David Murphy: Phillies must be prepared for Halladay to be a mere mortal in 2013

Posted: September 27, 2012

ROY HALLADAY does not have the benefit of the doubt written into his contract, but that never has stopped the Phillies from giving it to him. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said it best on Tuesday afternoon when asked why the club was looking to get its veteran righthander one last start before the end of the regular season instead of using his bout with shoulder spasms as an excuse to shut him down.

"When you have a guy like him," Dubee said, "he deserves that."

And that is all well and good. The Phillies' doctors apparently do not have any worries about the structural integrity of the joint, so if Halladay feels good after Wednesday's bullpen session, then why not grant him his desire to erase that hellish outing against the Braves in which he allowed seven runs in 1 2/3 innings? As Dubee said: He deserves that much.

But what Halladay deserves more than anything is a chance to finish his career with a title. It's why he re-signed at a discount 3 years ago, and it's why the Phillies need to do everything in their power to avoid leaning on him too heavily in the final year of that deal. While that requires an end to the days of 130-pitch outings and gratuitous complete games, it also requires a supporting cast capable of winning without three Cy Young candidates in the rotation.

The biggest need is no secret. To see the role a bullpen plays in keeping a rotation fresh, Phillies fans need look only as far as the visitors' dugout at Citizens Bank Park, where the Nationals have the best ERA in the NL but only one starter who is likely to eclipse 200 innings (Gio Gonzalez, who entered Tuesday with 193 1/3 innings in 31 starts). Limiting those innings requires a bullpen that garners the trust of its manager (not to mention an offense that provides a lead).

Really, all of this falls under the umbrella of an adjustment of expectations. On Tuesday, Dubee expressed his belief that a few alterations to Halladay's conditioning routine could help prevent a repeat of 2012, when the 35-year-old workhorse spent 7 weeks on the disabled list and entered his final trip through the rotation with a 4.40 ERA and 151 2/3 innings in 24 starts.

"But again, we've gotten good reports structurally," the pitching coach said. "Work ethicwise, I think he'll do all the work he has to do to get back to as close or the same he was."

Anybody who has watched the intensity with which Halladay treats his job will find it difficult to argue otherwise. Plenty of pitchers have turned in dominant seasons at the age of 36, which Halladay will turn on May 14. That said, plenty more have seen their velocity and stamina decrease, their aches and pains increase, their numbers regress to a more human level. Look at it this way: Pedro Martinez was 36 the season before he joined the Phillies for a brief farewell tour in 2009.

"I've seen a lot of people defy those odds," manager Charlie Manuel said, pointing to former Phillie lefty Jamie Moyer and Braves righty Greg Maddux. "We had one guy here. I think Maddux did that. I can name a lot of guys, give you a list all the way out to the batting cage out there. It's not to me to say when someone can't do something or when their career comes to an end. I didn't think [Jim] Thome would hit 600 homers but he did; I thought he'd hit 500, but I didn't think 600. That's kind of how I look at it. Let it play out."

That shouldn't prevent them from developing a contingency plan.

Point is, Halladay will do everything within his power to maximize his ability to pitch. But the laws of human physiology are not within his power, and the Phillies cannot just assume that 2012 is something that can be rectified through offseason conditioning. It would not be fair to Halladay if they entered 2013 counting on him to be the guy who averaged 242 innings with a 2.40 ERA in his first two seasons in Philadelphia. Even counting on him to be the guy that Maddux was at 36 years old - 199 innings, 34 starts, a 2.62 ERA - is a stretch. It isn't that it can't happen, or even that it probably won't. It's that the Phillies need to be prepared if Halladay pitches like a mortal, or if his body ages like one. They need to be like the Cardinals, who lost Chris Carpenter in spring training, but were nevertheless in playoff position when he returned from the disabled list this month.

Halladay is a special athlete who is still capable of special things. But the Phillies cannot afford another seasonlong lesson in what often happens to men's best-laid plans.

Contact Dave Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at philly.com/HighCheese.

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