Roy Halladay seems to want to have it both ways. On one hand he feels that he should be lauded for coming back so quickly from May 15 shoulder surgery but on the other, he talks about what a difficult environment he’s pitching in, one mixed with skepticism and criticism.
Where there happens to be no mixed signals is in determining Halladay’s level of frustration that continued after he lasted just 4 1/3 innings and threw 101 pitches in Thursday’s 10-5 win over the San Diego Padres.
Halladay has a fastball that doesn’t at this juncture touch 90 MPH and he is constantly nibbling and trying to get batters more than ever through deception.
He couldn’t escape the fifth inning after walking four consecutive batters for the first time in his career. The two-time Cy Young Award winner allowed four earned runs and his ERA is now 5.07 in his four games back.
And afterwards, a player who has suggested he allows no outside force to penetrate his confidence, talked about dealing with some of his critics.
“Philly is not an easy place to do that, you guys are pretty tough,” he said to the assembled reporters. “You have to be pretty mentally strong to block that out and go out there with confidence every time and trust.”
He says his confidence hasn’t wavered, but there is little doubt he's been impacted by the skepticism and criticism of the fans and media.
“It’s tough and obviously you are really under the microscope and no matter what you do, the negatives will be brought to the forefront,” he said. “For me personally, I am really trying to focus on the positives and let you guys worry about the negatives.”
The biggest positive, according to Halladay, is that he’s on the mound so quickly after his surgery.
Halladay says he understands why people are skeptical of a 36-year-old pitcher with fading velocity who is coming off surgery.
But then he offers a different perspective.
“I also understand there is a tremendous amount of guys who might have never pitched again and probably wouldn’t be back in three-and-a-half months,” he said. “To me, that is something to build on and focus on.”
Halladay has been praised throughout his career for showing so much fight, so much competitiveness. Yet should he be praised now for merely being on the mound?
The Phillies have to know if he can help a rotation that needs an upgrade and sentimentality has to go out the window. He should only be praised if he comes back and is effective. Merely coming back isn’t enough.
Halladay insists that even though he is a free agent after this season the only thing he is focused on right now is his next start.
The only time he talks about next year is when he is asked and it’s clear that no matter how he finishes this season he will be on somebody’s mound in 2014.
“I am going to pitch, where I don’t know,” he said. “I would love to do it here but if they don’t feel like I am the right guy for them, I understand.”
One reason besides his work ethic and natural talent that Halladay has been successful is his passion for pitching and how much it means to him to take the mound.
“I woke up this morning and it was like Christmas morning, getting the chance to pitch after sitting out, watching my team and not being part of it,” he said. “It is a completely different thrill to be able to pitch now.”
Then he made a telling statement.
“I want to do a better job for us.”
Halladay’s resolve should be admired but in the end the Phillies or any team will use a simple rationale for securing his services – can he get batters out at a consistent rate?
And he has not proven that, even though it’s early. Then again, teams will have nothing else to go on when considering Halladay for their staff than these final few games.
So it appears he has been stung by any criticism or doubt. And no doubt, Halladay will use it as a means of motivation.
“I don’t want to be a guy who gets knocked down and stays down, I want to get back up and fight and that is what a lot of this is all about,” he said. “…You keep getting knocked down, you keep getting back up.”
So Halladay will keep fighting. He’ll fight on the mound, never totally giving into opposing hitters. Most of all, he will fight the perception that he is finished as an effective pitcher.