THE STRETCH RUN began around 5:30 p.m. yesterday. Fresh off a 14-2 thrashing at the hands of the worst team in the National League, the Phillies dressed in silence and headed to the airport for the start of a 4-week window that could very well dictate how much meaningful baseball they play for the rest of the season. Of their next 22 games, 19 will feature opponents who entered Sunday with a winning record. They are 5-14 against such teams this season, a winning percentage that, if maintained, would leave them around 22-32 on the final day of May.
The arrival at such a juncture would force the Phillies to consider turning their attention to 2014 and beyond, a process that would involve a number of difficult conversations, including those with their tradable veterans, most of whom can exert at least some control over where they land thanks to clauses in their contracts.
The first of those conversations took place on Sunday, after which the Phillies announced plans to send veteran righthander Roy Halladay to the disabled list for an unknown amount of time. After allowing nine runs and throwing just 35 of his 65 pitches for strikes in the blowout loss to the Marlins, Halladay said he told the team that he had been feeling pain in his throwing shoulder since the morning after a start against the Pirates on April 24.
All of the important questions about the injury are ones that cannot yet be answered. We do not know how long the Phillies might be without their onetime ace. We do not know who will replace him in the rotation. We do not know anything about the pain in his shoulder except that it is there. Yesterday was the first time Halladay mentioned the discomfort to the team, according to both the pitcher and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
Halladay revealed the injury to reporters after the loss but did not take questions, mostly because he does not seem to have many answers right now. The plan is for Halladay, who was expected to travel with the team to San Francisco, to visit specialist Dr. Lewis Yocum in California early this week.
Halladay spent time on the disabled list last summer with what was described as a strain of the latissimus dorsi muscle, which is in the upper back near the shoulder. Part of that process included a second opinion from specialist Dr. David Altchek, who compared the new diagnostic images of Halladay's shoulder with the ones he underwent when he was traded to the Phillies. Both Amaro and the pitcher said they felt that his current condition is unrelated to the one that landed him on the disabled list last year.
In that April 24 start he struck out eight and allowed one run in six innings. In two starts since then, including yesterday's, he has allowed 17 runs with seven strikeouts and six walks. That would mean Halladay was not experiencing any discomfort when he struggled with his command and was hit hard by the Braves and the Mets in his first two starts of the season.
"It's not something that I had before," said Halladay, who walked four batters, hit two more with pitches, and threw behind another in yesterday's loss to the Marlins. "It's something new this year. I felt good all spring, felt good all year, I just got up after that start in Pittsburgh and had soreness and just wasn't able to get rid of it. Like I said, we'll go to LA and get it checked out, do some scans, get Yocum to look at it and update you guys from there. But that's really all I have. We don't have a lot of information on it. We did some tests and obviously they are not completely conclusive as to what it is. There's a couple of different options and the scans, MRIs, CTs, that kind of stuff will give us more information from there and we'll address it then. But as far as moving forward, I really don't have too much for you. We'll see how it plays out in the next few days."
At 14-18, the Phillies will embark on a crucial stretch without the man who was one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors during his first 2 years with the team. Halladay is likely to be replaced by lefty Adam Morgan or righties Tyler Cloyd or Ethan Martin, all of whom are pitching at Triple A Lehigh Valley. The looming promotion could prove to be the next step in a rebuilding effort. Rookie righty Jonathan Pettibone has already made three starts in place of injured veteran John Lannan, and infielder Freddy Galvis started yesterday for the second straight game, finishing with one of the team's four hits in a game in which middling starter Kevin Slowey held the Phils scoreless for seven innings.
Regular major league playing time for players like Galvis, outfielder Darin Ruf and third baseman Cody Asche, the latter two of whom are at Triple A Lehigh Valley, could help the Phillies identify their best course of action at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
A strong showing over the next 22 games would eliminate any thought of getting a jump-start on the future. But if the Phillies learn they will be without Halladay for an extended period of time, and if they continue to struggle to score runs, they will have to think about making significant changes.
"They need to swing the bats better. It's not good enough," Amaro said. "When you are behind the eight ball that much it's kind of tough to crawl back but there's no question we need to swing the bat better. I believe in these guys still. I think they are good hitters. They just aren't hitting very well. They need to do better. For us to be contenders, they need to hit better."