Early in his career, Roy Halladay couldn’t get anybody out.
In 2000, the Toronto Blue Jays sent him down to Class-A Dunedin – not Double-A, not Triple-A, but Single-A – to work on mechanics and rebuild confidence. Halladay is defiantly proud, and the front office believed he would react to the demotion with resolve.
Back then, Halladay had youth on his side and he had picked up a few things sharing the same clubhouse as Roger Clemens, not least a fierce dedication to a customized workout regimen.
Now, entering his 16th season and his fourth with the Philadelphia Phillies, Halladay’s commitment to physical conditioning is legendary, but age may now be working against him.
On Tuesday, in front of 8,851 at Bright House Field, Halladay, 35, looked as lost on the mound as he did as a 22-year-old with the Jays. Nothing worked. Eleven of the 18 batters he faced reached base and seven scored in a 10-6 Grapefruit League loss to the Detroit Tigers. He gave up four walks, hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and surrendered two homers, including a grand slam by light-hitting second baseman Ramon Santiago.
Coming off a season in which he lost two months due to shoulder problems, Halladay had nothing on his fastball. It topped out at 87 miles an hour, with little movement. Halladay has always relied on power and a nasty cut fastball that breaks in on right-handed hitters’ hands and away from left-handers. On Tuesday, he couldn’t locate the cutter.
During a 13-minute session afterward with a dozen writers, Halladay calmly explained he felt “lethargic” on the mound, owing to an extra bullpen session during a five-day layoff, a new workout routine that emphasizes bursts of intensity over endurance, and further to throwing 45 pitches in a pregame warm-up.
“I am not worried about the velocity. I think it’s going to be up, I’m very confident of that,” he said. “Every spring [I’ve had a dead arm] and I think I hit it a little earlier this year, due to the fact that I’m trying to do more. But the goal is to come out of it April 1, ready to go.”
Pitching coach Rich Dubee said Halladay was struggling for rhythm. He talked with the right-hander about “running away from his fastball” or trying to compensate with other pitches in his arsenal. “Whether he’s throwing 88 or 92 [mph], he’s got to pitch off his fastball,” Dubee said.
After being traded to the Phillies from the Blue Jays, Halladay went 21-10 in 2010, with a 2.44 earned-run average in 250 2/3 innings, and in 2011, 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA in 233 2/3 innings. Last year, he endured his worst season since 2000: 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 156 1/3 innings. Having worked a total of 2,687 1/3 innings in the 15 seasons, declining velocity may be inevitable.
“Yeah, it concerns me,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “At the same time, I’ve been in the game long enough to know that more than likely, he’ll find it. I don’t know if he’ll get back to where he was in 2010 and 2011, but he’ll be good enough to win a lot of games in the big leagues.”
Last spring, Halladay felt pain in the wrong places. This spring, he is encouraged that his shoulder and arm feel good. The muscular soreness elsewhere, he feels from the workouts.
“It’s going hard, taking a break, going hard and taking a break,” he said. “And that’s obviously what we’re doing, when we’re pitching.”
In Philadelphia, he’s pitched a perfect game, thrown a no-hitter in the playoffs, earned a Cy Young Award. But he wanted a trade from Toronto to get a shot at a championship, and Tuesday, Halladay personified an aging roster that doesn’t look to be a contender.
“I’m playing to win a World Series,” Halladay said, upon reporting to camp. “That’s why I’m playing baseball and for no other reason.”
In the final season of a three-year, $60-million (U.S.) contract extension, Halladay said Philadelphia “is the best place I’ve ever played.”
The other place is Toronto. And who knows? Come July perhaps the Phillies will be unloading salary, Halladay will be recovering his prowess, and the Blue Jays, in the hunt for an American League pennant, will be shopping for a pitcher who wants to win a ring.