CLEARWATER, Fla. - Want to know how it feels to stand in front of a future Hall of Famer and question every word that he is saying? It sucks. It sucks because you know how much he demands of himself, because you know how hard he takes failure, because you have never seen another athlete treat every aspect of his existence with as much professionalism as Harry Leroy Halladay.

More than anything, it sucks because you want it to be true, because the last thing this world needs is a little less excellence, because few things make you prickle with awe like watching a human being who, at that very moment, is the best in the world at his craft.

It is the feeling you experience during a perfect game, during a playoff no-hitter, during the final eight innings of a decisive Game 5, but also during those 20 minutes on a mid-August Tuesday when a solitary figure in sneakers and gym shorts glides up and down the steps of an otherwise empty stadium, sweat glistening on a face that glares straight ahead as it did at the batters who faced him the night before.

Roy Halladay said a lot of things on Tuesday afternoon as he talked through a performance that left anybody who witnessed it wondering what, exactly, the Phillies can expect from him when the season begins 3 weeks from now. Of the 18 batters he faced, 11 reached base, four by walk, one who was hit by a pitch. Two Tigers hit home runs, neither of whom will be on your fantasy team next year. He lasted 69 pitches, short of where you would expect him to be at this point in the spring. But what was painfully - almost awkwardly - obvious to all was his inability to put his pitches where he wanted them. His offspeed stuff hung in the air or spiked into the dirt. His sinker was up, his cutter flat.

Halladay acknowledged all of this.

"I think I've always been a lot harder on myself than any of you guys have ever been," he told reporters. "I can promise you that."

Halladay talked himself through it all. He said that he felt lethargic; that the extra day between starts had affected him; that he had thrown an extra bullpen session because he has things he needs to accomplish before the Phillies head north; that the new workout program he adopted this offseason is punishing his body but that it would result in a pitcher who is ready for 32 starts; that he was not concerned about radar readings that said his velocity was hovering in the mid-80s and topping out at 88; that he feels healthy and if the price for that is lethargy, then so be it. He said that over the next 3 weeks he will get himself into game shape, into a game routine. He said all of this as he says everything: in confident, measured tones, never wavering, never betraying a trace of doubt.

You want to believe in Halladay the same way that he believes in himself. The Phillies? They don't have any other choice. Kyle Lohse would make sense if he is desperate enough to accept a 1-year deal, but it seems foolish to commit anything more than that to a player who wouldn't come close to filling the void that would exist if Halladay's struggles carried into the season. No, this season was always going to depend on the questions that have yet to be answered, and panicking now would only threaten to lengthen the rebuilding process that was always going to occur at some point within the next 2 years. Overpaying for Lohse is how recessions become depressions.

Instead, the Phillies must convince themselves that a willpower that helped forge a career for the ages will keep Roy Halladay from belonging to them.

"I don't know where he is going to get back to," Dubee said when a reporter asked whether he believed Halladay could return to the level he inhabited in 2010. "I don't. Who does? I don't have a crystal ball, but I know that his work ethic is still there, his desire is still there, so I'll take my chances."

The athletes who go down as the greatest of all time share a similar power: the power to convince themselves that they are the greatest, and that the ability to keep themselves the greatest is forever in their grasp, and in convincing themselves of this, they are able to convince all of us. Sometimes they are correct, and the moment that your belief begins to waver is the moment that ends up propelling them back. For Halladay, perhaps that moment was Tuesday. As you listened to him talk, you couldn't help but hope.