PHILADELPHIA -- When Roy Halladay starts, Carlos Ruiz is almost always his catcher. There have been a handful of exceptions, but not many. Halladay said his favorite receiver is "irreplaceable."
That may be true, but somebody had to replace the All-Star on Saturday night or the pitches would have gone straight to the backstop. That's where Erik Kratz came in. The Phillies could be excused for calling the plantar fasciitis that will sideline Ruiz for four to six weeks rotten luck. Kratz calls it an opportunity.
The battery of Halladay and Kratz made quite a team in the Phillies' 3-0 win over the D-backs on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. The two-time Cy Young Award winner blanked Arizona for seven innings on just three hits to notch his first win since May 17. The 32-year-old rookie provided the first two Phillies runs with a solo homer in the third and a bases-loaded walk in the fourth.
"He did a great job. We're fortunate. Carlos is irreplaceable, but Kratz is very intelligent," Halladay said. "He does a great job calling a game. We're fortunate to have guys like him and Brian Schneider to step in with Carlos missing time. That's the first time I've thrown to him in a game, but I talked to a few guys before and they had nothing but good things to say about him."
The importance of Halladay's outing can't be overstated. The Phillies were two games above .500 (26-24) when he was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain at the end of May. They had been without their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters -- Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- all season, but they were surviving and hanging around, just four games out of first.
By the time Halladay rejoined the rotation on July 17, the Phillies' season was hanging by a thread. In his absence, the team went 14-27. Not having him every fifth day doesn't account for all of that. But it's hard to argue that it didn't have a major impact.
In his three previous starts since he was activated, Halladay was 0-1 with a 5.82 ERA. So his dominant outing Saturday was, if nothing else, a reason to believe that he can bounce back strong next season.
He showed increased velocity with a few 93-mph fastballs in the first inning, then went to his breaking stuff more as the game went on.
"You could definitely tell he had better arm strength," manager Charlie Manuel.
Halladay was pleased with the improvement, but said he still has a way to go.
"The last two games, I felt like things were going in the right direction," he said. "So to be able to get results after you're making changes like that, it's nice. [Pitching coach Rich Dubee] has been working a lot with me. So it's nice to have it pay off and feel like you're improving.
"Each time, I've felt better. I've still got a little ways to go mechanically and in consistency. Unfortunately, it's a little bit of the Spring Training type of thing, but I feel strong. I feel good. As long as the movement's there and I feel like I can beat guys with it at times, that's the important thing. I'm trying not to get too caught up in the whole velocity thing. For me, if I can see the movement and the swings I'm getting off the barrel, that's what's important to me. And I feel like the last two starts, that's been a little better."
Kratz conceded he was a little nervous about being behind the plate for Halladay for the first time.
"For sure," Kratz said. "I think there's butterflies when you catch anybody who has a pedigree like that, who has had a career like that. Somebody said catching Doc is the easiest thing you can do. And he showed it tonight. He just went out and attacked guys. He did a great job."
This has been a storybook season for Kratz so far. He went back and forth between the Phillies and Triple-A Lehigh Valley four times already this year before his most recent callup. He's made the most of every chance he's gotten. In just 26 at-bats, he's hitting .333 with four homers and eight RBIs. And if that's not enough of a feel-good story, there's this: He was born and raised in the Philadelphia suburbs.
"He's been good for us," Manuel said. "Kratz has improved his hitting at least 100 percent since I saw him two years ago. He's definitely done a lot of work."
Kratz laughed when the manager's compliment was relayed to him.
"I guess I was a terrible hitter before," he joked. "No, I've just been fortunate some balls have been falling in, and I've been able to put a couple over the fence, too. I'm getting pitches and not swinging at a pitcher's pitch."
There's no doubt the Phillies will miss Ruiz. For at least one night, though, the guy who stepped in helped the Phillies win without him.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.