Roy Halladay had nine strikeouts last night. Tim Lincecum allowed zero earned runs.
All you need to know, right? If only.
It’s possible the tales of Halladay’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. That last year’s shoulder issues were not the first sign of a looming breakdown for one of the league’s most well-worn pitchers. That his diminished velocity this spring was simply a matter of needing more time to get back into peak baseball shape.
It’s possible, but it doesn’t jibe with what went down Wednesday. Yes, Halladay fanned nine batters. The problem is, he recorded only one other out, allowing five runs on six hits, three walks and two home runs in 3 1/3 innings of work. The second homer came off the bat of Evan Gattis, who was making his second MLB plate appearance.
The good news is that Halladay’s velocity was sitting between 88-92 after hovering in the mid-80s for most of the spring. But even that silver lining had a touch of grey, as Doc wasn’t generating the sort of movement we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, and seemed to be relying on his breaking stuff. Both home runs came on fastballs.
Going back to last Opening Day, Halladay has allowed 20 home runs in 159 2/3 innings. That’s after he served up just 10 in 233 2/3 frames in 2011, and 24 in 250 2/3 during his Cy Young award winning 2010. Whether it’s the shoulder, the 2354 2/3 innings he’s thrown since 2002 or time’s natural course, something is wrong.
Halladay has resolved to fix it. It’s tempting to say, “If there’s anyone who can fix it, it’s Halladay.” Doc has long been one of the game’s grandmasters. Who better to reinvent himself than Roy Halladay? But reinvention is only possible if the mind and body are operating as one. Halladay’s mind is as right as rain. Will his body fall in line? What we’ve seen since last Opening Day suggests “no.”
As for Lincecum...let’s just say the Jonathan Sanchez route is never the way to go. Lincecum became the first pitcher since his former teammate in 2011 to issue seven walks while somehow allowing zero earned runs.
Lincecum lived on the edge all evening, matching his career high for free passes while surrendering two unearned tallies. The last time Lincecum handed out seven walks? Six starts ago, in September. Discounting an effective playoff run where Lincecum mostly pitched out of the bullpen, he’s walked 29 batters over his past 40 frames. Something’s got to give, and it could be Lincecum’s rotation spot if his struggles continue through the end of the month. The recommended course of action in fantasy leagues? Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
The worst is what we’re getting from John Axford, who’s rung in 2013 by allowing four runs on six baserunners while recording only five outs. He’s served up three home runs after allowing an unseemly 10 in 69 1/3 innings a season ago.
Most worrisome of all is that Axford’s fastball was topping out at just 92 miles per hour Wednesday. This, after he averaged 96.1 MPH on his heater in 2012, and 95.5 in 2011. With Axford’s track record of failure in the ninth inning beginning to get as long as his track record of success, he can ill-afford another slip up if he wants to keep his job, and may already be on temporary hiatus. Next man up Jim Henderson is a must add for any fantasy owner counting on Axford to lock down saves this season.
American League Short Hops: Hiroki Kuroda is day-to-day after taking a comebacker off his pitching hand in Wednesday’s loss. At worst, he’ll miss one or two starts, but he should be ready to roll Monday against the Indians. ... Phil Coke’s second save opportunity didn’t go as well as his first, as he blew it, taking the loss while recording just one out. Perhaps manager Jim Leyland’s fabled “committee” will actually now begin to take shape. Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque are all worth monitoring if you’re in need of saves. ... Stephen Drew (concussion) hopes to begin a rehab assignment over the weekend. That would put him on track to return as early as next weekend. ... David Ortiz (heels) will make his extended spring training debut on Monday. If he progresses without setbacks, he’ll be ready to return before the end of the month. ... Scott Kazmir (abdomen) has been scratched from Saturday’s start. It’s unclear who will take his place, or when Kazmir may return.
National League Short Hops: David Freese (back) will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Memphis today, but it remains uncertain if he’ll be ready for Monday’s home opener. Owners in weekly leagues should tread carefully. ... The Dodgers released Kevin Gregg. He of the career 4.13 ERA and 106 ERA+ could be about out of options. ... Ryan Ludwick (shoulder surgery) will miss a minimum of three months. Chris Heisey is the add in NL-only leagues. ... Chad Billingsley (finger) is set to make a rehab start for High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Provided everything goes to plan, he’ll make his 2013 debut next Wednesday against the Padres.
Game Notes: Carl Crawford is five for his first nine as a Dodger. ... Justin Upton is adjusting well to life in Atlanta. ... Matt Harvey diced up the Padres. He needs to be 100 percent owned. ... Ervin Santana picked up where he left off as an Angel, surrendering three home runs across six innings in his Royals debut. ... Tyler Flowers, Dexter Fowler and Chris Davis all hit their second home runs. Mike Morse hit his third. ... The Astros struck out 43 times in three games against the Rangers. ... The Marlins have yet to score a run.