By Cliff Corcoran
July 18, 2012

If the Phillies were hoping that Roy Halladay's return from the disabled list would help them decide whether or not to be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline in two weeks, Halladay's outing on Tuesday night did little to inform their decision. In the early innings of the Phillies' game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, Halladay looked a lot like he did in his underwhelming first 11 starts of the season. He was giving up base hits on 89 mile per hour cutters, a pitch that sat in the low 90s in previous years, and struggling to put hitters away, throwing 38 pitches through two innings. When Mark Ellis singled with one out in the third, Halladay had given up hits to five of his first 11 batters including four consecutive hits to start the second inning, three of which came on that 89 mile per hour cutter, leading to a pair of Dodgers runs.

However, Halladay got Matt Kemp to ground into a double-play to erase Ellis and end the third and then retired six of seven men in his final two innings, the lone baserunner coming as a result of his own fielding error, all of the outs coming on the ground or via strikeouts, and that cutter gaining an extra tick on the radar gun. In the end, after a cautious 80 pitches, his final line looked solid: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K, good for a 1.00 WHIP and 3.60 ERA. Unfortunately, though the Phillies at long last had Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley together in the starting lineup, the first time all season that has happened, those two runs were enough to send Halladay to the showers on the hook for the loss even though the Phillies won their fourth straight with a 3-2 win.

So, maybe the Phillies did get their answer after all. Halladay's mound opponent on Tuesday night was Stephen Fife, a 25-year-old right-handed non-prospect making his major-league debut after posting a 4.53 ERA in 18 starts for Triple-A Albuquerque, and he was able to hold the fully reconstituted Phillies' lineup to just one run over six innings. Utley and Howard are now hitting a combined .200/.278/.343 since their respective returns in late June and early July. The Phillies did manage to pull out the win in the late innings after Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario walked Utley and hit Howard and Carlos Ruiz to load the bases with two outs in the eighth, and Hunter Pence delivered a two-RBI single off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead they didn't relinquish. Still, even with the win, the Phillies are 13 games out of first place in the NL East and 9 1/2 games behind in the wild card race and have scored just 3 2/3 runs per game in July.

The results were more definitive in the other big return of the night. CC Sabathia, returning from three weeks on the disabled list due to a groin injury, not Halladay's month and a half due to a shoulder issue, was fantastic at home against the Blue Jays in a 6-1 win. The only indication that Sabathia just had an extended gap in his season was that he was lifted after just 87 pitches following a leadoff single in the seventh. On the night, he threw six scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and a walk, the walk coming with two outs in the sixth and one of the hits coming in the seventh, while striking out six. Sabathia had outstanding control, pushed his fastball into the mid-90s, and had both his curveball and change-up working, throwing 76 percent of those 87 pitches for strikes. Prior to Sabathia's start, I wrote that his return would have very little impact because the Yankees continued on in his absence as if he never left. Given how sharp he looked on Tuesday night, it seems Sabathia's groin injury will have had absolutely no impact on the Yankees' season at all.

To tie up the other threads from my piece on Tuesday afternoon, Johnny Cueto, who was scratched from his scheduled start on Sunday due to a blister on his right index finger, threw 106 pitches over six scoreless innings for the Reds Tuesday night, taking his name off the watch list. However, Fife's start against Halladay came because Chad Billingsley was sent to the disabled list with inflammation in the flexor tendon in his pitching elbow. The Dodgers continue to assert that Billingsley's injury is minor, and his D.L. stay is retroactive to July 7, making him eligible to return as early as Sunday. Finally, Carl Crawford went 3-for-4 and stole three bases against the White Sox on Tuesday night. He has thus reached base five times in his first eight plate appearances of the year and already has a sixth of his 2011 stolen base total. Two games of hitting stats don't tell us much, but Crawford had only two multi-steal games last year and hasn't stolen three bases in a game in nearly two years (July 27, 2010), so his performance on the bases on Tuesday night should be very encouraging for Red Sox fans.

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