Phillies' offense rescues Halladay

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Carlos Ruiz watches fifth-inning single that scored Cesar Hernandez.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Carlos Ruiz watches fifth-inning single that scored Cesar Hernandez.
Posted: September 13, 2013

ROY HALLADAY'S first two pitches were out of the strike zone. His third was sent over the rightfield fence at Citizens Bank Park.

Of the final five batters Halladay faced last night, four reached base by way of a walk while the other legged out an infield single that Halladay aided with an errant throw to first.

Halladay's fourth start since returning from a 3-month layoff from shoulder surgery was, at times, not pretty. His inability to throw a strike in the fifth inning was downright troubling.

But in between the first batter he faced and the nightmarish inning he left in the fifth, Halladay was effective and the Phillies posted the equivalent of a touchdown on the scoreboard.

Carlos Ruiz and Cesar Hernandez each had three hits and drove in a total of five runs between them as the offense rescued Halladay and guided the Phils to a 10-5 victory over San Diego.

The win was the Phillies' fifth in their last six games. The Phillies (68-78) are within 10 games of the .500 mark for the first time since Aug. 8.

The Phils also have won three of the four games Halladay has started since his return from the disabled list, although last night's effort was far from encouraging. But Halladay, who is only 4 months removed from surgery, didn't particularly see it that way.

"It's tough and obviously you're under the microscope right now and no matter what you do the negatives are going to be brought to the forefront," Halladay said of criticism since returning from the disabled list. "Me personally, I'm trying to focus on the positives and let worry about the negatives.

"[For me], it's not so much frustration as it is patience. It's hard to be patient. You go from not knowing if you're going to pitch again to getting back and then as soon as you're back you expect to dominate. It's just not the way it works. I have to be patient with that. I feel like I've come a long way and I'm very optimistic moving forward, and I feel like I'm going in the right direction."

Halladay, who has a 5.06 ERA in four starts since his return, had some success last night by continuing to mask a decline in velocity (he topped off at 87 mph) by wisely keeping the San Diego hitters off-balance with curveballs and changeups.

While Halladay is likely to get an increase in arm strength as he continues to pitch, the 36-year-old has also been adapting his repertoire for over a year, relying more on his pitching smarts than on the since-departed late life on his patented cutters and sinkers.

But when a pitcher uses 101 pitches before the end of the fifth inning, it's not exactly conducive to winning.

After retiring 10 of the 13 batters he faced from the end of the first through the fourth inning, five via strikeout, Halladay completely lost his control in the fifth. He walked four straight batters after recording the first out of the inning. Manager Ryne Sandberg took the ball from the two-time Cy Young Award winner one batter later, before Halladay could record the second out of the inning.

Halladay said he simply lost his legs in the fifth, and wasn't sure if it was a result of the 55-minute rain delay before the game's first pitch, running the bases for the first time all season or the Phillies' lengthy bottom of the first inning. In losing his legs, Halladay lost the strike zone.

"He does go out there and gut it out and give everything he has," Sandberg said.

 Halladay allowed five runs (four earned) on four hits and five walks, while striking out six, in 4 1/3 innings. It was the 12th time in Halladay's 16-year career that he walked five batters in a game. He's done it in each of his last two starts.

Halladay also hit a batter and has plunked a total of five in his last three starts. Halladay, a former master of control, hit just 10 batters in his first 65 starts with the Phillies.

Then again, Halladay was healthy and arguably the game's best pitcher in 2010 and 2011. In the final month of 2013, he's a pitcher still rehabbing his way back from surgery and also attempting to breathe new life into his career.

"I realize I'm short off of surgery and I've worked extremely hard to get back here to pitch, and not just to pitch but to be successful," Halladay said. "So it's personally frustrating when you're not able to do what you want to do."

Unless the Phils re-sign him before the World Series, Halladay will become a free agent in less than 2 months. With his deep repertoire and pitching know-how, Halladay, who was never a power pitcher, can deal with a dip in velocity.

In his career, Halladay's highest average fastball came in 2008 (92.7 mph). That's still a lot more than 87 mph, but he was never a 95-97 guy, either.

But if he's not consistently throwing strikes, Halladay may have a lot more games like last night, when he angrily walked off the mound with his day's work cut short.

"[I understand the doubt], but I also understand that there's a tremendous amount of guys who might have never pitched again, and probably wouldn't have been back in 3 1/2 months," a nearly defiant Halladay said afterward. "To me, that's something to build on and focus on. To have the desire and want to do that, and try to do that for your team and your city. I understand there's doubt. There's doubt any time you have surgery.

"I feel like in a lot of ways I beat some odds. I know it's hard for people to see that. They look at you as having a certain career, and it could be 2 weeks after surgery and they expect you to be there. I understand it, and that's fine . . . It's important for me to work on the things I need to work on, but also focus on the things that are good. Philly isn't an easy place to do that. pretty tough. You have to be pretty mentally strong and block that out and go out there with confidence and trust."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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