ATLANTA -- Roy Halladay made all his starts in the second half of last season. He worked diligently conditioning his body to pitch this offseason. He began throwing bullpen sessions in January and had a full spring training.
Despite all this, Halladay continues to have trouble commanding his pitches. That was evident when he needed 95 of them to get just 10 outs in a 9-2 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday night. Sure, Halladay’s nine strikeouts were an encouraging testament to his ability to still get swings and misses, but that positive was trumped by the troubling reality that he lasted just 3 1/3 innings.
That will kill the Phillies’ bullpen if it doesn’t kill Halladay first.
“I’d rather get beat 20-0 and pitch eight innings than pitch 3 1/3,” he said. “That’s got to change.”
With all the work he’s done, one has to wonder what’s taking Halladay so long to put it all together again?
“Bad habits,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said Thursday afternoon. “Bad habits that he acquired when he was hurt.”
Halladay struggled with shoulder and back issues last season. That caused him to lower his arm angle. Dubee said Halladay’s arm angle is higher now, but the pitcher is struggling to iron out his delivery.
“This was a guy who did something as consistently as you could possibly do it for years,” Dubee said. “He developed bad habits to get the ball to the plate last year, trying to work through some health issues. I’m a big believer that the more you do something wrong, the more it becomes ingrained. If you do it wrong, and you do it wrong, and you do it wrong, it takes time to get that feeling out of your body and get the right feeling back in it.”
Halladay, who has pitched over 3,300 professional innings, has a high-mileage shoulder. Dubee has acknowledged that the 35-year-old pitcher doesn’t have the bullets he used to, but he still believes Halladay can succeed. To have success, Halladay must be able to put the ball in good spots -- keep it out of a hitter’s feast zone -- and that starts with a sound delivery.
Will Halladay, with all his wear and tear, be able to regain that delivery?
“Absolutely,” Dubee said. “Over the last three outings I’ve been encouraged each time out. I think he’s building and he continues to build.”
Dubee’s support of Halladay is not surprising. It’s his job. Elsewhere, observers of Halladay’s work are skeptical. Dubee knows that. Halladay knows that. Halladay’s results were not good last year. They were not good in spring training. They were not good Wednesday night -- even in a nine-strikeout effort.
When do the Phillies have to start seeing some results from Halladay?
“I think I am starting to see some results,” Dubee said. “You think I’m going to take the ball away from this guy? You’re talking about a two-time Cy Young Award winner. What do you think, we’re going to put him in the bullpen?
“I’m seeing results. I’m seeing nine strikeouts out of 10 outs last night. Do you see many other guys doing that in baseball? Yu Darvish against the Astros. Yu Darvish wasn’t facing the Atlanta Braves.”
Dubee has been patient with Halladay and will continue to be.
“I’ve always said when you judge players, you go off their track records,” Dubee said. “And who has a longer, better track record than this guy? And not only track record as far as being a quality pitcher, but as far as being a quality person with credentials that are out of this world.”
Halladay’s situation is a major issue not just in Philadelphia, but around all of baseball. The whispers that he is in serious decline, that the end could be near, are now shouts.
Even through his laser-like focus, Halladay hears them.
“I don’t think what’s out there is taxing to him,” Dubee said. “I think what’s taxing to him is this guy has tremendous pride and wants to be part of a winner. And he is. He’s probably the most accountable guy I’ve ever been around. And he feels very, very accountable that he has to go out there and pitch well for us to win. And that could be taxing at times, sure. I think it was taxing with Cliff [Lee] last year when he didn’t win for how long. Those things start to wear on you. But this is an accountable guy. I think the more he goes out there and relaxes and is tension-free the better he’ll be. He’s going to continue to get [support] from me.”