07/18/12 2:27 AM ET
Doc's successful return triggers spark Phils need
Momentum from getting Halladay back could propel Philadelphia beyond series in LA
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
In his return to active duty, "Doc" wasn't as precise or as surgical as he has been known to be on the mound. But Halladay, in any condition, is never a holiday for hitters. He gave the Phillies five good innings and the bullpen took care of the rest, subduing Kemp and the Dodgers, 3-2, in front of a packed house numbering 53,498 at Dodger Stadium.
"Cutter, slurve, sinker, changeup -- he's pretty good at mixing his pitches up," Kemp said, having gone 0-for-2 against Halladay and 1-for-4 for a sagging offense in need of its missing mojo. "He's always around the plate. When he makes a mistake, you have to make him pay for it. First time up, I got a sinker in and hit it good -- but not good enough."
Kemp lined to left to end the first after Halladay had struck out Bobby Abreu and Mark Ellis looking. Then, suddenly, the Dodgers had the master -- making his first start since May 27 recovering from a lat strain -- reeling in the second inning with four consecutive hits and a pair of runs.
Andre Ethier -- now 8-for-12 in his career against Halladay -- started it with a single. Adam Kennedy yanked a double to right, and RBI singles by James Loney and Luis Cruz had the Phillies down by a run.
Halladay escaped, retiring A.J. Ellis on a soft liner that second baseman Chase Utley turned into a double play before striking out Stephen Fife. In his Major League debut, Fife performed commendably in holding the Phillies to a Jimmy Rollins manufactured first-inning run (double and two outs) across six resourceful innings.
It was the bullpen that once again wasn't up to the task. Ronald Belisario's wildness -- a walk and two hit batsmen -- put the Phillies in position to go in front on Hunter Pence's two-out, two-run single against closer Kenley Jansen in the eighth.
The Phillies are trying to figure out who they are, and they don't have a lot of time. They are getting their name-brand talent -- Halladay, Ryan Howard, Utley -- back on the field as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches and trade rumors swirl.
Trailing the Nationals by 13 games with 70 left on their schedule, the Phillies would need to go 48-22 (.686) to finish even with the National League East leaders if Washington plays .500 ball the rest of the way. The Phils are 9 1/2 behind in the Wild Card chase.
Stranger things, of course, have happened -- as recently as last season.
Halladay's return is critical to the emotional well being of this club. Abreu, one of the most productive hitters in Phillies history, understands. He is a big fan of the right-hander who has treated him roughly over the years.
After looking at a questionable third strike leading off the first, Abreu grounded out twice against the eight-time All-Star with two Cy Young Awards (2003 and 2010) atop his resume.
"He's exactly the same Halladay," Abreu said. "He never repeats pitches. He's always around the plate, always close. He makes you sometimes chase pitches you don't want to chase. He knows what he's doing. He's one of the best."
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, a hit man in his day with few equals, saw some rust in Halladay -- accompanied by the skill and will to work through it.
"Doc's going to throw strikes," Mattingly said. "He really does not walk people. He's going to come after you with his stuff. He doesn't try to get you out off the plate. You've got to get him up in the zone.
"I don't think he's as sharp as he usually is. Usually he's boom-boom-boom. I don't think he's quite right yet. But he keeps pitching, changing speeds. He's coming after everybody."
The Phillies need Halladay at his best -- and more. They know they have to get hot, blazing hot, to make these final 10 weeks worthwhile.
The trade winds envelope Rollins, Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino for reasons largely having to do with impending free agency and fiscal realities. All three of these players could be difference-makers down the stretch for a contender, and that won't be manager Charlie Manuel's troupe unless things come together quickly.
Kemp, another superstar on the mend, showed off his remarkable talents with a pair of sensational throws for outs and three bullets in four at-bats -- adding up to a wholly frustrating exercise.
Only five games (and four losses) into his return from a left hamstring strain costing him 51 games, the center fielder is getting impatient as the Dodgers let leads and games get away. They've seen the Giants pull three games ahead in the NL West.
"We've got to learn how to finish games," Kemp said. "We haven't been good about finishing games, offensively and defensively. We're a veteran team. We've got to close out games. We've got to do that now.
"The Giants are playing real good baseball now. We've got to wake up -- now."
Indeed. Early wakeup calls await both clubs for a 12:10 p.m. PT start time on Wednesday -- Cliff Lee vs. Clayton Kershaw. That falls under the category of classic confrontation.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.