LAKELAND, Fla. - The 18th pitch Roy Halladay threw in his first exhibition game of 2013 landed on the wrong side of the fence, at least from the perspective of the people not rooting for the host Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium on Sunday.
The cutter didn't cut the way Halladay had hoped - "It backed up on me" - and the result was a solo home run for four-time All-Star Victor Martinez. Like Halladay, Martinez had a lost season in 2012, missing its entirety with a knee injury.
It was a positive step for Martinez. It was a blemish on Halladay's otherwise encouraging day, too.
Halladay didn't allow another hit in two innings of work and struck out two batters without walking any in his spring debut. He looked strong and effective.
"Filthy," said new Detroit rightfielder Torii Hunter, a longtime American Leaguer who sparred with Halladay for close to a decade when the Phillies righthander played in Toronto. "He's always filthy to me. He threw me a splitter. He rarely threw me a splitter or changeup when I faced him in the past. He's totally different.
"I haven't faced him in a couple of years. But he looks good. Fastball was sneaky. He had the ball sinking, cutting. He was in and out of the zone. This is the first start, right? If he gets better from here, it's scary. Which you know [he will]."
Radar-gun readings had Halladay's pitches hovering from 88 to 91 mph.
"Sneaky fastball. It had late life - you see it and, whooomph!" Hunter said, continuing his scouting report. "I mean, we had no chance. He looks like he's already ready [for the season]."
In typical Halladay form, he's not ready to say the same.
After battling through an injury-plagued 2012 season, Halladay altered his offseason routine and has spent the last 4 months putting the program into place. But there still is more than a month remaining before real games begin.
In Halladay's mind, Sunday was nothing more than a "baby step" in the right direction.
"It's been kind of a prolonged process," Halladay said. "It's all baby steps all the way through. So for me, it wasn't really like the end of the season; there are a lot of little steps in between, to where it doesn't feel like a big step. And there are going to be smaller steps as we go through spring. I feel like things are translating the way I want them to."
After pitching live batting practice twice last week, Halladay took the mound against an opponent for the first time since Sept. 29 in Miami, the last start in his worst year in more than a decade. Less than 2 months into the 2012 season, Halladay landed on the disabled list with a right lat strain.
Halladay went 40-16 with a 2.40 ERA in 65 starts in his first two seasons in Philly. He went 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 25 starts last season.
On the first day of official workouts earlier this month, Halladay said a lower-back problem led to the shoulder ailment last year, which affected his delivery. He spent the offseason strengthening his back and his core.
Following his first spring start, Halladay said he felt better than he had in 2012.
"It feels a lot freer and easier right now than it did at the end of the season," Halladay said. "Armwise, it's less effort. My arm is in a better position. Last year, there were times when I felt like I had to throw as hard as I could to make up for the lack of lower half. Especially through my bullpens and the game, I felt like my arm was in a better spot. I didn't feel like I had to try to throw really hard."
The Phillies can only hope Halladay feels the same 5 weeks from today, when they open the season in Atlanta.
Halladay's health is paramount in the Phillies' ability to reclaim the National League East in an improved division. If he can't stay healthy, it's difficult to envision the Phillies staying competitive in 2013.
While no one has a crystal ball, the current best pitcher in baseball threw out his opinion after sharing the mound with Halladay on Sunday.
"That first inning was quick - pretty usual stuff for him," Tigers righthander Justin Verlander said of Halladay's perfect first inning. "He's a guy who works hard, he has his head on straight and he knows how to win. He knows how to pitch. He'll be back to form, I believe. I don't even think it's a question."
Even if the Phillies feel the same way, they'll be watching Halladay's every step this spring. A who's who of the Phils' front office was in attendance in Lakeland, including team president David Montgomery and chairman Bill Giles.
"Obviously, every time he goes out there we'll be monitoring his progress," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said before the game. "So far he's had a really good demeanor, he feels good about how he's throwing and hopefully that continues and he continues to progress.
"I don't expect him to come out here and throw no-nos. But at the same time, we want to see how the ball is coming out of his hand, you want to see him moving the ball, how it's moving, if it has life. You hope he stays into his delivery consistently. If he can do that, he's going to be fine."
Halladay's next baby step comes Friday in Tampa against the Yankees. The first step was an encouraging one.
"I'm just trying to get my arm back to where it was," Halladay said. "The [workouts] I'm doing are allowing my lower half to be involved where last year it wasn't at all. It was all upper body. I'm trying to get back where I'm using my lower half more effectively and taking stress off my arm . . . I feel like it's coming out easier. It's that smooth feeling."