Health, age force ace veteran Halladay to adjust
Righty makes changes with hope of returning to Hall of Fame form
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- There's not a more depressing sight in baseball than great players –- Hall of Fame-caliber players –- hanging on when age has caught up with their skills.
Few know when to walk away.
I remember Willie Mays, maybe the best player I've ever seen, winding down his historic career with the lowly Mets. Sad.
Or Steve Carlton, after the Phillies released him, trying to make it with several other teams.
I thought about that Wednesday as future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay talked about his future, about how it's necessary to adjust when the calendar is your biggest enemy.
Halladay, who turns 36 on May 14, is far from finished. In fact, if the Phillies plan to contend for the National League East title in 2013, Halladay must return to the form that made him one of MLB's top pitchers.
If he's effective, they'll have one of the top rotations in the NL. Without a vintage Doc, catching Washington and Atlanta will be a stretch.
Halladay must prove that 2012, when back and shoulder problems made him ineffective, was an aberration.
He was 11-8 last season with a 4.49 ERA in 25 starts, his worst ERA since his 10.64 mark with the Blue Jays in 2000. By comparison, Doc went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA in 2011, and 21-10 (2.44) in '10, when he won his second Cy Young Award.
Halladay, during a session with the media at the Phillies' Clearwater, Fla., Spring Training facility, said lower back problems were the source of his problems in 2012, when he missed almost two months.
He said a new training regimen, aimed at strengthening his back and increasing flexibility, has given him confidence for 2013.
"I feel as good now as I have in any other Spring Training," he said after a morning workout that included a bullpen session watched closely by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., and pitching coach Rich Dubee. "Last year, it wasn't as if I felt bad. It never really clicked for me."
Interestingly, Halladay repeatedly used the word "we" in talking about his condition, his new workout program and the future.
"Nobody works hard than Doc," said manager Charlie Manuel. "He looks real good, real strong. I'm confident he's going to be fine."
Dubee said Halladay "feels a lot stronger. It's going to take him a while to put all the pieces together in his delivery, like anybody, but that's what Spring Training is for. He's got to find that comfort zone. As far as his arm feeling well and his strength feeling good, he's progressed nicely."
And that brings us to change, a term so often used when veteran pitchers reach down for a new pitch, a new something that allows them to continue to fool hitters.
"I've talked to a lot of people [about that]," Halladay said. "That's definitely the case. It doesn't necessarily have to be adding a new pitch. Sometimes it may be. When I came over here [from Toronto in 2010], I'd never thrown a changeup. Adding that was big for me.
"You do have to change, whether it's pitch selection, what you throw at different counts. I've talked to a lot of different people and have different ideas. That's the good thing about Spring Training. You can do different things, experiment a little bit.
"Anywhere that I feel I can do something different to keep [hitters] off balance, I'm going to do it."
Halladay and former Blue Jays teammate Chris Carpenter talked about their baseball future during their annual fishing trip in early December.
Carpenter, who became the ace of the Cardinals' staff during his five years there, suffers from a nerve problem that will prohibit him from pitching this season and likely steer him to retirement.
"I know when he came back and he played for St. Louis, he thought he was done after he had surgery in Toronto ," Halladay said. "He didn't know that he was going to play again. So the five years he got there, I think, was a blessing for him and I think he never took that for granted. I think he was satisfied with what he put into the game. I feel the same way.
"You never know when it's going to go away ... but we talked about doing things the right way and having no regrets. He has none and I know I have none."
Halladay added he continually looks to the future, refusing to dwell on the past.
"Hopefully I'm not sitting here anytime soon saying I'm done playing, but I think that's a big thing in this game," he said. "You never want to look back and wish you would have done something differently."
Halladay can become a free agent as early as 2014 if a vesting option in his contract based on innings pitched doesn't kick in for $20 million -– his '13 salary. He said he cannot envision himself pitching for another team.
"If I have my druthers, I would be here until I'm done," Halladay said. "As good as they've been to me, I think they realize I'd be as good to them as I could be. I don't want to play anywhere else. You want to play somewhere as long as you can where you're wanted. This is the best place I've ever played."
He added he's not "worried about next year, I'm not worried about two, three years from now. I'm worried about trying to win a World Series."
Spring Training is a time when optimism blooms.
Roy Halladay is confident he can rebound with a healthy season.
"I'm not here to predict anything," he said, "but I feel good."
And yet when he talked about his own mortality, I got the impression that when he can no longer be the Doc Halladay we know, he'll walk away. No mediocre pitching for him.
"There will be a day when what's ahead of me is no baseball," he said. "I'm not going to try to embrace that. Until you get to that point, you do everything you can to continue to adjust."
And time will take care of that.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.