Halladay knows he needs to evolve on mound
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Roy Halladay acknowledged that the time has come to do things differently.
"I've never seen a guy that threw harder as he got older, and if he did, he probably needed to be tested," he said.
This is where we begin the next chapter of Halladay's career. As first steps go, it's a terrific one. Until Saturday, he had been unwilling to acknowledge this new reality. That is, his fastball velocity has declined, and it's not coming back.
Halladay said that every pitcher has to make the same transition at some point in their career. He watched Pat Hentgen and Roger Clemens do it successfully. In another era, Tom Seaver did it without missing a beat.
But Halladay is wrong when he says that every pitcher makes the same transition. Some of them simply can't. Sometimes, ego is a factor. They're so accustomed to challenging hitters that they can't do it any other way.
Other times, they simply can't. Once the fastball goes, location must be precise. Changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance is critical. Those are gifts, too, and not every pitcher is blessed with them. And that's what we just don't know about Roy Halladay at 35.
If he's being honest in saying that he's healthy, he has a chance. But after a year of speculation about his declining velocity and his ability to still pitch at a high level, Halladay stood in front of his locker Saturday afternoon and laid out a brutally honest assessment of himself.
"To me, it's a competition," he said. "It's not a boxing match, it's not a strength vs. strength. It's a chess match. It's competition of the mind and execution and being smarter and being more prepared. To me, that's what I've enjoyed. That's what I've liked about baseball.
"You look at a Jamie Moyer. He could compete with the best of them. He would've gotten knocked out in the first round if he was a boxer. It's just a different mentality. It's not about the strength and throwing harder and overpowering guys. It's about outsmarting and being more prepared and being more consistent. That, to me, is a challenge."
Don't be alarmed, Phillies fans. That Halladay sees what you've seen for a couple of years is a good thing. He has always been thorough in his approach and meticulous in his preparation. Halladay was already changing, whether he said it or not. His fastball averaged 90.6 mph last season, the lowest of his career, according to Fangraphs.com.
Halladay threw more cutters and more changeups and way more curveballs. Perhaps most important, he says he understands that he no longer has stuff to blow hitters away. He must stay on the corners, work the zone and exploit weaknesses.
"That's probably something I'll have to do more," Halladay said. "I'm going to have to pitch that way. Add. Subtract. The older you get, unfortunately, you don't always have the ability to go harder, harder, harder. That's something you have to adjust to. Change your spots, change your location. I feel comfortable I can pitch in that area. If I need a click or two, I have it. When you get older, you're not going to throw 95, 96 the whole game."
Halladay frets with the grip on his cutter and tries to fine-tune his sinker. He believes he'll still be able to reach back and come up with a Major League fastball at certain times, but it won't happen often.
Pay no attention to the numbers in a Saturday start against Toronto Minor Leaguers. He touched 90 mph just once and retired only seven of 18 hitters. There were just three swings and misses, at least two of them on changeups. There were hard-hit balls all over the place.
But that's not what this one was about. Halladay mostly stayed away from his curveball and changeup to work on his other stuff. He said he threw 81 pitches without pain and asked to go back out for another inning.
Halladay has one more Spring Training start and said he'll treat it somewhat like a regular-season game, so the results could offer a better indication of what's ahead. He's penciled in to pitch the second game of the regular season, on April 3 in Atlanta.
What we don't know is what this new Roy Halladay will look like in the long run. After 15 seasons and 2,687 innings, what can he still be? It's one thing to talk about changeups and cutters, but it's another to go out and resist challenging a hitter with a fastball when the game is on the line.
Maybe he'll never again be the guy who led the American League in innings three times and the National League once. Maybe eight All-Star appearances is all there's going to be.
The Phillies probably can't contend for a playoff spot unless their stars have big years, and that includes Halladay. It'll be fascinating watching him attempt to reconstruct his career. He once made the game look easy.
Halladay was so dominant in his best years that hitters never really seemed frustrated. They simply acknowledged that when he brought his "A" game to the park, he was close to unbeatable. Now it's impossible to know what Halladay's "A" game is. For him, that's one of several questions that'll be answered this season.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.