TAMPA, Fla. - One of Rich Dubee's favorite sayings is, "He's fine."
The Phillies pitching coach will summon it in any situation - good or bad - when pressed about a particular arm. Dubee has repeated it over and over since Roy Halladay's discouraging Tuesday start.
When Halladay displayed similar signs of distress last spring, Dubee said it then, too: "He's fine."
But Dubee knew it was not the truth. Halladay missed seven weeks during the season with back and shoulder issues.
"He had issues last year," Dubee said Wednesday. "He had issues. He can't make it public. Why should he? You guys [the media] don't need to know everything, first of all. This guy didn't want anybody to know he was banged-up last year."
So, if Dubee lied last spring, why should anyone take his word now?
"You can believe what you want," Dubee said. "I'm telling you what I knew last year and what I know this year. He felt obligated to take the ball. This is a special guy, you know? And he tried to pitch through some stuff last year. Right now, at this point this year, he feels fantastic physically."
The mystery of Halladay's so-called "lethargy" continues. Dubee said he spoke to Halladay on Wednesday and said, predictably: "He's fine." The plan remains for Halladay to start Sunday against Baltimore and follow his usual between-starts routine, which will include a bullpen session Thursday.
It is possible Halladay is moved to a minor-league game Sunday. Dubee said he would talk again Thursday with Halladay to determine that. Either way, Dubee wants Halladay to reach 85 or 90 pitches in his next outing. Earlier in the spring, Halladay said the imperative test would come when he pitched deeper into games.
He barely had that chance on Tuesday against Detroit. Halladay allowed seven runs on six hits in 22/3 innings. Eleven of the 18 batters he faced reached base. He walked four, uncorked a wild pitch, and hit a batter. His fastball velocity dipped between 84 and 88 m.p.h., according to two scouts' radar guns.
"You can throw any red flag you want up there," Dubee said. "Physically, he's fine."
The pitching coach says the secret lies in Halladay's cutter, a pitch he used 40 percent of the time in 2012, according to Pitch F/X data. Dubee said Halladay changed his arm slot and delivery Tuesday when he attempted to throw certain cutters. That caused it to float over the heart of the plate.
One scout who watched Tuesday said it looked as if Halladay could not correctly finish the delivery on any of his pitches. Another noted that while it is possible for Halladay to be effective with diminished velocity, the speed difference between his fastball, cutter, and change-up is not as pronounced. That makes his pitches easier to hit.
Halladay threw 69 pitches Tuesday and Dubee said Halladay told him "he could have thrown another 100." With fewer than three weeks until opening day, Halladay has emerged as this camp's foremost drama.
There is no injury to blame, Dubee insisted. Dubee said he had "more concerns" last spring even though they were hidden from the public's eyes.
"He is not having any physical problems this year," Dubee said. "Any. Arm. Back. Legs. Nothing."
And no one knows whether he is telling the truth.