SARASOTA, Fla. - Last week, when asked where Roy Halladay ranked on Charlie Manuel's list of concerns for this charmless Phillies spring, the manager said "zero." But even after watching Halladay throw six innings that left little doubt, Manuel had to ask.
He saw Halladay headed for the shower in the visitors clubhouse at Ed Smith Stadium and stopped his pitcher.
"Attaboy, Roy," he said. "How do you feel?"
"Good," Halladay said. That was enough for Manuel.
The Phillies, rife with real injury issues, had spent the previous five days disarming a national report quoting anonymous scouts who questioned Halladay's arm strength because his fastball was topping out at 89 m.p.h. Halladay probably eliminated whatever misplaced fears existed Tuesday.
The righthander struck out five in six innings, threw 72 pitches (51 strikes), and did not walk a batter in a 4-1 Phillies win over Baltimore. During the first three innings, his fastball hovered between 90 and 92 m.p.h., according to two scouts. Later, he was throwing 88 to 90 m.p.h.
"When he is going like that, he is fun to watch pitch," one of the scouts said.
In other words, back away from the ledge - unless the state of the Phillies infield is on your mind.
"People can say whatever," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "We're talking about a guy who is 188-92 in his career. He should have won 20 last year. He pitched to one of his lowest ERAs last year. What's the panic? It's what spring training is about. That's Roy Halladay right there. What, six innings and 72 pitches? Maybe a couple of misfires here and there? Cutter was accelerating through the strike zone again. Sinker was going the other way. Split was back. Everything was in place."
Dubee was gruff because he viewed the criticisms of Halladay as almost personal. A day earlier, he mused, the scouts "better worry about their own team having to face Roy eventually."
Halladay carried a 10.57 spring ERA into Tuesday's game, which looked nothing like his six previous Grapefruit League figures of 0.42, 4.00, 3.27, 4.00, 2.40, and 1.89. Most players will say they disregard all spring statistics, only to secretly pay attention during the last few weeks.
The 34-year-old pitcher had made it a point to work on specific things in his first handful of outings. He threw a change-up when he normally would throw a cutter just because he needed to work on the pitch. But he was well aware of the 10.57 ERA.
"It doesn't make you happy - I can tell you that," Halladay said. "There's a fine line between knowing what you need to accomplish and trying to prove a point or be too competitive or get caught up in that."
Halladay said he was most pleased with his tempo Tuesday. Catcher Carlos Ruiz agreed.
"That's him," Ruiz said.
The uptick in velocity will continue with time, Halladay said. Last April, according to Pitch f/x data, his four-seam fastball and cutter each averaged 90.6 m.p.h. His sinker was 91.4 m.p.h. All three pitches picked up speed as the season progressed.
An unhealthy Halladay - or Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels, for that matter - would represent the worst-case scenario during a spring in which little has gone according to plan. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said these Phillies will have to pitch and catch to win. Halladay said that doesn't increase the demands.
"We'll all hold each other accountable," he said. "But I don't think that means more pressure. I feel like one guy isn't going to make up for a lack of two guys. . . . We've got enough good players that we don't need a superstar. We need consistency of going out and doing the job we're supposed to do."
And when most of the scouts stopped using their radar guns during Tuesday's second inning, Halladay did exactly what he was supposed to do.