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It's painful to see Halladay struggle
I ached for Roy Halladay watching him on television Monday night. So, apparently, did Halladay's 12-year-old son, Braden, who sent him a text message saying, "You are my hero." And so did one of the scouts whose comments to me about the Phillies' right-hander caused such a ruckus in the spring of 2012.
"You're a fan of this guy," the scout said Tuesday morning. "It's very sad to watch. He's what we all dream of having in your organization. But from a stuff standpoint, there's just nothing there."
Nothing there. It's painful to say that about Halladay, painful to write, painful to think about. No one who cares about the game wants to see a pitcher as accomplished as Halladay struggle the way he has in first two starts, the way he did last season.
Halladay probably would dispute the "nothing there" assessment, just as he disputed the scouts who questioned his velocity, sharpness and lower arm angle in the spring of '12. After his 7-2 loss to the Mets, he estimated to reporters that "95 percent" of his problems stem from mental pressure, as if he could will himself into the Halladay of old.
And maybe he can.
The scout I spoke with Tuesday, a longtime Halladay watcher, believes that the pitcher can reinvent himself at age 35, if he learns to pitch at lower velocities and to areas where he can better exploit hitters' weaknesses. If anyone can figure out how to make such an adjustment, it's Halladay. But his struggles, physical and otherwise, have been going on for more than a year now.
My report in March of '12 was based on the observations of two scouts, one of whom said that Halladay did not resemble the same pitcher who came out "like gangbusters" every spring. I wrote in the story, "when an older pitcher such as Halladay shows signs of slippage, even in spring training, questions invariably arise."
At the time, I was in Arizona, attending Cactus League games. Reporters at the Phillies' camp in Clearwater, Fla., asked Halladay the next day about what I had written, and he responded, "Yeah, I heard about that. Poor reporting on the extreme end of poor reporting. It couldn't be further from the truth."
I felt somewhat vindicated — a natural reporter's instinct — when Halladay slumped at the start of last season, then went on the disabled list from May 29 to July 17 with an issue in his upper back and shoulder. But truth be told, that vindication was directed more toward the reporters who questioned what I wrote than Halladay himself.
Not that I was certain that the two scouts were right about Halladay — the first lesson of baseball reporting is that you can't be certain of anything. Just last week, when Yu Darvish pitched his near-perfect game, a Rangers official reminded me of a scout I had quoted last April as saying that the Japanese right-hander would "give up a ton of hits" — and worse.
"How's that scout doing, the one who told you Darvish stinks?" the Rangers official asked.
It's baseball. No writer, scout or executive is ever 100 percent correct — and just for the record, no computer ever is, either.
I understood Halladay's refusal to acknowledge that anything was wrong with him; he seemed to genuinely believe that, in time, he would return to form. The great athletes, reporters learn, become great not just because of their physical ability, but also their mental toughness. They don't doubt themselves; they prove the doubters wrong.
In any case, I felt badly about all of this. Not because of what I had reported — I was just doing my job — but because in my heart, I didn't want to see Halladay fail or get hurt.
Halladay is one of the great pitchers of our generation, universally admired by everyone connected to the sport. While I can't say I was ever close with him — I don't know many reporters who are — interviewing him live on camera for MLB Network after his no-hitter in the 2010 Division Series was one of the great thrills and honors of my career.
Which brings us back to Monday night, and Halladay's excruciating outing against the Mets. In two starts this season, the other against the Braves, Halladay is now 0-2 with a 14.73 ERA. He has yet to complete more than four innings, yet threw 95 pitches in his first start and 99 in his second — mind-blowing numbers for a pitcher who once was so efficient, he would record those totals in complete games.
His issue is not so much velocity — Halladay's sinker averaged 90.81 mph and his cutter 89.66 against the Mets, each down about only 1 mph from 2011, when he went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA, according to PitchFX data on BrooksBaseball.net and Fangraphs.com.
The difference, according to the scout I spoke with Tuesday, is that Halladay's movement and finish no longer are the same. His pitch counts are high because he is pitching timidly, "picking" at the zone, the scout said.
Halladay's sinker once exploded at home plate, diving out of the strike zone, and hitters would either miss it or beat it into the ground. His cutter would look like a fastball until it got to the plate, when it, too, would dart at the last instant, often breaking hitters' bats.
All of that movement is now "flat," the scout said.
"He's still trying to pitch like he used to pitch and he can't," the scout said. "He's opening up early (in his delivery). Hitters are seeing balls early and long, not moving at home plate but moving out of his hand. They track the hell out of it, and that's why he's not getting swings-and-misses, unless it's on breaking balls in the dirt."
The solution, in the scout's opinion, is for Halladay to understand that his sinker is all but gone, and that he must locate even better than before. Greg Maddux made such a late-career adjustment. So did Tom Seaver. "With Halladay's changeup, the command he has had in the past, he should be able to figure it out," the scout said.
I won't bet against him. I don't want to bet against him.
Like the scout said, we're all fans of this guy.
Dammit, I want Roy Halladay to succeed.