What’s up, Doc?

When Roy Halladay took to the Turner Field mound for his first start of the season it was with an unfamiliar need to prove the doubters wrong. An uninspiring spring and an injury impacted 2012 had raised questions over the Doc’s effectiveness coming into the new campaign, and the inevitable comments regarding the advancing age and past workload of the two-times Cy Young winner had started to appear with increasing frequency.

Halladay has the deserved reputation for being a workhorse, logging an admirable 66 complete games over his career with Toronto and Philadelphia, yet his labored outing on Wednesday lasted all of 3.1 innings, during which he threw 95 pitches, surrendered 5 earned runs, and walked 3 batters. The velocity on his fastball registered lower than in previous years, and an overreliance on off-speed stuff was blatantly apparent as a result. Halladay still somehow managed to rack up 9 strikeouts during the arduous start in rainy Atlanta, but it was certainly not an outing to dispel any concerns that the Doc was not aging well.

At age 35, Roy Halladay is by no means the oldest swinger in town. Factors such as increased dietary awareness and sensible innings management, especially during the early part of a player’s development, have all contributed to longer careers in the game, while advancements in modern sports medicine, not least of all the widespread success of ‘Tommy John’ surgery in particular, have given pitchers the opportunity to extend their tenure well into the late 30’s and beyond.

However time does invariably take its toll on the body, and it’s unrealistic to expect a pitcher in his thirties to be the same guy as he was in his twenties. Many players who have enjoyed success in the twilight of their careers have stated the need to reinvent themselves as they got older, and to embrace the role of pitcher, as opposed to simply being a thrower, and this is especially true for those arms that rely predominately on power.

As a young flamethrower in Toronto, Halladay experienced a disastrous season in 2000. He was eventually demoted to Single A Dunedin to work on rebuilding his delivery, and to establish an approach not solely reliant on his then 95mph fastball. By the midway point of the 2001 season, he was back in the AL East with the Blue Jays, and had started down a road that would see him become one of the most dominant pitchers over the last decade.

While Halladay has experienced the expected drop in velocity over the last few seasons, he has bucked the trend in relation to strikeouts, and shows a K/9 ratio that has gradually increased as he gets older. He has always been more than comfortable throwing his secondary pitches for strikes, and this success has possibly masked the need for another period of reinvention until now.

Roy Halladay may well experience a few aches and pains in the short term, but his characteristic fight and guile will ultimately ensure the Doc’s long-term prognosis is good.