Phillies are concerned about 'lethargic' Halladay

Posted: March 13, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies' angst-o-meter had been turned off during the first four weeks of spring training.

Ryan Howard was playing every day, Chase Utley said his knees felt fine, and Roy Halladay's most memorable moment was a purpose pitch he threw behind the back of Washington's Tyler Moore last week.

No reason to worry here.

Until now.

In his fourth Grapefruit League start Tuesday at Bright House Field, Halladay had a lifeless fastball that topped out around 87 m.p.h. and was clocked more often at 84 to 85. He also struggled mightily with his control, walking four batters, hitting another, and uncorking a wild pitch. The Phillies are concerned.

After 22/3 innings, pitching coach Rich Dubee went to the mound, waved for a reliever, and engaged in a long conversation with the veteran pitcher. The Detroit Tigers had hit two home runs, including a third-inning grand slam by Ramon Santiago, and scored seven times on six hits.

"Just lethargic" is how Halladay described it. "I was really lethargic. Warming up, it was as good as it has been all year. Once we got out there, it was completely different. I think it's just that time of the spring. . . . We had an extra day [between his starts], so I threw two bullpens in between and you're trying to work on as much stuff as you can. So I really feel that kind of caught up with me today."

This would be much less of a concern if Halladay had been dominant last season, but he was not. After displaying an obvious loss of velocity in spring training, he was shut down for seven weeks in the middle of the season (May 28 to July 16). Even after he returned, Halladay was not close to being the same guy who had ranked among the best pitchers in baseball for a decade. His 4.49 ERA was his worst since 2000 when he was exiled to the minor leagues by Toronto.

During their meeting on the mound, Halladay told Dubee he was physically fine. The two-time Cy Young Award winner insisted that was the case again with reporters in the clubhouse.

"When you know in your head what's going on, it's a lot different," he said. "So the results aren't satisfying - that's obvious - but I think the work we've done, there has been a lot of progress made. Unfortunately we got to a point where we've done so much throwing that I really kind of just felt lethargic.

"The good part is there's no soreness. Nothing hurts and I'll take that any day of the week, feeling lethargic over being sore like last spring training."

Halladay denied last spring that he ever felt soreness and the Phillies, from Dubee and Charlie Manuel to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., backed him with strong statements.

The tone was much different Tuesday after the Phillies' 10-6 loss to the Tigers.

"I would say there's some concern," Dubee said when asked about Halladay's lack of velocity. "But I would say a lot of it has to do with him having no tempo to his delivery."

Asked if Halladay was in the process of reinventing himself as a pitcher, Dubee said the veteran righthander is going to have to learn to trust his fastball even if it does not have the same bite it once did.

"I think he's probably going to pitch similar to what he used to pitch with his dominant sinker," Dubee said. "I think sometimes he runs away from his fastball and we had a good talk about that afterward today.

"Whether it is 88 or 92, he is still going to have to pitch off his fastball and trust his fastball. I think now even some of our catchers are getting caught in too many ruts where we are going soft with him and not protecting the soft with the fastball."

Halladay said he started feeling lethargic near the end of his previous start. But attention was focused more on his pitch to the Nationals' Moore than his overall performance. His velocity was down in that game, too, but not as much as it was against the Tigers.

"I'm not worried about the velocity," Halladay said. "It's going to be up from that. I'm very confident of that. That's more a result of what we did during the week, what we did in the weight room, and what we did on the field."

Halladay said lethargy is nothing new for him in spring training, but that it may have come on sooner than usual this year because of his new workouts, which incorporate more sprints than distance running.

Manuel is taking Halladay at his word and hoping for the best.

"He said he's healthy," the manager said. "He said he feels good. He said there's nothing wrong with him physically. Yeah, it concerns me, but I've been in the game long enough to know that if there's nothing wrong with him, you keep working him. If he's healthy and well and there's nothing wrong with him, then he's got to get stretched out."

Halladay is scheduled to return to the mound Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles. The question that lingers for the Phillies and the pitcher is whether he will ever be dominant again.

"I don't know where he is going to get back to," Dubee said. "I don't. Who does? I don't have a crystal ball, but I know that his work ethic is still there, his desire is still there, so I'll take my chances."


Contact Bob Brookover at  bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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