Roy Halladay struggles as Phillies get battered by Braves

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay works against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning of a baseball game on Wednesday, April, 3, 2013. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay works against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning of a baseball game on Wednesday, April, 3, 2013. (AP Photo/John Amis) (John Amis)
Posted: April 04, 2013

ATLANTA - Charlie Manuel raised his left arm at 8:38 p.m. Wednesday and looked to the bullpen. The steady rain that dampened Turner Field persisted. The gloom extended north to Philadelphia. With one out in the fourth inning of a 9-2 Phillies loss to Atlanta, Roy Halladay capitulated.

He ditched the weapons that, for a decade, armed a dominant pitcher. When Halladay threw his fastball, Braves hitters mashed it. The constant diet of off-speed pitches elicited strikeouts, but at the cost of a rising pitch count.

This is a reboot, and even for a man as smart and dedicated as Halladay, a straight line of progress is near impossible.

"I'm going to fix it," a rattled Halladay said. "I'm going to fix it. It will be fixed. And the results will be better."

The first act was a baffling, 31/3-inning effort. He allowed five runs on six hits and three walks. Nine of his 10 outs were strikeouts. The Braves scored three runs in the first inning. Four more in the fourth decided a lopsided game. The Phillies must win Thursday to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2007.

Halladay was most perturbed by his inability to pitch deep. He blamed a lack of aggressiveness and said a crucial pitch he threw to Justin Upton was "halfhearted." It landed as a two-run home run.

"I'd rather get beat 20-0 and pitch eight innings than pitch 31/3," Halladay said. "That has to change."

Halladay spoke of being ready to expand the strike zone and instill more trust in his fastball. But the opposite happened Wednesday. All four run-scoring hits came on Halladay fastballs. He threw 21 fastballs in the first inning and 16 in the subsequent three innings. Half of his total pitches were off-speed, and he used his curveball and change-up as crutches.

Those pitches fooled an Atlanta lineup that is prone to whiffing. The hitters were disciplined enough to watch sloppy fastballs sail past. At his best, Halladay could throw his sinker or cutter to both sides of the plate to any hitter.

It was a bewildering night. Halladay became the first pitcher since at least 1916 - and maybe ever - to strike out nine batters while recording 10 or fewer outs. (The previous record was eight.) He threw 55 of his 95 pitches for strikes. That was his second-lowest strike total ever when throwing at least 95 pitches. Halladay reached eight three-ball counts in the 19 hitters he faced.

The Phillies had the option of bumping Halladay's debut to later in the season. After a shaky spring, no one would have blamed them. Including Wednesday, Halladay has an 11.57 ERA in his last five starts against Atlanta in the last two seasons.

In the days leading up to Halladay's start, Manuel broached the subject with his pitcher.

"How do you feel?" Manuel asked him. "Are you ready to pitch?"

"Yeah," Halladay told him. "I wanted to to pitch the first game, but you didn't want me to."

The night began with fleeting promise. Halladay fanned Andrelton Simmons on five pitches. Then Jason Heyward slapped a cutter for a single. Upton swung through a first-pitch cutter and fouled off the next three pitches. Halladay spiked a curveball. He countered with a 91-m.p.h. low fastball, a pitch called by Erik Kratz, and one Halladay claimed he was not keen on throwing. Home run. It was a pivotal moment.

"We went in with a low target, which isn't what we wanted to do," Halladay said. "You're not going to get him out there. What I wanted to do wasn't executed."

Halladay used 40 pitches to record the first three outs. The Phillies bullpen stirred before the first inning finished.

"After he got out of that," Manuel said, "I felt like he did OK."

The average velocity was 89.6 m.p.h. on his fastball and 88.3 m.ph. on his cutter, according to Pitch F/X data. That was slower than his first outing in 2012, a cursed season, but a slight improvement from the end of spring training.

Those pitches had little movement and lacked command. If Halladay is to sustain this new model, it will require evolution, or Manuel's hand will be forced again and again.


Contact Matt Gelb at  mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow @magelb on Twitter.

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