On the face of it, it was one of Roy Halladay's best starts of the year.
It wasn't strictly speaking his best start -- that would either be the seven inning complete game against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 19 where Halladay retired six batters via strikeout, allowing only two runs on a pair of solo home runs, or if you prefer fewer long balls, the six inning effort against the Pittsburgh Pirates that followed on April 24, when Halladay struck out eight, surrendered only one run, and didn't let any Pirates batter leave the park. Of course, then there's the rest of his starts -- the reason the two-time Cy Young Award winner has an ERA sitting a hair under eight even after Sunday's quality start, in which he threw six innings, allowing four hits, two runs and two walks while striking out two.
It wasn't even a start that Halladay was supposed to make. Thanks to a massive extra-innings affair in a loss against the Arizona Diamondbacks the night before, the Phillies were without a starting pitcher for the afternoon game the very next day as interim manager Ryne Sandberg used that game's projected starter, Tyler Cloyd, to pitch the 12th through the 17th. Halladay was rehabbing in Low-A Lakewood and was scheduled to make two more rehab starts before coming back to the majors, but with the season already lost and Halladay being quite familiar with pitching at the MLB level already, the Phillies saw no reason not to accelerate his timetable.
Halladay's last game in the majors this season was on May 5, after which he was placed on the 60-day disabled list to undergo shoulder surgery to remove a bone spur, and repair both a partially torn rotator cuff and a frayed labrum. Just one of those injuries to a pitcher with a lot of mileage on his arm at age 36 would be scary; all three should be a career ender. And despite managing to get through six innings and pick up a win on Sunday, there's still no real indication that's not the case -- at least for the career of Roy Halladay as we knew him.
The well-known velocity problem is still there, and it still plagues him -- the veteran was at least still able to tick the gun up to 89 mph on his two-seamer, but very rarely was he able to throw it for a strike at that speed; when he was getting called strikes the pitch was generally sitting around 87. That's disappointing for fans who remember the Halladay of even two years ago, but it's not impossible for a starter to live at that velocity and still get outs as long as he maintains his command. Unfortunately, Halladay struggled with the placement of both his fastballs and his breaking balls. D-backs leadoff hitter Tony Campana turned a first-inning changeup into a triple, and Tuffy Gosewisch, playing in his eighth major league game, followed two innings later with an RBI sac fly off a fastball.
Halladay got a little help from the D-backs, who fielded a lineup featuring Campana (career .617 OPS; only 10 games in the majors this year), A.J. Pollock (.676 OPS this year), Matt Davidson (.478 OPS), Cliff Pennington (.598 OPS), Gosewich (.417 OPS), and pitcher Patrick Corbin. The only three real offensive "threats" in the lineup were Paul Goldschmidt at first base, who is having a very good year (.944 OPS) and then Adam Eaton (.709 OPS) and Didi Gregorius (.704 OPS), both of whom are having very good rookie campaigns but rely on defense for large portions of their value, something Halladay understandably interacts with very little while he's on the mound. Almost every player in that lineup strikes out between 18-20 percent of the time when they're up at the plate, and Halladay was unable to muster more than two strikeouts.
Halladay also needed 94 pitches to get through those six innings, and only 55 of those pitches -- which of course includes any ball put into play -- were strikes. So far, neither control nor command have really returned for the veteran, and with his decrease in velocity that remains a very serious problem. That's hurting his ability to tempt batters into swinging and allowing opposing hitters to sit back and wait for a belt-high fastball: this year opposing batters are swinging at 10 percent fewer pitches outside of the zone from Halladay than they were even last year, and that doesn't look like a trend that's about to turn around anytime soon.
The "good" news, to the extent that there really is any good news for the Phillies in this situation, is that Halladay's $20 million option for next year will not vest. While it remains possible that Halladay will be back in a Philadelphia uniform next year -- with guys who have been as successful for so long as Halladay has, it's more than likely he'll at least give it another go in Spring Training or later on in the year, Roy Oswalt-style -- the Phillies will probably do some housecleaning in the major league coaching staff to fit Sandberg's whims, as he appears to be the heir apparent to the job in Philly. That would remove most of Halladay's remaining connections to the Philadelphia staff as they enter a new phase of stewardship, at least in the clubhouse; it would make sense for him to look elsewhere for work.
That's even more true given that Halladay is still in search of a World Series ring, something that's eluded him across both leagues throughout his long career; Philadelphia will not be back in that conversation for at least another couple years, optimistically speaking. Halladay's start against the D-backs was partially out of need, but also out of a necessity to see where the veteran pitcher fits into the team's plans moving forward. Regardless of how well the start went, it's tough to say he fits very well at all.