He has not looked like himself since Spring Training, pitching with diminished velocity and lacking the pinpoint command that made him one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. Then late last month, he landed on the 15-day disabled list with what the Phillies have called a strained right latissimus dorsi. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks, but when he comes back, what kind of pitcher will he be? The Doc of old or the one who had a 3.98 ERA after 11 starts?
And now that it is unlikely he will be able to throw a combined 415 innings this season and next, rendering his $20 million vesting option for 2014 void, will he stay in Philadelphia?
Halladay, 35, addressed those questions and others during a news conference Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.
Let's start with the last question first.
"Ultimately, my goal is to finish my career with the Phillies and win a World Series here," he said when asked about his option. "Some of those things are not fully in my control, but my intent is to play here and finish my career here and be here as long as I can. I don't know what's going to happen over the next year and a half, but I know from my side I'm going to make an effort to be here as long as I can and finish here. I don't want to go anywhere else."
Halladay's option vests only if he meets each of the following criteria: 1) He throws 415 innings in 2012-13; 2) He throws 225 innings in '13; and 3) He does not finish '13 on the disabled list. Because Halladay could miss two months of the season, it is improbable he meets the 415-innings mark, which would make him eligible to become a free agent following 2013.
But that does not mean Halladay is gone after next season. If he pitches well, the Phillies seem likely to do what they can to fulfill Halladay's wish to retire as a Phillie.
Of course, his performance on the mound will be the deciding factor in that. Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan said Halladay's baseline MRI exam, which the right-hander took before the Blue Jays traded him to Philly in December 2009, and the MRI he took recently, showed minimal change in Halladay's rotator cuff. Mets physician David Altchek, who offered a second opinion, concurred, although he initially had some concerns based on the latest MRI.
Asked if Halladay's most recent MRI would raise any red flags if Halladay were some random pitcher and he was looking at it for the first time, Sheridan said, "No. The biggest [thing] when you do a baseline MRI on pitchers, you're looking at the labrum, the rotator cuff, and you never see one that looks perfect. Probably wouldn't see it on anybody. In our population, it's just not the case."
Sheridan said Halladay's lat injury is not related to anything in the rotator cuff or labrum.
That would seem to be good news.
Halladay insisted he felt no pain, discomfort or anything out of the ordinary until his start against the Nationals on May 22. Even then, he said he didn't think it was anything unusual.
"I know there have been things said about crankiness and some of the other stuff, I don't know necessarily what that means," Halladay said. "I felt no discomfort, I felt no strain, no tightness. I felt nothing up to that point. The only thing I had a hard time with was repeating arm slots, getting into an arm slot I felt was best for me and being able to repeat that. And it took me a little longer, I felt, with my throwing program coming into Spring Training, just to get that loose effortless feeling. That seemed to take longer for whatever reason, I don't know. But from my end, and from their end, there wasn't any concern."
Halladay said he didn't think any problems he had repeating his arm slot had anything to do with anything that might have been physically wrong with him.
But there is no question Halladay's velocity has dipped.
"I'm aware that the older you get, you're going to have to be a little better at spotting the ball and changing speeds," he said. "I think that's part of the aging process. I felt at times it was good. I felt at other times it wasn't as good. I've felt like it's still there. I can tell when it doesn't feel like it's coming out the right way. There were plenty of times this year when it felt like it was. I feel like it's there. I understand it's a gradual process and you're probably going to lose a little bit here and there. But as much as I can maintain or stay at an even level, I'm going to try and do that."
Halladay seemed optimistic he will return to prior form. After some rest and rehab, he thinks he should be fine.
And that means he thinks he can be the horse of the rotation once again.
"I still feel like I'm going to be able to do that," he said. "It's going to be important to monitor the throwing. And that was kind of the tough part for me through this process. I felt like I had adjustments that needed to be made, but at the same time, we went through a stretch of seven or eight starts on five days' rest. I was delicate of how much I could throw in between and work on what I needed to do and how much I needed to rest, but I think that's going to be important going forward, monitoring those in-between days with the training staff and stuff.
"It's been very good the first two years here. I don't see any difference in that."