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The decision that shaped Halladay's career

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The decision that shaped Halladay's career

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Posted: 2:30 p.m.
By Jim SalisburyCSNPhilly.com
DUNEDIN, Fla. Roy Halladay will start in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex on Wednesday afternoon.

For fans that come out to the complex and stand against the chain-link fence, it will be like watching Springsteen perform at the North Star Bar. Greatness, up close, in a low-key setting.

Halladay, of course, is not being assigned to the minors. The big team has a day off and the reigning National League Cy Young winner needs to stay on target for his opening day start.

This is not to say that Halladay doesnt know what its like to be sent from the majors to the minors.

Back in spring training 2001, after appearing in 57 games over three seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays, Halladay was sent from the majors to Single-A. The decision to send Halladay all the way to the low minors was made right at the place the Phillies visited on Tuesday Dunedin Stadium. One of the men deeply involved in the decision was in the ballpark Tuesday. Buck Martinez is a member of the Blue Jays broadcast team now. In 2001, he was the Jays manager.

I remember it well, Martinez said of the meeting he and team officials had with Halladay when they sent the pitcher down that spring. It was right back there in that old clubhouse.

Martinez laughed.

Im sure Roy probably hated me for it, he said.

Though Halladay did not like the move at the time, it turned out to be the turning point in a career that could one day lead to the Hall of Fame.

Halladay was a first-round pick in 1995, a big, hard-throwing righthander who seemed destined for greatness out of high school. He rose to the big leagues as a 21-year-old in 1998 and had almost immediate success, coming within one out of a no-hitter (Detroits Bobby Higginson hit a pinch homer in the ninth) in his second big-league start.

Halladay had mixed success in 1999. He struggled badly in 2000. In the spring of 2001, his problems, much to the bewilderment of Jays officials, continued.

Martinez motioned toward the third-base dugout, where he and his pitching coach, Mark Connor, would sit.

Wed watch him throw and say, How in the hell is he getting hit like this? Martinez said. Finally we kind of broke it down. He stood tall and was easy to see. He was over the top. His fastball was 97 but straight as a string. He had a big curveball, but nobody swung at it.

We just said, You know, hes 6-6, has a great arm, hes young, hes too good of a talent for this. Theres got to be a way to figure this out.

According to Martinez, Connor suggested Halladay try to add some movement to his fastball.

As Domonic Brown learned this spring, its difficult to make mechanical adjustments and compete at the same time. So Jays officials, led by general manager Gord Ash,decided to get Halladay as far away from the majors as they could. They sent him to the Florida State League, where he could fix his problems in a non-competitive setting.

Though not happy with the decision, Halladay did not fight it.

He couldnt, Martinez said. He was getting his ass kicked. He was struggling to make the team. We just thought it was the best thing for him in the long haul.

Halladay took the demotion in the spirit it was intended. He refocused his commitment to the game. He worked with the late Harvey Dorfman, the legendary sports psychologist and author of The Mental ABC's of Pitching. He completely reworked his delivery, tucking his front shoulder to hide the ball from hitters.

On his path back to the majors, Halladay worked with Jays pitching instructor Mel Queen, who suggested that Halladay drop his arm path from over the top to more of a three-quarters delivery. That helped add movement to Halladays fastball, an important step in the evolution of what today is one of the best sinkers in the game.

Halladay made it back to the majors in July 2001.

Martinez, a former big-league catcher, was amazed with what he saw. Halladay had added deceptiveness to his delivery, movement to his pitches, and fierce determination to his mindset.

I caught him early on just to see what was different after the adjustment, said Martinez, eyes widening. I wanted to see. It was pretty special.

I remember we had Todd Greene in camp that spring and he was catching Roy. We released him at the end of spring and he signed with the Yankees. One of Roys first starts back was at Yankee Stadium. The next day Greenie came over and said, What the hell did you do with Doc? He was what he is now.

A season after going to the minors, Halladay won 19 games. In 2003, he won the American League Cy Young award. Last season, he won the NL Cy Young award while pitching for the Phillies. One of his 21 wins was a perfect game. He added a no-hitter in the playoffs.

The no-hitter was everything Roy had pined for good team, postseason, big stage, excellence, Martinez said.

To this day, Martinez loves to watch Halladay pitch.

He understands the dynamics of pitching, Martinez said. He puts the pressure on the hitter, makes them uncomfortable from the first pitch of the game because he throws it over the plate. And it just happens that his ball goes in two directions and he can throw a breaking ball over and change speeds.

There are guys who throw harder and have better breaking balls, but Halladays strength is hes got his foot on your throat the whole game. He wants you to hit it. He cuts it and sinks it. Body language is everything and his says, Im better than you. Early in his career it was very tentative. He was upright and searching for the strike zone. Now he knows which inch of the plate he wants to throw it to.

All this is why Halladay is often called the best pitcher in baseball.

You could say the rise to that distinction started in a back room at Dunedin Stadium in spring training 2001.

He could have flipped us off and told us to go to hell, Martinez said. He could have said, Ill go down there, but Im not going to do anything. But he didnt do that. He did the work and he deserves all the credit. Hes an amazing worker. He went from being a borderline failure, No. 1 pick, maybe out of the game, getting his brains beaten out, to making a commitment and becoming what he is today. Its a great personal accomplishment.E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com

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As trade deadline approaches, Phillies GM Matt Klentak to get firsthand look at much-coveted Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd

As trade deadline approaches, Phillies GM Matt Klentak to get firsthand look at much-coveted Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd

The Phillies began an important week in the schedule with a 2-1 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Despite scoring just three runs in the final two games, the Phillies took two of three from the Pirates to remain entrenched in the National League wild-card race as next week's trade deadline (and big decisions for the front office) steams toward us.

And, this year, it's a real trade deadline. There are no more August waiver deals, the kind that once brought the Phillies Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs and the Houston Astros Justin Verlander in 2017, two months before they won the World Series.

The Detroit Tigers traded Verlander to the Astros in August 2017. Two years later, the Tigers, who entered Monday tied with Baltimore for the worst record in the majors, remain in a rebuild and they have several trade candidates that intrigue contending teams.

The Phillies will get a good look at one of them — maybe more — over the next couple of days when they travel to Detroit for a quick, two-game interleague series on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak will join the team in Detroit for the series and will no doubt have his eyes trained on Tuesday night's Detroit starter, lefty Matthew Boyd.

Though Klentak would surely prefer otherwise, it's possible he could also get a look at Shane Greene, the Tigers' All-Star closer. Outfielder Nicholas Castellanos and lefty starter Daniel Norris are also on Detroit's trading block.

The Phillies have big needs in the starting rotation and at the back end of the bullpen. Sources say the Phils have had conversations with the Tigers about all of their available players, particularly Boyd and Greene. Both are the type of pitcher the Phillies would like to acquire in that they are talented and under contractual control beyond this season. In other words, they are not rentals. Boyd has three years of control after this season and Greene is under control through next season.

Now, here's the rub: That type of control raises the price tag on these pitchers and by all accounts, the Tigers are looking for a huge score — as they should.

One baseball executive familiar with the Tigers' thinking said the club was looking for four young players for Boyd — "two with star potential and two more with a chance."

The Tigers are in position to seek a huge score not only because Boyd has so many years of control remaining but also because the market for starting pitchers heavily favors sellers. Toronto's Marcus Stroman (the Phillies have scouted him recently) and Boyd are the top two controllable pitchers on the market. It remains unclear if Arizona will deal lefty Robbie Ray, who is under control for another season, or Zack Greinke because the Diamondbacks are still in the wild-card chase. The D-backs could hold on to both and look to deal them in the offseason if they desire. The market for Greinke will be limited, now and in the offseason, because he is owed over $80 million through 2021 and he has a no-trade clause. The Phillies have plenty of money and would prefer to use that over prospect capital, but even they would have reservations about taking on that amount of money for a guy who will pitch at 36 and 37 the next two seasons and has Philadelphia on his no-trade list.

Madison Bumgarner is another pitcher that the Phils have long liked, but his availability is now complicated by the fact the Giants have gotten hot and are now in the wild-card race. (Surely, teams with available starters like Toronto and Detroit love that.)

In the end, Bumgarner might not be quite as attractive for a team that is more than one piece away from a title because he will be a free agent at season's end. The Phillies, just four games over .500 and with multiple holes, have to consider the prospect cost of a rental player because they just don't appear to be good enough to make a significant October run.

Can we beat the Dodgers by adding just one player, or are we better off hanging onto our prospects? That's a question teams like the Phillies have to ask themselves. It is a question they have already asked themselves.

For someone like Boyd, the Tigers would probably ask the Phillies for a package that would include position players such as Alec Bohm, Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley, or pitchers Adonis Medina, Spencer Howard and Francisco Morales. The Phils might part with a couple of these guys — hey, they're going to need pitching next season, too — but their current place in the standings would suggest that they will also be very protective of this group, especially Bohm and Howard.

Nonetheless, it should be interesting to watch Boyd pitch against Aaron Nola on Tuesday night in Detroit. Boyd is 6-8 with a 4.13 ERA in 20 starts for the lowly Tigers. He walks under 2.0 batters per nine innings and strikes out an even 12.0. He pitches a little like J.A. Happ, unafraid to go after hitters up in the zone with a sneaky fastball and complement it with a good changeup. He'd be a nice pickup for the Phillies, for now and beyond, and Matt Klentak will be watching. Is he willing to pay the price? Tick, tick, tick. The trade deadline is nine days away.

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Drew Smyly's outstanding debut, fearless Ranger Suarez help Phillies beat Pirates

Drew Smyly's outstanding debut, fearless Ranger Suarez help Phillies beat Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Despite a second straight day of little offense, the Phillies were able to escape PNC Park on Sunday with a series win. The Phillies had just three hits through eight innings and just six for the day. Ultimately, they got the game’s biggest hit — a solo homer from Rhys Hoskins with one out in the 11th — and that was enough to secure a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates heading into an off day Monday and a two-game set with the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.

This is what happens when you get outstanding pitching. You can do little at the plate and still win a ballgame with one swing of the bat.

Make no mistake: The Phillies won this game because of their pitching. Even Hoskins admitted that.

“It was pretty incredible,” he said.

The Pirates scored a run in the first inning and nothing after that.

That first-inning run came against Drew Smyly, the veteran lefty who opted out of his minor-league contract with the Brewers on Thursday after the Phillies had reached out with a chance to be a starter in the big leagues. Smyly spent several days in roster limbo and did not get to join his new teammates in the clubhouse until Sunday morning. He signed his contract before the game then proceeded to pitch six innings of one-run ball. He scattered four hits, walked two and struck out eight. He got 16 swing and misses, eight on a curveball that catcher Andrew Knapp said was like no other he’d ever caught because it had screwball action.

“It's definitely a great one to start off on,” Smiley said. “Just try to build off of it. It was a lot of fun being out there with a new group of guys, a fresh start. I'm very grateful to the Phillies for this opportunity and just going to try to roll with it.”

Smyly, 30, missed 2017 and 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He was released by Texas in late June after recording a 8.42 ERA in 51 1/3 innings.

“I feel like once Texas designated me and then I went and signed with the Brewers, I really started to figure out some things about myself and kind of a new game plan, a new approach on how to attack hitters,” Smyly said. “I instantly saw results and I only think it's going to get better. I just feel like I'm a different pitcher than I was with Texas right now.”

Smyly would not offer specifics about the changes he made after Texas.

“I don't want to give away my secrets,” he said with a laugh. “Still have a lot of games to play. But it's just the way I'm attacking and the way I feel like I'm mixing it up. I was pretty predictable in Texas. I wasn't good. I didn't perform well. I know what I'm capable of. I've had a lot of good seasons in the past before my Tommy John surgery. So I just need to get back. The game has changed a little bit in the last two years and I just have to get back to attacking hitters and keeping them off balance. I think I have a good idea of how to do that now.”

After Smyly departed, the Phils got five shutout innings from the bullpen. Most impressive was rookie Ranger Suarez’ two scoreless innings after Hector Neris hit two batters and got a bases-loaded line out to left to survive a ninth-inning scare.

The lefty Suarez survived a leadoff double in the 10th and a hit in the 11th. He struck out the final two batters of the game. Eight of his last nine appearances have been scoreless. Not bad for a guy working out of the bullpen regularly for the first time.

Manager Gabe Kapler called Suarez’ work “gutsy” and “courageous.” The 23-year-old from Venezuela does pitch with a fearless swagger.

“I don’t need any fear,” Suarez said through translator Diego Ettedgui. “I need outs. And I was able to get them."

And the Phillies, still hoping to snap a seven-year playoff drought, were able to clinch a series win on a day when they scored just two runs.

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