Phillies have to hope Halladay rebounds next year
Veteran right-hander confident things will work out fine despite troubling season
For the first time since 2006, the Phillies aren't going to the postseason. That was all but assured over the weekend when the Braves handed Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee devastating losses that pushed the Phils five games back in their long-shot quest for a Wild Card berth.
That Halladay and Lee lost those must-win games is symbolic of Philadelphia's disappointing season.
Point the finger all you want at the long absences of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the failure of middle-bullpen performers and mediocre outfielders, but I believe the sub-par years by Halladay and Lee are as much to blame.
Halladay (10-8) and Lee (6-8) have each lost eight games. If they had won just half of those, the Phillies would be 85-68 instead of 77-76 and almost assured of the second National League Wild Card spot.
With nine games to go, they aren't mathematically eliminated, but it will take more than a miracle.
The Phils have been built around their premier starting pitchers. When this once-vaunted staff fails to live up to expectations, other weaknesses are magnified.
"You're exactly right," manager Charlie Manuel said Monday over the phone. "Cliff Lee is having a difficult year to explain. In my 50 years in baseball, I haven't seen a pitcher go through what he has.
"I'm talking about luck or unexpected things that happen, lack of run support. It's amazing. When we do get him some runs, he might strike out 12 batters and then have one bad inning."
Halladay is a different, more serious story.
In Saturday's 8-2 loss to the Braves, the 2010 NL Cy Young Award winner, in what was his most important start of 2012, faced just nine batters and was replaced after 1 2/3 innings. He allowed five hits and seven runs as his ERA ballooned to 4.40.
The only time Doc failed to go deeper into a game was in 2006, with Toronto, when a line drive ended his day.
Halladay, 35, was on the disabled list from late May until mid-July with a muscle strain behind his right shoulder. After returning, he said there was tightness in the shoulder since Spring Training.
On Saturday, he said there were spasms behind his shoulder and he received treatment on Friday before getting the green light to pitch Saturday.
In recent years, Halladay has arguably been the best pitcher in Major League Baseball, certainly the most durable.
I wonder if age and wear and tear on the arm and shoulder are catching up with him. His velocity has been down since Spring Training.
He was to undergo tests Monday to determine the severity of his problem.
Manuel said the results of those tests will determine whether Halladay pitches again this season. "If they tell me something's definitely wrong with him, there's a chance we'll have to back off him."
The Phillies have just those nine games remaining.
"When I took him out [Saturday], he said, 'I'm not hurt, Charlie. I'm so tight and couldn't get loose,'" Manuel related. "I'm sure when you can't get loose and you're trying to throw, something has to be hurting you."
Halladay insisted Saturday that his health is not an issue. "It's not anything long-term," he told reporters. "I had some stuff that was going on and was checked out. It's nothing they're all that concerned about. ... I'm not the first guy to ever have to battle through injuries during a season."
Monday's tests obviously will tell what's wrong. "We'll know exactly what's going on," said Manuel.
Maybe it's Halladay's shoulder strength. As stated, his velocity is down; he's thrown more offspeed pitches because he's been unable to finish off hitters with fastballs.
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com points out that from 2006-11, Halladay pitched the most innings (1,414 2/3) in the Major Leagues. His 46 complete games were also the most in MLB. He threw 20,367 pitches over that period, sixth most in the Majors.
Manuel, who admits there's been concern about Doc -- "I've always kept an eye on him; I don't want to get him hurt. If he's hurt, I don't want him to pitch." -- refuses to say that his No. 1 pitcher, who is guaranteed $20 million for 2013, will not return to his old form next season, even if shoulder strength is an issue.
"Knowing Doc the way I do, I think he'll come back next year," said Charlie. "He has to get a workout routine without somebody standing there monitoring him. Roy is built to work out and works harder than anyone."
Manuel hinted that Halladay may need to alter his strenuous workout routine.
"A lot of times your body will heal itself, and I think Roy might be one of those guys. His determination is much like Utley's," said the manager. "When Chase makes up his mind to do something, he'll work until he gets it. So will Doc.
"I think Roy is going to come back next year with more velocity and throw fastballs by people at 92-94 mph. He's never been through anything like this; I put a lot of weight in his determination."
So often age and a workload similar to Halladay's takes its toll.
Maybe it's the dreaded rotator cuff. During MRI exams, there have been reports that doctors have noticed changes in Halladay's rotator cuff.
Halladay repeatedly told reporters after Saturday's abbreviated start that the problem isn't serious or long-term and, "I thought I'd be able to compete better than that. Honestly, I just didn't do my job as a pitcher. You have to find ways to overcome things and I didn't do that."
The Phillies have myriad issues as they look forward to 2013. Hopefully, Roy Halladay isn't the No. 1 question mark.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.