SAN FRANCISCO - Roy Halladay slouched on a couch Wednesday morning and kept a large cup of coffee at his side while the rest of the Phillies clubhouse stirred before another day of baseball. He watched Atlanta against Cincinnati on TV. They played the game to which he has dedicated his life.
A surgeon will soon cut a small incision in Halladay's right shoulder, and it will be months before he can pitch again. Still, he smiled Wednesday. He vowed that it would take more to pry baseball from his prized but defective arm.
"I have no regrets at any point in my career," Halladay said. "And if things don't work out, and they do end on a sour note, I'm not going to look at it that way. But I really don't feel that's going to be the case. I really feel I have a shot to come back and help our team."
Halladay will require arthroscopic surgery to clean damage to his rotator cuff and labrum caused by a bone spur in his right shoulder. It is not the worst-case scenario for one of the game's great pitchers, who believes he can return before 2013 ends. He faces an arduous recovery and there are no guarantees that he will come back to a contending team.
For the last four days, the pitcher faced baseball mortality. He felt pain in his shoulder that he never before experienced. He could not command his pitches. He spoke for 20 minutes Wednesday and expressed a modicum of relief.
Halladay was examined Tuesday by Neal ElAttrache, the Dodgers' team physician and a noted orthopedist to sports stars. Halladay said he has a partial tear to his rotator cuff and fraying of the labrum. Shoulder injuries are debilitating to a pitcher, especially one of Halladay's age (36 next week) and mileage (2,7212/3 innings in 16 seasons).
A full tear of the rotator cuff would have prompted more than a year of rehab and an uncertain future. Halladay said he pitched for "years" with his current injury.
"I don't feel as lost as before," Halladay said. "I feel like there's some answers there, some things that we see that can be done and I'm optimistic that we'll get it fixed and I'll be able to come back and pitch."
There is no absolute timetable for Halladay's return until the procedure is performed, perhaps as early as next week. Halladay said doctors floated a three-month recovery period, but that is not definite. The surgeon could find further damage to the shoulder.
"The doctor seemed pretty optimistic that if what they saw is correct, I could come back and be a lot more effective and have a chance to pitch this year and turn back the clock," Halladay said. "He said he thought they could turn back the clock two or three years for me. I thought it was very good news. Obviously I don't want to miss time, but I think as far as scenarios go, I feel like it's a lot better than some of the things I anticipated."
That matched the tenor of Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
"I'm sad that I don't have him available to pitch," Amaro said. "I want him to pitch. But we can't control that. I guess of the scenarios it could have been, it's a pretty good one. We still remain optimistic that he can come back and pitch at some time this year."
Amaro said the team would be active in seeking help for the starting rotation. Tyler Cloyd will start Friday in Halladay's place. John Lannan, sidelined by a knee injury, is weeks away from returning.
"We have to think about it," Amaro said.
The Phillies could explore a minor move for a veteran pitcher in the minors, like Chris Young or Chien-Ming Wang.
Even if Halladay does return at some point, the Phillies will have to stay in contention without him. That means Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick must carry the rotation. And there is no way of predicting how much the surgery can help Halladay, who posted a 2-4 record and an 8.65 ERA in seven starts. Older pitchers who undergo shoulder surgeries are not prone to miraculous recoveries.
Halladay said the examination Tuesday showed much greater damage to the rotator cuff when compared to an MRI examination last May. He did not feel excruciating pain because ElAttrache told him the area around the bone spur was so strong that it masked the problem. An arthrogram was performed to reveal it.
"I was going in open-minded," Halladay said. "My biggest concern was I couldn't throw the ball where I wanted. I wasn't concerned about velocity; the pain wasn't overwhelming. I couldn't understand why my location was so poor. So I really didn't know what to think."
He is now blessed with a fragment of clarity, but the future is murky. Halladay, who is being paid $20 million in 2013, will be a free agent at season's end.
"I'm not even thinking that far ahead," Amaro said. "Right now, we're just concerned about getting him healthy again. Who wouldn't want Roy Halladay around? He's one of the best pitchers of all time, as far as I'm concerned."