Roy Halladay hopes for healthy, effective 2013

Roy Halladay hopes for healthy, effective 2013

February 13, 2013, 4:00 pm

CLEARWATER, Fla. – There were a number of explanations for what went wrong for Roy Halladay in 2012. The most mentioned:

He had shoulder tightness.
 
He strained a muscle in his upper back.
 
These factors led to an inability to locate pitches with his usual precision, as well as a drop in velocity and movement on those pitches.
 
After a wintertime conditioning program tailored to the physical needs of a workhorse pitcher in his mid-30s, Halladay believes he’s in position to have a rebound season in 2013.
 
“I feel as good now as I have in any other spring training,” he said after the first spring workout for Phillies pitchers and catchers Wednesday.

Halladay went 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA – his highest mark in over a decade – in 2012. After averaging 236 innings the previous six seasons, he pitched just 156 1/3 and did not have a complete game for the first time since 2000. The lowpoint: He spent seven weeks on the disabled list. Officially, his injury was called a strained muscle in his upper back, but after coming off the DL Halladay admitted he had experienced shoulder tightness dating to spring training.

On Wednesday, Halladay made another admission: He had lower back problems as far back as spring training last year and those issues caused problems elsewhere. He said the lower back issue never really went away and that it affected his shoulder and pitching mechanics, which affected his location and ability to pitch effectively. Halladay indicated that he did not realize his problems started in his lower back until late in the season when he took complete stock of the situation.

Halladay spent the winter strengthening and adding flexibility to his lower back and core. He did upper-body work to stabilize his high-mileage shoulder. He also made some adjustments to his arm path and delivery, hoping the changes will bring back the movement that made his sinker and cutter deadly pitches. Time will tell if these factors make a difference, but Halladay has been pleased with the way he feels in bullpen sessions and believes he’s headed in the right direction.

“I feel like the things we’ve done this winter have made a big difference,” he said. “There is no such thing as a crystal ball, but I’m confident that if I can maintain the way I feel right now that I’m going to be effective.”

The Phillies need Halladay to be effective if they are going to improve on last year’s 81-81 season and get back to the playoffs.

Even a middling Halladay can make a difference. Last year, Phils starters had the third-best ERA in the majors (3.23) before Halladay went down on May 27. While he was out, the starters’ ERA was 4.72, which ranked 22nd in the majors during that span. When Halladay returned the Phils' starters had an ERA of 3.82 the rest of the way.

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has peeked in on some of Halladay’s early bullpen work. He has a pragmatic view of the situation.

“Judging from the way he’s throwing, I’m optimistic,” Amaro said. “But we really won’t know until he’s performing [in games].”

Halladay struggled to keep his fastball around 90 mph last season and the drop in velocity drew much attention. It’s not yet known if the offseason work will bring back the juice on Halladay’s fastball. The pitcher doesn’t seem concerned about that.

“Velocity is not as important to me as feeling good,” he said. “When you feel comfortable you have an easier time putting the ball where you want it. I felt like there were a lot of times last year when I was struggling physically and mechanically to get the ball to the parts of the plate where I wanted it. The velocity I think is always an added bonus. I don’t know where it is or where it will be, but if I feel the way I do right now,where if I physically can get the ball where I want to get it to and not have to try to do anything different, then I’m a lot better off.”

And if all else fails, Halladay joked that Chase Utley has given him some advice.

“Chase suggested drilling a few guys this year, so I might mix that in,” he said.

Halladay turns 36 in May. This could be his last season with the Phillies. His contract includes a $20 million option for 2014 if he pitches a total of 415 innings in 2012 and 2013. He would need to pitch 258 2/3 innings for that to happen. Once upon a time, Halladay could have done that. He pitched 266 innings in 2003 and 250 2/3 in 2010. It’s difficult to imagine him doing that now, but one never knows.

Even if Halladay doesn’t reach the plateau needed to guarantee his contract beyond this season, he would like to remain with the Phillies. There has been no talk of an extension to date, but if he proves to be healthy the Phillies would surely consider one. What would Halladay’s worth be after this season? That will be determined by how he pitches.

“If I had my druthers I would be here until I’m done,” Halladay said. “As good as they’ve been to me, I think they realize I’d be as good to them as I could be. Going forward, I really don’t see myself playing anywhere else. And I don’t want to play anywhere else.”

That was about all Halladay wanted to say about his future beyond this season. He is completely focused on the here and now of 2013 and the goal that has driven him for years.

“I’m playing to win a World Series,” he said. “That’s why I’m playing baseball and for no other reason. However we get to that goal, that’s the bottom line. If it takes 320 innings and I can throw it, I’ll do it. That’s the reason I’m here. And that’s it. I’m not worried about next year and two years and three years from now. I’m trying to win a World Series.”

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