In 2011, when Roy Halladay last looked like Roy Halladay, the veteran right-hander faced 933 batters and went to a three-ball count against 138 of them, an average of one every 6.76 batters. On Wednesday night against the Braves, he faced 19 batters and went to three balls against eight of them. That, in a nutshell, is the challenge the Phillies face when it comes to predicting what they are going to get out of their one-time ace this season. This wasn't about velocity, although that was down (88 to 89 MPH on both his fastball and his cutter over his final two innings). It wasn't even about the runs he allowed, although those were up (five runs in 3 1/3 innings). It was about a pitcher who simply could not pitch the way he is accustomed to. Instead of pounding the strike zone with his fastball and cutter, Halladay relied heavily on his curveball and change up. Of the 95 pitches that he threw, 47 were off speed. During one 15 pitch stretch in the third inning, he threw 13 off speed pitches. When Halladay got ahead of hitters, he was able to put them away with his change up and curve: he became the first pitcher in history to record nine strikeouts in as few as 3 1/3 innings. The Phillies recorded just one out on a ball in play against six hits, two of them home runs.
Of the 33 cutters that Halladay threw, only two prompted a swing-and-miss, compared with one home run, three singles and four foul balls. He threw just 14 sinkers, seven of them for strikes, one of which was a Justin Upton home run on a 1-2 count. Of the six other strikes, three were foul balls, and none were whiffs.
By the end of the night, Halladay had thrown 95 pitches, 55 of them strikes. The usual caveats apply: it was his first outing of the season; the cool, wet weather could not have helped his grip. But what we saw against the Braves looked similar to what we saw throughout spring training, which was a pitcher attempting to reinvent himself, and struggling to do so.