Baseball Notes

Phillies are really getting into that Halladay spirit

By Nick Cafardo
March 7, 2010

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Roger Clemens used to keep detailed notes on umpires, situations, hitters, and anything you could possibly imagine. After pitching in a spring training game, he’d go to the bullpen and simulate another one, then he’d work out again.

The great ones are obsessed with detail. Roy Halladay is one of those pitching savants.

The first time he met Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee over the winter, following the trade that sent him from Toronto to Philadelphia, Halladay showed him a binder of past spring training outings.

“It blew me away,’’ said Dubee.

“He’s Peyton Manning,’’ said former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi. “That’s how prepared he is.’’

The only thing that could derail Halladay would be excessive innings over the years - if his right shoulder succumbs to the wear and tear resulting from his incredible will to pitch deep into games. He’s a throwback to a day when the starter took the ball in the first inning and didn’t want to give it up until he retired the final batter in the ninth.

After 11 seasons with the Blue Jays, Halladay is with a team that may finally give him his first postseason appearance.

Jays GM Alex Anthropolous pulled the trigger on a four-way deal with Seattle, Philadelphia, and Oakland in December after listening to several offers going back to last year’s trading deadline, including packages from the Red Sox and Yankees. The Sox stretched themselves as far as possible, with the possible inclusion of Clay Buchholz, but as Ricciardi pointed out, “The Red Sox made a fair offer, but we needed to hit a home run to trade him within our division.’’

Some will question the logic of the Phillies basically swapping Halladay for Cliff Lee, another former AL Cy Young winner, who went to Seattle in the deal. The Phillies wouldn’t have been able to accommodate Lee over a long-term deal, which could have gotten into the five-year, $90 million-$100 million range. They signed Halladay to a three-year, $60 million extension that begins in 2011.

Will the plus-minus make a huge difference?

“Both of them do the same thing, really,’’ said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “One’s left and one’s right. Halladay’s got more pitches - sinker, slider, cutter, curveball, fastball, changeup - and Lee is more changeup, cutter. Halladay has more weapons, but Lee, too, is very aggressive with his style of pitching.

“When you think about it, the righty-lefty thing is something that might help us.’’

“He’s the best pitcher in baseball,’’ said catcher Carlos Ruiz. “Cliff Lee is a great one from the left side. Not too many better than Cliff and what he did for us, but Halladay has the respect of being the best.

“Just catching him is an honor. It was an honor to catch Pedro Martinez last year because of what he had done in the game, but right now at this moment, I think most baseball players recognize Halladay as the best pitcher in baseball.’’

No argument from Ricciardi on that one.

“He was the player I was closest to as a GM,’’ Ricciardi said. “You get to meet a lot of players, unique players, and there’s nobody quite like him. He’d pitch on a Monday and on Tuesday he was studying video of the next team. He’d prepare all week. Nobody prepared like him.’’

Now Halladay must get ready for a new crop of National League hitters. Once he learns them, he could be more dominating than ever.

“He could win between 20-25 in the National League,’’ said Ricciardi.

“When you know you’re going to face Halladay,’’ said Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco, “you’re up all night the night before because he’s the one guy that hitters just say, ‘Oh geez, I’ve got to face Halladay.’ I mean, when you get a hit off him, you feel like you’re on top of the world. That’s how good he is.

“So now he’s on my side, and I know what each and every hitter on the other team is going through. So it’s up to us to play good defense, score some runs, and just watch this special, special player.’’

Halladay made his first spring appearance for the Phillies Thursday in Clearwater, Fla., vs. the Yankees and CC Sabathia, and he didn’t disappoint: two innings, no hits, three strikeouts, 23 pitches, 20 for strikes.

“I’m excited to be with this team with a chance to get to the World Series,’’ said Halladay. “But it’s important that I don’t change anything about how I prepare or the attitude I bring to the field. I’ve got a lot to learn here about our team and about the hitters, some of whom I’ve faced in interleague, but a lot of guys I haven’t faced.’’

The scary thing is that Halladay gets to face the pitcher in NL lineups. While his interleague record is impressive enough at 17-8 with a 3.02 ERA, his record at NL ballparks where the pitcher hits is 5-4 with a 2.88 ERA.

He has 49 career complete games, having pitched nine in a season three times; that number should rise in the NL because he’ll throw fewer pitches with only eight real hitters in the lineup, and the great sinker he learned from Derek Lowe should induce more grounders.

Last year, his complete-game pitch counts were remarkable. He threw a high of 133 in one of them, but his others were between 97-114.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,’’ Halladay said. “I want to pitch in the postseason. That was a big part of this, but there’s a long way to go until that happens.

“You can tell by the attitude in here that guys know how to win. They expect to win. I just want to make my contribution to that.’’

As a Tiger, he’s OK with the center ring
In the Tigers camp, the spotlight is squarely on center fielder Austin Jackson (left), but the 23-year-old rookie feels more comfortable there than he did with the expectations in New York.

“When I was over there, they were trying to compare me to [Mickey] Mantle and Bernie Williams,’’ said Jackson, “and I was saying, ‘Whoa, I haven’t even played a game in the big leagues yet.’ I got a lot of attention, so there was pressure.

“Here, I’m able to just play and be me, and hopefully that will allow my talent and abilities to come out.

Jackson, who hit .300 with 4 homers, 65 RBIs, and 24 steals at Triple A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre last season, was a major part of the three-team deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees - a trade that truly surprised Jackson, considering all the hype surrounding him in New York for so long.

“Yeah, I was surprised,’’ Jackson said. “I heard about it on ESPN and then I got a call saying, ‘You’ve been traded to the Tigers,’ and that was that. It was pretty quick.

“I just thought I was going to compete for a job with the Yankees. That’s what it had been building up to since I got here. But I’m happy about it because I have a real chance to show I can be the starter here.’’

Jackson feels even more comfortable now that Johnny Damon, a mentor of sorts in New York, is a Tiger.

“Johnny has stressed being patient and seeing a lot of pitches but at the same being aggressive,’’ said Jackson. “If you get a good fastball to hit, go for it.’’

Jackson has power and could be a leadoff man capable of hitting the ball out of the park.

“I watched Curtis for a long time, actually, but not sure he was a true leadoff man,’’ Jackson said. “Johnny has done the leadoff thing well for so long, and now he’s one of the best No. 2 hitters. I watched Derek Jeter a lot and the way he approaches it, but not sure he’s a true leadoff man, either.

“I’m just trying to be me.’’

Under Mills, systems are go in Astro camp
Brad Mills (left) has restored organization, a sense of team, and an upbeat attitude to Astros camp in his first season as manager after six seasons under Terry Francona in Boston and four under Francona in Philadelphia. Whether that translates into more wins remains to be seen, but for now Mills is trying to bring the best of what he learned under Francona and apply it to the Astros.

“I was always amazed at the way he handles the media and the players,’’ Mills said. “That’s something that will be a work in progress, but I hope to get to that point here.

“The players have responded well to the things we’ve tried to do. I’m getting to know some of our coaches. Some, like Bobby Meacham, I’ve known forever, so I know what he brings, but we’re trying to get our communication right. [Bench coach] Al Pedrique has run our camp and he’s done a great job.’’

The players who were with Houston under Cecil Cooper say Mills has cut down workout times but more work gets done in them. Mills needs to get the key veterans - Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and others - to lift their energy level. “Energy’’ is the word heard most often around camp.

“For years, I’d say my two cents to Tito, but ultimately he pulled the switch,’’ said Mills. “Now I’m the guy pulling the switch and hopefully I’ll get the same type of input from my coaches.’’

Unfortunately for Mills, the talent level on the Astros doesn’t compare to what he got accustomed to in Boston. Oswalt, who had oblique issues last season, remains the ace, and Wandy Rodriguez is a very good lefty starter, but Mills will rely on youngsters Felipe Paulino and Bud Norris and veteran Brett Myers to step up to round out the rotation.

He’ll likely go with young catcher J.R. Towles and will also have a rookie shortstop in Tommy Manzella.

“I think we have some underrated talent that maybe has flown under the radar,’’ Mills said.


Apropos of nothing
1. Two things I’d like to find out about Red Sox shortstop phenom Jose Iglesias: Can he hit and can he sing? 2. Asked Charlie Manuel how he lost 56 pounds. “I didn’t eat,’’ he said; 3. Holy rip-off! Alfonso Soriano still has five years left on his Cubs contract; 4. OK, we’re all ready for the Joe Mauer contract; 5. Does it really count if Barry Zito plunks Prince Fielder in a spring training game in retaliation for Fielder’s celebration after a walkoff homer against the Giants last season? I say no.

Updates on nine
1. Josh Hamilton, RF, Rangers - Scouts are watching him in Arizona in case the Rangers entertain thoughts of dealing him before the end of spring training. Said a National League scout, “Everybody in Texas denies it, and I don’t know what to base it on, but there’s a feeling the Rangers may do something, and teams want to be ready.’’

2. Nick Green, INF, Dodgers - His back surgery (similar to Tim Wakefield’s) went well. Ironically Green is precisely what the Red Sox need: a backup shortstop. The Sox will be evaluating Bill Hall in spring training to see if he can be the backup shortstop. If he can, no problem. They really want Jed Lowrie to play every day at Pawtucket, and Tug Hulett is not a shortstop. The Sox offered Green a minor league deal, but he rejected it to sign a minor league deal with the Dodgers, who originally offered him a major league contract before discovering he needed the back surgery.

3. Kevin Cash, C, Astros - One of Wakefield’s ex-catchers is trying to make Houston’s squad after shoulder surgery, but he might have an uphill battle with J.R. Towles, Humberto Quintero, and Jason Castro in camp. Asked if he catches minor league pitching coach Burt Hooton’s knuckle-curve for old-time’s sake, he said, “No chance. I don’t want any part of that.’’ Cash has a split contract and can opt out if he doesn’t get a major league job.

4. Josh Beckett, RHP, Red Sox - One major league source indicated that there’s more optimism about the Sox and Beckett reaching a contract accord this season. It seems talks have been amicable, if not productive. The Sox could insist on medical language similar to what’s included in the deals of John Lackey and J.D. Drew. Jason Bay wouldn’t bite on the language, but Beckett may consider it just to stay in Boston, where he has already forged a great relationship with Lackey and continues to build one with Jon Lester.

5. Franklin Gutierrez, CF, Mariners - Seattle put a nickel in the slot machine and hit the jackpot in that Dec. 11, 2008, three-team deal that brought Gutierrez from the Indians, plus outfielder Endy Chavez, lefthanded pitcher Jason Vargas, reliever Aaron Heilman (later flipped for pitcher Garrett Olson), first baseman Mike Carp, outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, and pitcher Maikel Cleto from the Mets. In exchange, Seattle sent J.J. Putz, reliever Sean Green, and outfielder Jeremy Reed to the Mets, plus infielder Luis Valbuena to the Indians. How’s the deal working out? Gutierrez may be the best center fielder in the game; Cleto is one of the hardest throwers in the Mariners’ system; Carrera hit .337 in Double A to win a batting title last season and is in major league camp; Olson and Vargas are contending for the fifth starter job. The guys Seattle gave away have fizzled, with Putz having elbow issues last season.

6. Dave Mellor, groundskeeper, Red Sox - The pressure is on one of the best in the business to repair and prepare the field at Fenway Park after the winter hockey games. Mellor started working on the field last Wednesday and likely will need all the time before the April 4 opener against the Yankees to get it ready. For years, Sox infielders have complained about the Fenway dirt. Even newcomers Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro have commented about how it gets choppy after a few innings and can be tough to play on.

7. Zach Braddock, LHP, Brewers - Those who have watched the 22-year-old reliever are pretty excited about him. Last season, he struck out 62 and walked seven in 40 1/3 innings between Single A and Double A. “This guy is going to contribute before the year is over,’’ said Milwaukee manager Ken Macha. “He is overpowering, and now it’s a matter of putting it where he wants to.’’

8. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals - Baseball people are lining up for his appearance in Viera, Fla., Tuesday night against the Tigers. “Really, not sure what there is to see,’’ said one NL scout. “The kid is going to be a great one if he stays healthy. As someone who watched big bonus babies like Mark Prior and Ben McDonald, I can tell you, Strasburg is cut from a different mold. There’s no entitlement with this kid. He works hard and takes nothing for granted. He’s got great makeup.’’

9. B.J. Upton, CF, Rays - Privately, some Rays personnel hope he becomes like his little brother, Justin Upton, who signed a $51.25 million, six-year deal with Arizona last week. This is a huge year for B.J., who has enormous potential but has come up short in most areas except defense and stolen bases since 2007, when he hit .300 with 24 homers and 82 RBIs. He plummeted to .241 last season. He’s 25 and heading into his prime.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “The heaviest player as officially posted in the bigs last year was the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton, tipping the scales at 295. The lightest was the Rockies’ Esmil Rogers, who made one appearance and then his 150-pound frame was caught in a gust of wind.’’ Also, “When Jered Weaver is good, he’s really good: In his 16 wins last season, he had an ERA of 1.84 and a 0.905 WHIP. But in his eight losses, he had a 6.99 ERA and a 1.835 WHIP.’’ Also, “Mark Teixeira has never had a successful sacrifice bunt in his career.’’ . . . Happy 74th birthday, Galen Cisco.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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