Phillies

Roy Halladay taught Cole Hamels more than just the game

Roy Halladay taught Cole Hamels more than just the game

Cole Hamels looked up to Roy Halladay.

The 6-foot-6 frame, the unrivaled work ethic, the mastery of his craft.

Hamels saw it all.

But he also appreciated something else in Halladay.

Fatherhood.

As he marveled at the qualities of his old teammate and friend just hours after learning Halladay had died in a plane crash (see story), Hamels' voice grew shaky when family came to mind.

Halladay was a loving father of two sons, Ryan and Braden (see story).

And that's what Hamels admired, what he learned and what he aspires to be, just as much as emulating the machine on the mound. When remembering Halladay on the tragic Tuesday, Hamels thought of his own sons, Braxton and Caleb.

"Now, I have two boys of my own," Hamels said. "And I got to see what that meant to him every time he was able to bring them (Ryan and Braden) around the ballpark. That was something that really did leave an impression. Hopefully I'll be able to do what he was able to do for his boys."

Halladay, already established and revered as one of the game's best pitchers, came to the Phillies in 2010. Hamels was recovering from a disastrous season in which he went from 2008 World Series MVP to career lows and mental exhaustion in 2009.

Hamels, only 26 at the time, found a mentor in the 33-year-old "Doc."

Through example and experience, Halladay molded the skinny lefty from California.

He exemplified the importance of approach and preparation. Hamels even recalls watching Halladay's tendencies when the big righty was with the Toronto Blue Jays in spring training, before he ever joined the Phillies in that transformational 2010.

"In order to be great at something, you have to have mentors. You have to have great mentors, and he was one for me," Hamels said. "I watched from afar with being here and him being in Dunedin for the Blue Jays, we got to see him pitch. Seeing him pitch in spring training and then watching him during the season, he was the greatest of that decade. He was the greatest pitcher. You wanted to watch him, see how he attacked hitters, what was he doing different that everybody else wasn't, why was he so great?

"And then to finally play catch with him and see that he had a purpose. Behind everything that he did, he had a purpose. And I think you come to realize that you have very small, short moments in life to be able to do something great, so you have to maximize it, you have to make the best of it — and he did."

At times, Hamels felt like a kid watching in awe from the stands.

"A lot of us grew up watching Roy Halladay play. I was fortunate to be able to sit in the dugout and share a locker with him for some of the best years I've had," Hamels said. "He's really given me such a way to perceive and to look at baseball and to try to improve and be the best at what I do. He was a man of few words, but you just sat back and you just watched him, you watched what he did, his work ethic was second to none. I mean, you couldn't beat him to the ballpark, and if you did, you were going to lose from there on out. 

"You didn't miss those moments when he pitched. Baseball can be a long, grueling season, but when you had Roy Halladay on the mound, you didn't miss an inning, you didn't miss a pitch, you were watching every moment. And I know those are kind of the moments when you're playing this game and you look up in the stands, and there are people there to watch you and watch you perform — I was one of those people. I obviously had a closer seat and got to kind of talk to him a bit in between innings, but I was there to watch him perform. He raised my bar, he raised the game for me."

He was also influential in developing Hamels' new, difference-making two-seam fastball.

"There was always times when I would be throwing it and it wouldn't be working very well, and I'd ask him and he would just tell me where to put the fingers, the placement and then obviously where to envision where to release it," Hamels said. "He really did help me out with introducing that pitch."

Hamels and Halladay remained close once the latter retired in December 2013. Hamels said their families had vacationed together and he would frequently text with Halladay throughout the busy baseball season. And Hamels knew well of his buddy's passion for flying planes.

"Knowing that his father was a pilot, I think that was right there," Hamels said. "You look up to your dad always."

Hamels looked up to Halladay.

Not just the pitcher, but the father, too.

"We play this game and we love every minute of it, and then, it is over," Hamels said. "And then you get to go to your family and spend time with your family. To see that it's cut short for somebody that was such a good, good person, to him and his wife Brandy, it's hard to think about what's really going to transpire. He means a lot to all of us and we're really, really going to miss him."

Healthy Jerad Eickhoff says, 'The sky is the limit'

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AP Images

Healthy Jerad Eickhoff says, 'The sky is the limit'

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jerad Eickhoff is an important man in this Phillies season. He needs to be closer to the guy who pitched to a 3.65 ERA in 197 1/3 innings in 2016 than the one who had a 4.71 ERA in 128 innings last season.

It all starts with good health. Eickhoff, 27, missed time with an upper-back strain and a nerve issue near his right shoulder last season.

He is healthy now and has made a tweak in his mechanics to ease pressure on his shoulder. He made his spring debut with two hitless, scoreless innings in a 6-0 exhibition win over the University of Tampa on Thursday (more on the game here). Eickhoff threw 17 pitches, 14 of which were strikes. He struck out two, walked none and hit a batter. 

“No matter what game it is that you pitch in, you get that intensity, there’s a hitter in the box, you still get butterflies being back at it,” Eickhoff said. “Today was a big day, facing some competition. The live batting practice was checking off the first box. A game setting was kind of the second box, so I think the sky is the limit from here. I feel great.”

Eickhoff developed a mechanical flaw last season as his body would often fall toward first base after delivering the ball. That put pressure on his shoulder. He has tried to correct the flaw this winter by holding his glove a little higher before he releases the ball. That helps him get going toward home plate.

If healthy, Eickhoff will be in the starting rotation. (Former bench coach Larry Bowa is high on him). But he’s taking nothing for granted.

“I try to approach every spring like I’m trying to win a job,” Eickhoff said. “I have something to prove every year.”

Notes
• Andrew Knapp caught and batted leadoff. He worked a walk to lead off the game and that impressed manager Gabe Kapler. Kapler advised not to read into batting order positions this early in camp. 

“These are practice settings,” he said.

• The Phillies play their Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. Rotation candidates Nick Pivetta and Mark Leiter Jr. are expected to get some work. Non-roster invite Francisco Rodriguez, he of the 437 career saves, could also get an inning.

Future closer? Power-armed Seranthony Dominguez dazzles in opener

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USA Today Images

Future closer? Power-armed Seranthony Dominguez dazzles in opener

CLEARWATER, Fla. — This was a nice little glimpse of the future.

Seven of the eight pitchers used by the Phillies in Thursday’s 6-0 exhibition win over the University of Tampa were prospects who likely need a little more time in the minors, but could someday be mainstays in Philadelphia.

Jerad Eickhoff started and pitched two scoreless innings (see story). After him, prospects Jose Taveras, Tom Eshelman, Franklyn Kilome, Enyel De Los Santos, Seranthony Dominguez, Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez kept the shutout intact. None of the Phillies’ pitchers walked a batter, though Eickhoff did hit one.

“No walks, that’s fairly unusual for spring training,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It was like Command City. Guys were on top of it.”

Kapler singled out Dominguez, a strong-bodied, power-armed, 23-year-old right-hander who earned a spot on the 40-man roster in November. Dominguez allowed a leadoff single in the seventh then came back with three swinging strikeouts, all on high-80s sliders.

“He maintained his composure, had electric stuff and the bravado of a seasoned veteran,” Kapler said.

Dominguez, signed out of the Dominican Republic for $25,000 in 2012, touched 100 mph with his fastball as a starter in the Florida State League early last season. He ended up missing time with biceps tendinitis, but is healthy now. The Phillies have reduced his pitch mix from four to three (fastball, slider, changeup) and he will convert to the bullpen, where he profiles as a potential closer, this season. He is likely to open at Double A Reading. Don’t rule out seeing him in Philadelphia later this season if all goes well.

“As a bullpen guy, he could be a quick mover,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

“He has a top-of-the-scale fastball,” director of player development Joe Jordan said. “He has a chance to really dominate in the late innings.”