There was a serious air in the conference room as Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee met the media this afternoon. Everybody knew what they had witnessed. In spring training, it is possible for a pitcher to finish with an ugly line that does not match the performance as it appeared to the naked eye. That was not the case with Roy Halladay's outing against the Tigers, which looked every bit unpretty as the seven runs he allowed in 2 2/3 innings. Afterward, you could see the concern on Charlie Manuel's face.
"Yeah, it concerns me," the manager said. "But at the same time, I been in the game long enough to know that if there's nothing wrong with him, you keep working with him. If he's healthy and well and there's nothing wrong with him, then he's gotta get stretched out and everything."
Halladay says there is nothing wrong with him. He said he has been feeling lethargic, that his new workout program and the two bullpen sessions he threw prior to today's start were probably to blame. He is frustrated with his cutter, which he has not been able to locate to the non-glove side of the plate (outside to lefties). But he says he is happy that he does not feel physically compromised like he did last spring, when his body sent him spiraling downward into the most frustrating regular season of his career.
Of course, even if Halladay did have some doubt about his physical capabilities, he has the type of mentality that would convince himself that those doubts were unfounded.
Pitching coach Rich Dubee probably summed up organizational sentiment best when he was asked whether he thought Halladay could get back to the level he was at during his first two seasons in Philadelphia.
"I don't know where he is going to get back to," Dubee said. "I don't. Who does? I don't have a crystal ball, but I know that his work ethic is still there, his desire is still there, so I'll take my chances."
And so this is where the Phillies find themselves, with no choice but to believe that the man who willed his way into becoming one of the top two or three righthanders of his generation can somehow will his way into fighting shape in three weeks and keep himself there for a six-month regular season. They know that he is nearing 36 years old, and that he has thrown the second-most innings of anyone in the majors since 2006, and that such a combination can often result in a pitcher whose new normal is the way Halladay appeared today. But they also know that they have never worked with an athlete who is harder working and more determined. More than anything, they do not have many options besides belief.