Many eyes on Halladay's first start of 2013
ATLANTA -- If Cole Hamels had pitched Monday like he normally pitches, the Phillies very likely would've beaten the Braves on Opening Day and everything would've been right in their world for at least another 24 hours.
But Hamels gave up seven hits, five runs, one walk and three home runs in five innings in a 7-5 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. In seasons past, if he had pitched poorly in the season opener and the Phillies had Roy Halladay pitching the next game, there would've been confidence back home in the Delaware Valley.
That's OK, everybody. The Phillies have Doc going Wednesday. They're fine.
But confidence is not exactly overflowing among Phils fans entering Wednesday night's game against Atlanta.
"I think a lot of people are kind of anxious and anticipating to see Doc go out there," Ryan Howard said. "We'll just try to go out there and get the 'W.'"
There is anxiety about this start. Halladay struggled with injuries and performance last season, sporting a 4.49 ERA, his worst since he carried a 10.64 ERA in 2000. That season earned him a trip in 2001 to Class A Dunedin, where he reinvented himself as one of the best pitchers of his generation.
Halladay came into Spring Training this year saying he felt better than ever, but then he had a shaky March. He did not have the velocity he had in the past. Halladay labored at times. He suddenly had trouble throwing his cutter, which has been a huge pitch for him.
Those things and more have everybody wondering what they will see from Halladay this year.
Can Halladay come close to resembling the pitcher who dominated the National League in 2010-11? Or were last season's struggles a harbinger of things to come for a pitcher turning 36 next month?
"I feel good about Roy," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
Amaro said he feels good about Halladay because Halladay feels good about himself. And if Halladay likes his chances, then Amaro said there is no reason to think otherwise.
So the Phillies are keeping the faith based on Halladay's optimism, which is not a surprise. Halladay has earned that respect.
"What do I expect?" manager Charlie Manuel said. "I expect him to go out there and pitch, keep us in the game and give us a chance to win … I know baseball sometimes comes and goes. Your last outing, if you come out, get people out and throw a pretty good game, that washes out that last outing. That's just kind of the way it goes sometimes."
In other words, if Halladay steps on that mound at Turner Field and beats the Braves, everybody will forget about his spring. And then maybe the Phils can take two of three from Atlanta with left-hander Cliff Lee pitching Thursday.
"When we get on a roll, the starters, we definitely feed off each other," Hamels said. "So to be able to have him come out and pitch … we know what he's been doing all offseason and all spring, of really just trying to get himself right, and we have all the faith in the world in him. He's going to go out there and he's the ultimate competitor. And that's what we expect."
It has been a while since Halladay competed with consistent success. He was 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA through April last season. Then Halladay allowed eight runs in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Braves in Atlanta on May 2. He went 8-6 with a 5.26 ERA in his final 20 starts.
"I'm happy with where I'm at," Halladay said Thursday following his final Grapefruit League start. "I'm excited. I'm excited to come out of Spring Training feeling the way I feel, physically and mechanically. There's still a few things I feel I can improve on, but I'm happy with my delivery. Physically, it's night and day, last year compared to this year, which was the goal. Physically, this is almost as good as I've felt in five years, as far as my total body. I'm just a tick behind where I want to be."
Halladay needs to get there fast. His season starts Wednesday against the Braves, and there will be a lot of anxious people in Philadelphia watching.