For Phillies, it hinges on Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay wasn't nearly the same pitcher in 2012 as he was in 2011. So what is he now? Howard Smith/US Presswire

CLEARWATER , Fla. -- Just before Roy Halladay threw his first pitch here Sunday, he stepped behind the mound and bent over at the waist, as you might see on a weekend morning outside of a fraternity on St. Patrick's Day.

I tried to remember if the future Hall of Famer had some sort of Turk Wendell routine, kicking the rosin bag or drawing something in the dirt for good luck. But that's not really Halladay's style, so when the Phillies announced after he lasted only one subpar inning that he departed with a stomach virus, the explanation seemed plausible to me.

And anyway, the conspiracy theories about whether he was removed because of his fastball velocity are irrelevant. Eventually, it's the hitters who will tell us whether Halladay's spring problems are temporary or permanent. Eventually, he's going to have to get back on the mound, after he's feeling better, and he's going to have to try to get hitters out, no matter what he's throwing. Then we'll know.

The red flags still hover over Halladay, who had an ugly outing six days ago in which he could neither command his fastball nor throw it very hard, and Sunday's small sample -- for whatever it's worth -- wasn't very good, either. Scouts sitting behind home plate with radar guns reported he was throwing in the 85-87 mph range, and as the inning progressed, he had difficulty commanding his fastball.

If Halladay bounces back, then the Phillies' world will look oh-so-different, because there is a lot of good stuff happening for them this spring. Ryan Howard has been hammering the ball this spring, driving the ball the other way; being out with an injury, he said, allowed him to refocus and review videotape from 2008 and realize that he had stopped concentrating on taking the ball to left-center and left field. After working with Wally Joyner just before the start of spring training, Domonic Brown loosened his grip of the bat and has been swinging better.

Michael Young was on the half-field again at 8:50 a.m. Sunday, as he has been most every morning since the Phillies' camp opened, taking ground balls hit by Ryne Sandberg. Young had thought about his struggles at third base for the Rangers and decided it didn't make sense, because he's not a big, lumbering guy and he's got good hands; something didn't add up. He thought about how he moved just before the pitch when he played shortstop -- upright, mostly, because when a ball was hit he had the time to react. But that approach hadn't worked so well at third base, and when he arrived at camp, he talked to Sandberg about staying low, so that he would be in position to react more quickly. As Sandberg slapped the grounders at him, Young looked like a lobster, crouched just above the infield dirt. He has fared well at the position this spring, the Phillies feel.

Chase Utley moved past all the offseason knee rehabilitation he has done and instead focused on baseball drills, and he is bouncing around in a way he hasn't in years, with some built-in caution. When the rest of the Phillies worked on infield drills before batting practice, Utley was not on the field -- because really, there's no point. There is some conservation being practiced, to save Utley for the regular season.

The most subtle alteration is an attempt to reinvigorate the team, to create more energy, and some players say they can feel the difference, from the way that new hitting coach Steve Henderson and Joyner like to talk about hitting, to the presence of catching instructor Mick Billmeyer in the dugout. Ben Revere, the new center fielder, brings a lot of energy, and Young is highly regarded for his consistent daily approach. The Phillies have mostly had the same group for the past six years, and there was a sense in the front office that change was needed.

In 2011, he had an average fastball velocity over 91.4 mph in 26 of his 32 starts. To repeat: in 26 of 32 starts, he had a better fastball than he did in all but one of his starts in 2012.

But in a division which includes arguably the most dynamic team, the Nationals, and a well-rounded power in the Braves, the Phillies' makeover may be meaningless if Halladay doesn't rebound. The Phillies need their big three of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Halladay in order to contend, and the fact is that it has been awhile since Halladay threw like a top-shelf pitcher.

Look at the game logs for Halladay in 2011, courtesy of FanGraphs.com.

Now check out 2012.

The difference is enormous. Halladay had only one start in 2012 in which he had an average fastball velocity of over 91.4 mph -- on May 7, against the Mets -- and on that day, not surprisingly, he had a typical Halladay outing, allowing two runs in seven innings.

In 2011, he had an average fastball velocity over 91.4 mph in 26 of his 32 starts. To repeat: in 26 of 32 starts, he had a better fastball than he did in all but one of his starts in 2012.

He simply did not have anything close to the same weapons he had in previous seasons, and his performance suffered, a lot, with his ERA climbing by more than two runs.

The early signs this spring are not good. Which is why his next start will be the most watched outing of the spring, after his aborted attempt Sunday. Radar guns really aren't needed; the opposing hitters will tell us whether Halladay is in trouble, and if the Phillies, too, are in trouble.


• Eric Kratz is confident in Halladay, writes Ryan Lawrence. The Phillies shouldn't rush Halladay, writes David Murphy.

• The Dodgers' Carl Crawford returned to action.

Mark Teixeira could be out into June, or longer.

• It's possible that the Red Sox will open the season with Jackie Bradley Jr. in their outfield. From Tim Britton's story:

    With David Ortiz out for Opening Day and Stephen Drew increasingly a question mark, Jackie Bradley Jr. still has a chance of breaking camp with the Sox.

    "We've got two weeks to determine that," manager John Farrell said. "The bottom line thing would be, when any young player comes to the big leagues, you want to be sure they get regular at-bats. If those are there, that becomes part of the equation. Most importantly, he's doing whatever he can to impact the decision."

    Bradley has had a marvelous spring. He's hitting .444 (16-for-36) with an on-base percentage of .556. His defense has been eye-opening.

• Within this Lynn Henning piece, he writes that unless some team meets the high asking price for Rick Porcello, the Tigers will likely send Drew Smyly to Triple-A.

David Wright says his pain is easing.

Alex Rios delivered Puerto Rico into the WBC title game.

Dings and dents

1. Chase Headley is going to miss some time after jamming his thumb. From Bill Center's story:

    In the top of the first, Headley jammed his thumb sliding into second as he attempted to break up a double play.

    "He sorta got stuck and got twisted around," Black said. "His thumb ended up hitting the bag and his thumb was in a bad spot."

    Asked about his level of concern regarding Headley's injury, Black said, "I'm always concerned about our players, even when they're healthy. But this is our important player for us, and we're hoping for the best."