorite coming into camp with Gomez sliding back into a seventh-inning or even multi-innings role. Ramos and lefty specialist Pat Neshek, picked up in a trade with Houston earlier this offseason, will be in the mix to pitch in the late innings and it would not be surprising to see Benoit emerge as the eighth-inning guy. Of course, this is all subject to change. There’s a lot of offseason left and it would not be a shocker to see Klentak trade one of his relievers in the right deal. But for now, Klentak believes he has an improved bullpen.

“We feel better today than we did a few days ago,” he said. “We have several players in our bullpen that can compete for the ninth-[inning job], the eighth, the seventh, the sixth. We’ve made our bullpen better.”

The Phillies are Benoit’s seventh big-league team. The 39-year-old right-hander has been one of the game’s workhorse relievers for more than a decade, recording a 3.79 ERA in 712 games in his career. He saved 25 games for Detroit in 2013 and had a 2.81 ERA in 51 games as a setup man for Seattle and Toronto last season. He struggled with the Mariners but was brilliant after a trade to Toronto in July. With the Mariners, he had a 5.18 ERA and 1.438 WHIP in 26 games. He walked 5.5 batters per nine innings and struck out 10.4 per nine. With Toronto, his control improved — he walked 3.4 per nine — and so did his ERA. He had an 0.38 ERA in 25 games with the Jays, allowing just one run in 23 2/3 innings.

“He really was two different guys,” Klentak acknowledged. “But as we drilled down into the data — strikeout rates, walk rates, batted-ball tendencies — there are some underlying things that he’s always done in his career that we think make him a pretty good candidate to have another good year. This guy has been really consistent for the better part of a decade.”

Over the last seven seasons, Benoit has posted a 0.98 WHIP. That ranks third among major-league relievers during that span behind only Kenley Jansen (0.89) and Craig Kimbrel (0.98).

Benoit will make $7.5 million in 2016. The Phillies are still a rebuilding club and they are not expected to contend in 2017. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see them turn Benoit into a prospect through a trade in July. This is contingent on Benoit pitching well, of course.