ATLANTA — For a team that claims it cares little about pitch velocity, the Phillies are not adept at hiding the truth. When Roy Halladay made a minor-league start this spring, pitching coach Rich Dubee peeked at the radar gun after every pitch. Manager Charlie Manuel frequently speaks of Halladay's velocity and its eventual improvement.
And the pitcher himself, the man who said he does not stare at radar guns or pay any semblance of attention to velocity readings, now concedes his slowed velocity bred bad habits.
"I was just trying to be too picky, too fine," Halladay said of his 2013 debut outing. "Last year, feeling the way you do, you think, 'I can't throw an 86 m.p.h. fastball to a general zone, it's going to get hit.' So you get to the point where you start to get picky."
After a 9-2 loss to the Braves, Halladay declared it is time for aggressiveness. "I can't take three or four pitches to put guys away," he said. The 35-year-old pitcher thinks he can expand the strike zone and once again throw his cutter and sinker to both sides of the plate.
What he said and what he did, though, were opposites. Halladay threw 21 fastballs during his 40-pitch first inning. He threw 26 fastballs in the subsequent 55 pitches. Every one of the nine strikeouts he recorded was done on an off-speed pitch. The four run-scoring hits against Halladay came on fastballs.
The opposing pitcher, Paul Maholm, saw 12 pitches in two at-bats. He did not swing and miss once. He fouled off three pitches. He worked a two-ball count and a three-ball count.
Against even the pitcher, Halladay nibbled.
"I've always relied on movement and not tried to pick sides of the plate," Halladay said. "And there were times where we were picking corners of the plate. I need to open it up and let the movement take care of itself."
Or, as Halladay said about his lack of velocity in 2012, "When you’re throwing pitches at that speed, they get such a good look at it that it has to be on the black."
Halladay said arm strength is "continuing to grow every time I pitch." If it was lacking in 2012, the first start of 2013 is not encouraging. The difference in velocity from his season debut in 2012 to 2013 is negligible. But Halladay wants an improvement from 2012 so he can avoid being picky.
|April 5, 2012|
Halladay threw eight innings (92 pitches) against Pittsburgh in his 2012 debut. Fifty-nine, or 64 percent, of his pitches were fastballs, according to Pitch F/X data. His velocity in that first start mirrored his eventual season averages. What changed later in the season was a lack of movement on his sinker and cutter.
|April 3, 2013|
A year later, we see a different pitcher. Now, just half of his 95 pitches are fastballs. Halladay threw his curveball 56 percent of the time he was ahead of a righthanded hitter. He threw it 53 percent of the time when he reached two strikes against a righty. Last season, those percentages were 30 and 34, respectively. He threw his change-up 45 percent of the time to a lefty with two strikes. That was 17 percent in 2012.
He did not throw one cutter to a righty with two strikes. That was something he did 27 percent of the time in 2012.
The velocity, which has declined every season since 2009, is even lower — if just by a tick. That strength Halladay spoke of may come, but his fastball velocity from his previous three season debuts was a predicator of his season averages.
Perhaps most notable, Halladay's vertical release point was lower than usual Wednesday night. Last spring, when scouts first questioned Halladay's health, they focused on his lower arm slot as evidence. His release point Wednesday was lower than in 2012. It affects the angle Halladay achieves on his pitches, and could be to blame for the lack of ground balls.
"I feel the arm strength is there where every pitch doesn't have to be on the black," Halladay said. "It just has to be down so we can get more ground balls and be more efficient. That's something we need to work on and address — quickly."
First, Halladay requires conviction in his fastball. The way he pitched Wednesday resembled nothing like Halladay at his prime, or even during a forgettable 2012.
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