Roy Halladay takes 'baby step' in Grapefruit League debut

Roy Halladay worked two innings against Detroit, allowing just one hit - a home run to Victor Martinez. He walked none and struck out two.
Roy Halladay worked two innings against Detroit, allowing just one hit - a home run to Victor Martinez. He walked none and struck out two. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 25, 2013

LAKELAND, Fla. - Expectations had to be tempered because the setting required it. Roy Halladay threw 22 pitches in a Grapefruit League game Sunday with a few thousand people watching at Joker Marchant Stadium.

This is the time when the pitchers are usually ahead of the hitters; when radar-gun readings mean little; when praise is readily distributed because, after all, optimism is boundless during springtime.

Halladay said he felt fine after allowing one run in two innings against the Detroit Tigers. But the Phillies' star pitcher repeatedly said that last spring while his body failed him.

His catcher was excited. "You could see the life on his pitches," Carlos Ruiz said. Ruiz made similar assessments last spring.

His opponents were impressed. "Filthy," Torii Hunter told reporters. "He's always filthy to me." The veteran Hunter has a career .121 batting average in 37 plate appearances against Halladay.

His manager was hopeful. "He's ahead of where he was at this time last year," Charlie Manuel said. Manuel's outlook on his ace is usually rosy.

No, this is a renaissance that needs more corroboration. Halladay, in a way, agrees. He labeled Sunday a "baby step."

"There are going to be smaller steps as we go through spring," Halladay said. "I feel like things are translating the way I want them to. I've felt good about the program we did all winter and the changes we made. I'm just hoping the rest of the steps go the way we plan them to."

Halladay's self-criticism centered on his body's moving too fast. He rushed pitches, he said, including the cutter that Victor Martinez thwacked over the fence in right-center. Martinez was the lone Tigers batter to reach base. Halladay struck out Hunter and Prince Fielder, both on change-ups, in a game that ended in a 5-5 tie after 10 innings.

This was a moment five months in the making, from the time Halladay threw his final pitch Sept. 29, 2012, in Miami. He slogged through five innings that night, insisting it was his obligation to pitch in a meaningless game. A complete overhaul of his training program followed.

The anticipation for Sunday extended to the Phillies front office, which was represented by a dozen officials, from team president David Montgomery to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his assistants.

One scout's radar gun had Halladay's fastball between 89 and 91 m.p.h., a typical speed for this time of year. That scout said Halladay's velocity compared to Cole Hamels' in his first outing Saturday.

Last spring, Halladay's decreased velocity and arm slot prompted scouts to question whether the star pitcher was injured. The Phillies and Halladay denied it. Eventually, Halladay revealed that he suffered from lower back pain that forced an alteration of his mechanics. He subsequently strained a muscle in his shoulder that cost him six weeks of the 2012 season.

Really, Halladay was never right last season. His first acts of 2013 were encouraging.

"My arm is in a better position," Halladay said. "Last year, there were times when I felt like I had to throw as hard as I could to make up for the lack of a lower half."

Halladay said a key test will be once he extends beyond a few innings. He felt fine during the winter, but that was when he threw 45 or 60 pitches at once. In games, he must sit between innings. That spawned stiffness in 2012.

He can pitch into the third - and maybe fourth - inning during his next outing Friday in Tampa against the Yankees. The proof is in maintaining the wave of good feelings spawned by Sunday's 22 pitches.

At 1:14 p.m., Halladay threw his first pitch of 2013. There is still so much to learn.


Contact Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com

or follow @magelb on Twitter.


 

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