CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Roy Halladay finished a lengthy news conference last month at Bright House Field with the following comment:
"I know Chase suggested drilling a few guys this year so I might mix that in."
He seems to have taken that suggestion to heart. After Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg hit Chase Utley with a pitch on his left foot in the third inning Wednesday at Bright House Field, Halladay threw behind Nationals designated hitter Tyler Moore's back in the fourth inning.
"Yeah, that one slipped a little bit," said Halladay, easing out a slight smile. "It slipped. That's not necessarily the case, but I think we do need to protect our guys to an extent. I'm not saying that's what happened. It slipped, but I think that's important. We've had a lot of guys hit over the years. I think as a staff we need to do a good job of protecting those guys. Spring Training, I don't think you're necessarily trying to do it. But it wouldn't have been the worst thing had it got him after getting one of our good guys."
The Phillies did not think Strasburg threw at Utley intentionally, but Halladay wanted to let people know in the future he would have his hitters' backs.
The Nationals seemed puzzled by the gesture.
"Obviously you could tell the conditions weren't great," Strasburg said. "I yanked it in there. It's Spring Training. If you're going to throw at someone or send a message in Spring Training, go ahead."
When Nationals manager Davey Johnson asked Moore if there is a history between the two, Moore replied, "There is now."
The Phillies and Nationals play their first series of the regular season May 24-26 at Nationals Park. It could be a fun one. The Nationals are the defending National League East champions, while the Phillies are trying to get back on top after missing the postseason last year for the first time since 2006. The two teams already started a little history with Cole Hamels drilling Bryce Harper with a pitch early last season, setting off Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who criticized Hamels.
Utley said afterward he appreciates pitchers protecting the hitters.
"I think we're all fighting for the same thing," he said. "We all want to win. I think, as a hitter, the more uncomfortable you are the more difficult it is to hit. But getting hit is part of the game."
Added Halladay: "Nobody should ever get hurt. You never want to intentionally hurt guys, but I think there's definitely a part of the game where you make sure your guys are taken care of, and other teams don't feel like they can hit them at will ... but that's regular season stuff. … I just think that we have a lot of guys that get hit. And I know our guys are on top of the plate and they're aggressive. Nobody is ever going to let them be comfortable if they're going to be right on the plate, but I think there's definitely a time and a place if our guys are getting beat up for having success, then I think that's something that should be addressed."
Utley has been hit a Major League-leading 143 times from 2005-12. Carlos Ruiz is tied for eighth with 32 hit by pitches from 2010-12.
"You're supposed to take care of your hitters," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "When he says something like that, I like it. But Roy isn't a big vocal guy. But he doesn't have to be, either. He definitely leads by example -- the way he carries himself, how he pitches and what he does."
Utley, who missed the last two springs because of chronically injured knees, remained in the game. He has been healthy all spring.
"Great, he's been great," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I haven't heard anything from the trainers about him or the doctors. No news is good news."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.