Phillies ace Halladay picks up another award, focuses on healthy season

Phillies ace Roy Halladay (right) pals around with teammate Shane Victorino, manager Charlie Manuel and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. during last night's event in Cherry Hill.
Phillies ace Roy Halladay (right) pals around with teammate Shane Victorino, manager Charlie Manuel and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. during last night's event in Cherry Hill.
Posted: February 01, 2011

EVEN IF THE Phillies training staff had to reinforce his groin with duct tape, Roy Halladay was going to pitch in the World Series. This city learned enough about the 2010 NL Cy Young winner during his first season in town to know that he would not let a muscle strain on the lower half of his body prevent him from performing on the game's biggest stage. But if there is a silver lining to the Phillies' upset loss to the Giants in the National League Championship Series, it lies in the 2 weeks of rest their undisputed ace was afforded to recuperate. While the Giants roared to a victory over the Rangers in the World Series, Halladay sat back and nursed the injury that sapped his velocity during his gritty six-inning effort in the Phillies' 4-2 victory in Game 5 of the NLCS.

"After 2 weeks, I felt good and it was back into the regular offseason program," said Halladay, who was in town last night to accept the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association's Most Valuable Professional Athlete award at the organization's annual banquet. "After that 2 weeks, it was really completely gone as far as I could tell."

Now, the focus is on maintaining his health.

For all of the platitudes that have been spilled in the month-and-a-half since the Phillies signed lefthander Cliff Lee to a 5-year, $120 million deal, anybody who follows baseball knows that destiny can be undone with one fateful slip of a disk or tear of a muscle. Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro Jr. are in an enviable position in the sense that even one serious injury still will leave them with three starters capable of starting Game 1 of a playoff series. But for Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt to achieve the history that many are forecasting, good health could be the great decider.

With that in mind, Halladay has added extra focus toward building strength and flexibility in his lower body and core. In addition to the NLCS, the 34-year-old righthander battled a groin strain during the 2009 season. Factor in the career-high 272 2/3 innings he logged during the regular season and postseason, and the month of offseason he lost with his first-ever trip to the playoffs, and Halladay finds himself in unchartered waters for one of the few times in his 12-year career.

That said, nobody seems to concerned.

Halladay resumed his workouts in Clearwater on Dec. 1 - he and his family live within a 15-minute drive of the Phillies' spring training complex - and since then has worked nonstop. While his offseason schedule has included stops at awards banquets in New York and Philadelphia, he said the extra commitments haven't interrupted his legendary preparation. While in town this past week, he worked out daily at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies will open the regular season in exactly 2 months.

"Surprisingly, it's been very easy," Halladay said. "We did a lot of our stuff early on this winter when there wasn't a lot of stuff going on and I could kind of manage it. Then obviously New York and coming here, it was a nice break being able to spend a week here and go into the stadium and work out there and kind of continue things instead of going to the spring-training facility every day. It was a nice mix. It's been an easy winter for us. We got a lot out of the way early and made it nice."

There is no escaping the expectations facing the Phillies, both from their fan base and from themselves. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did not shy away from a questioner who wondered whether his current roster was the club's most talented yet.

"I guess on paper it probably is just because of the pitching," he said. "As I've said before, acquiring pitching is pretty tough. And for us to have the starting pitching, at least on paper, those projected five guys are as good a pitching staff as I think we've ever had. At least since I've been here."

Outside of the rotation, there are some questions. Amaro said yesterday he does not expect to sign any more players to guaranteed deals before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 14, meaning the Phillies' Opening Day roster will be composed of players already in the fold. He labeled the competition to replace Jayson Werth in rightfield - incumbent Ben Francisco and top prospect Domonic Brown are the two favorites - as "wide open."

Depending on how many pitchers the Phillies decide to keep, there are either two or three bench spots open and one or two bullpen spots. One of those spots will not be occupied by veteran righthander Chad Durbin, who logged three solid seasons for the Phillies as a versatile middle reliever.

"I would say that we're probably not going to re-sign him," Amaro said.

That means top relief prospect Justin DeFratus will get a long look in spring training, although he will face some tough competition from more experienced pitchers like Antonio Bastardo, David Herndon and Vance Worley. If the Phillies are unable to trade righthander Joe Blanton, he will enter the season as one of the top No. 5 starters in the game, and righthander Kyle Kendrick could enter the bullpen mix.

For now, though, the Phillies seem content with their personnel situation. And with a healthy Halladay leading the way, it's hard to blame them.

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/HighCheese.

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