CLEARWATER, Fla. – In a strong acknowledgement that he is no longer the pitcher he once was, Roy Halladay admitted Saturday that he is in the process of reinventing himself.
The two-time Cy Young award winner does not throw as hard as he did in his prime. He can no longer carve up hitters on pure stuff alone. As he steams toward his 36th birthday, he knows he must change.
He has altered his training regimen, adjusted his delivery mechanics, and is now tinkering with the grip of his once vaunted cut fastball -- all with the hope of staying ahead of the hitters who so far this spring have been way ahead of him.
“I don’t know of any guys who were throwing harder as they got older,” Halladay said after making a less than impressive minor-league start Saturday. “You’re always trying to evolve with the game and your body.
“To me, it’s a competition, not a boxing match. It’s not a strength-vs.-strength. It’s a chess match. It’s competition of the mind, and execution, and being smarter, and being more prepared. To me, that’s what I’ve enjoyed. That’s what I’ve liked about baseball.
“You look at a Jamie Moyer. He could compete with the best of them. He would’ve gotten knocked out in the first round if he was a boxer. It’s just a different mentality. It’s not about the strength and throwing harder and overpowering guys. It’s about outsmarting and being more prepared and being more consistent. That to me is a challenge.”
This will be Halladay’s challenge in 2013: Can he get by with diminishing stuff? The question surfaced last season and has turned into a roar this spring as he has struggled to get his fastball to touch 90 mph.
Six days after leaving the mound after 25 pitches with a stomach bug that wrung 10 pounds from his body, Halladay returned to the mound to face a Toronto Blue Jays’ minor-league club Saturday.
Halladay said he felt good physically. He said his arm felt “great.” His fastball was mostly 88 mph, but he did hit 90 a time or two. He believes there’s a tick or two more of velocity in there, but time will tell if that happens.
Despite feeling so good, Halladay did not have good results. He retired just seven of the 18 batters he faced. He allowed seven hits, including three doubles, three runs, walked two and struck out just one in four innings. If this were early spring training, that lackluster line wouldn’t have been a big deal. But this late in camp, seeing Halladay hit hard couldn’t have been comforting to Phillies officials who have one eye on Doc’s gas gauge as they steer the team toward opening day.
“He was OK,” was GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s assessment of Halladay’s performance.
Amaro was in a rush to get to Sarasota for the varsity game.
Pitching coach Rich Dubee, also rushing to Sarasota, was little more enthusiastic.
“He’s coming along,” Dubee said. “Eighty-eight to 90.”
Halladay’s game plan was to throw a lot of cutters and sinkers. He acknowledged that it was a predictable game plan and that might have helped the Toronto minor leaguers, but he said he needed to work on those two pitches, especially with two strikes. He said he didn’t want to fall into a pattern where hitters were always looking for soft stuff with two strikes. To the naked eye, Halladay had trouble putting hitters away with two strikes.
“I think guys get used to getting two-strike counts and me going softer with the curve or changeup,” Halladay said. “If I can stand them up a couple of times with something hard, I think it'll make those other pitches more effective. That's something we've been trying to work on, especially today. It lengthens the counts, and you get more foul balls. Hopefully it's something that will pay off down the road for us."
Halladay threw 81 pitches. He tinkered with his cutter grip throughout and found an adjustment that he liked in his final inning. He hopes to get to 95 pitches in his next start, scheduled for Thursday, the day the Phils close camp and head north.
Halladay said he would approach that start more like a regular outing, where he will mix pitches more. He believes he can get to 95 pitches in that start, which would put him in position to reach 100 in his first start of the regular season, tentatively scheduled for April 3 in Atlanta. If the Phils believe Halladay needs more time, they could push him back a few days, but the pitcher believes he’ll be ready.
Time will tell if he is.
And time will tell if his reinventing of himself can bring about positive results.
The Phillies won the big-league game, 13-4, over the Orioles in Sarasota.
The Phils outhit the Orioles, 14-10. Five of the Phils’ hits were home runs – two by Chase Utley and one each by Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown and Yuniesky Betancourt. Howard has six homers on the spring, Brown seven.
Aaron Cook allowed four hits and two runs over 4 2/3 innings. Cook could open the season as starting depth at Triple A, but the Phils must pay him a $100,000 retention bonus on Tuesday for that to happen.
Freddy Galvis, who is bidding to make the team as a utility infielder, played some rightfield in the game. We took a look at Galvis’ situation, and the utility-infield picture on the whole, in this story.
The Phillies host the Red Sox on Sunday. Cliff Lee is the starting pitcher.