John Mayberry celebrates with Roy Halladay after hitting a home run in the Phillies' 9-5 win over Arizona. (AP)
Roy Halladay was asleep at a hotel in Reading, resting up for another step in his recovery from shoulder surgery, when phones started ringing.
Little did Halladay know, instead of rehabbing for Double A Reading on Sunday, he was going to be back toeing the rubber at Citizens Bank Park.
Halladay received a late-night call from the Phillies on Saturday about returning to the club's rotation on Sunday, and he gladly did so, pitching six promising innings of two-run ball to lead the Phillies past the Diamondbacks, 9-5 (see Instant Replay).
For a competitor like Halladay, he didn’t mind the unexpected awakening.
“Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe 11:30-12,” Halladay said when asked what time the Phillies called. “I don’t know, I didn’t look at a clock, but the hotel phone was going off, my cell phone was going off, everything was ringing. I was out because [Reading] had a day game there, so I got to sleep early. It took me a second to kind of figure out what was going on.
“I was more than happy to come back.”
Less than 3 1/2 months after undergoing shoulder surgery, Halladay was impressive. He gave up a pair of runs in the first two innings, but settled in with two easy frames in the fourth and fifth before stranding a pair of runners in the sixth. His off-speed stuff looked like the Halladay of old, keeping hitters off-balance, while his pitch count stayed in check at 94 pitches, 55 for strikes.
“I think he showed he’s on his way back,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “Take it one outing at a time.”
“I felt good. I kind of feel like each time I’m getting a little better,” Halladay continued. “I feel like I’m getting stronger, so I look forward to continuing to build. I feel like location was better today, and that’s gradually gotten better, the velocity’s gradually gotten better, and we’ve really used all our pitches, so I was happy with it. But I’m looking forward to continuing it. I can continue to improve where I’m at right now.”
The location was there, but it was the number flashing on the stadium radar gun that drew attention. Halladay’s fastball ranged mostly from 88-89 mph and topped out at 91, forcing him to use a slew of off-speed pitches at a heavy dosage.
But Halladay knows from the doctors’ knowledge that regaining velocity takes time more than anything else.
“Just from talking with the doctors, the velocity is going to be the last thing to come,” Halladay said. “In some cases, they say that you may pick up a little towards the end of the season, but once you get that full rest in the winter is when it’s really going to start coming back. So I may pick up a little bit as the season goes on. I think the important thing for me is being consistent and get that location down.”
The lack of giddy-up on the fastball has helped Halladay gain confidence in throwing any pitch at any time. The 36-year-old said he wants to keep hitters guessing as much as possible by mixing speeds in all situations.
And that’s not reinventing. That’s the art of pitching, according to Halladay.
“I think that’s the key to a lot of guys, unless you throw 100 [mph],” Halladay said. “You’ve got to change speeds and I think the earlier you establish that you can throw those off-speed pitches for strikes, the more [hitters] have to think about. They can't go up there looking for one pitch.
“More than anything, I’m getting back to who I was. I feel like each time out, I’m progressing back to where I was. There’s going to be changes. You always change over your career.”
The Phillies also made life much easier by handing Halladay a hefty lead. The offense put up a four-spot in the first inning and scored nine runs by the end of the sixth.
And it wasn’t just the bats. Recently-acquired Roger Bernadina made two sparkling plays in center field, one on a leaping catch at the wall to rob Matt Davidson of a potential game-tying, two-run homer in the third inning.
“[Bernadina] kept two runs off the board,” Sandberg said of the catch. “He really looks like he can go get ‘em. That goes a long way. It really got the guys fired up.”
So did Halladay’s presence.
“Any time you go out there and see Doc on the mound, there’s a chance for something special to happen,” said John Mayberry Jr., who clubbed a two-run homer in the win. “He’s back and I know he’s going to be returning to form.”
Most of all, Halladay was pleased to be back and contributing.
“I just want to win games and win a World Series,” Halladay said. “I’m not worried about anything else to be honest with you. You always have to look forward, you can’t ever look back. I’m not trying to replicate anything I’ve done in the past. I’m trying to help [us] win and hopefully get a chance, at some point, to win a World Series.”