When Roy Halladay struggled with his velocity, felt tired, got sick, and was battered by a bunch of Blue Jays minor leaguers this spring, concern became panic regarding not only his ability to be not a dominant force, but a competent one ever again.
Many felt Halladay would get by simply because of his “warrior mentality” and “will to win”, but that’s a bunch of talking heads trying to soften what they all really wanted to say — this guy is probably fucked. Poise and mental toughness are great, but Halladay can’t get by on balls alone for 32 starts this season.
Others felt he’d be able to retool and adjust his approach, much the way Greg Maddux did in his mid 30s. While easier said than done for a guy who has dominated for their past decade doing it his way to simply reinvent himself on the fly, there were signs last night that he may be capable of doing this.
The difficulty in evaluating Halladay’s start is that there’s never been one like it in the history of baseball. He struck out in absurd nine hitters during his 3.1 inning appearance, but allowed two homers, and three walks while watching his pitch count soar in the 90s by the fourth inning. So what’s it mean?
Halladay got 16 swings and misses last night, which led to those 9 strikeouts, showing he still has the ability to keep hitters off balance even without his best stuff. His fastball crept up to 92 mph at times on a cold and damp night in Atlanta. That type of velocity bodes well moving forward, but the fastball was more a “show me” pitch than the weapon that used to shatter bats and get weak contact.
Too many walks and he was all over the place, but the thing that got me most about Halladay last night was the flat fastball that exploded off the bat of Justin Upton. And not just because there were 41 rumors sending Upton to Philly this offseason. Halladay termed the pitch “half-hearted”, which there’s no excuse for at this point. I don’t want to hear shit like that–just shutup and do it. He ran several deep ball counts, nibbled at the corners, and very few of those 16 swings and misses came on anything hard. For a guy whose cutter once accounted for nearly 40 percent of his pitches, Halladay needs to find a way to make his hard stuff more effective which will in turn make him a more efficient pitcher.
The days of watching Halladay embarrass hitters and guaranteeing a win are far gone, but if he can fine tune the command of his harder stuff, he’s not going to be the trainwreck we saw last night.