Roy Halladay pitched against the Toronto Blue Jays today. His line: four and a third innings, six strikeouts, eight hits, two runs.
We Phillies fans may want to get used to that.
Something is wrong with the Doc. Meaning, of course, that he's no longer the superhuman ace we grew to love from 2010 on. There are no more perfect games or no-hitters in his future. His Cy Young total will forever hold steady at two.
Maybe he's concealing (or battling through) a nagging injury. Maybe he's still adjusting to his body's new age-enforced limitations. Or maybe he's just burned out, done as a capable starting pitcher.
I'm voting number two; there are probably persuasive arguments for all three.
We'd hoped to receive a legitimate answer in spring training. How does he look? Was last year's mediocre performance, specifically the horrific final few months, an aberration?
But none were given. Today's start was apparently more of the same: he looked good, not great. He labored at times; his command was off. He touched 91 MPH but mostly sat between 88 and 90.
Afterwards, Halladay and pitching coach Rich Dubee were optimistic. And they should be; hope springs eternal, right? But it's starting to feel more and more like everyone's afraid to accept the inevitable.
It could all come unraveled in a jiffy; Doc's scheduled to start the second game of the 2013 season. His opponents will be the Atlanta Braves: Justin and B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman. There's no Chipper Jones, no Brian McCann, and Dan Uggla is a shell of his former self, but that's a solid lineup.
And if Halladay is still chucking 88 MPH fastballs down the pipe, still pretending like he's one start, one inning, one good pitch away, he's going to get clobbered.
We always thought Roy would go down throwing; we just never envisioned it being so soon.
I'm convinced that Halladay can still be a quality starting pitcher. More than a few top arms have reinvented themselves, starting relying more on deception and control, less on velocity and pure stuff.
But it's time to acknowledge that if his fastball speed stays down a tick, if his cutter isn't cutting, if his control has dissipated, he'll never come close to being "Roy Halladay" again. There are numerous ways this can end; none of them involve 20 wins or an ERA around 2.
At the end of the day, I think the biggest issue is Halladay recognizing what his 35-year-old frame can and can't do. This is the kinda guy who runs stadiums on his day off, the first one at workouts, an inspiration to so many; one of the hardest-working pitchers, if not the hardest, to ever come through Philadelphia.
If anyone is going to refuse to accept his own mortality, it's Roy Halladay.
Yet, here we are. We can see it with our own eyes. And so much is resting on this season: One year left on his contract, the team's last real chance to compete for the playoffs with this ragtag bunch of old-timers. They won't get it done without three aces, and no one fears for the other two.
Forget about Chase Utley's knee and Ryan Howard's ankle, Dom Brown's potential and Delmon Young's racism slash refusal to take a pitch. This season, and any opportunity the Phillies may have to achieve glory, rests on Roy Halladay.
He doesn't have to be a superstar. He doesn't have to take home any special hardware. And we won't burn him in effigy if he comes up short.
If he does, however, his team is cooked, and his time in red pinstripes is over. And the emotion I felt while typing that sentence reminds me why everyone associated with the team has a cautious smile plastered to his or her face.
We don't want to lose Doc, and we certainly don't want to see him break down before our eyes. But it's April in four days, and baseball starts in three. One way or another, we're soon to find out the truth about Roy Halladay.