Roy Halladay is 6-6 with a 3.80 ERA in his third season with the Phillies. (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)
Roy Halladay left the field after the eighth inning in a 1-1 game on Friday night looking like he had plenty left in the tank. And if the ninth inning had started with the same score, he might have returned to the field.
Halladay allowed one run on two hits in his Friday night gem against the Cardinals. He struck out eight and didn't walk a batter. He did hit one batter, but limited the Cardinals to three baserunners, none following his hit by pitch to Yadier Molina which led off the fifth inning. With a little help from Chase Utley, that turned into his sixth win of the season.
Halladay's previous start against the Cardinals had been a telling one. Molina hit a grand slam off Halladay in the first inning to give the Cardinals a 4-0 advantage in an eventual 8-3 Cardinals win. Halladay settled down from a 26-pitch first inning to throw just 10 pitches in the second, but exited the game after that with an injury.
Halladay was out for six-to-eight weeks after that. There was clearly something wrong.
Doc's first three starts of the season were vintage. He pitched eight innings of two-hit ball in shutting out the Pirates on Opening Day. He allowed one run to the Marlins while cruising to his second win six days later. He allowed two runs to the Giants, but was very much in control again, lasting eight innings to get his third win.
Then he took a hard-luck loss to the Padres, allowing two runs in seven innings in an eventual 5-1 Padres win. The same happened against the Cubs, allowing just three runs in seven innings in a 5-1 Cubs win.
Then came the start that really said it all. May 2, Halladay had a 6-0 lead against the Atlanta Braves after cruising through four innings. Game over, right? Wrong. The Braves put up six runs in the fifth, two more in the sixth, and Halladay and the Phillies were stunned. While the Phillies would rally back twice and force extra innings, they would eventually lose the game.
Halladay's return from the DL has been slow until recently. He had to ease his way back in his return against the Cubs. He struggled against the Brewers. He pitched well in a losing effort against the Braves.
But when Doc twirled seven shutout innings against the Diamondbacks on August 3, there was a sense that he was finally starting to get his form back.
Upon entering the ballpark on Friday, I was skeptical. I will admit now, this was my first time seeing Doc this season.
What was nice to see was a consistent fastball velocity. Halladay never had the ability to overwhelmingly overpower, topping off at around 93 mph in his best years. On Friday, his fastball was consistently 91-92 mph, with a cutter that topped off at 90 mph.
The best thing about Doc on Friday was the use of his curveball. Halladay threw 99 pitches in his eight innings. 25 of them were curveballs. According to ESPN's stat service, Halladay threw 12 curveballs with two strikes and got eight outs as a result, six of them on strikeouts. That was three more than he had in any other start this season.
It was the most life I had ever seen on Doc's curveball. And for the way his season has gone, it was a welcome sight. I think it is safe to say that Halladay's struggles were due to the injury.
Sure, his velocity will still be in decline for the next several seasons, and rightly so. Halladay is 34, not 24. If there's one thing I thought of while watching Halladay work through the Cardinals' lineup, it was his surprising frequency in using the curveball, and how he appeared to gain more confidence using it throughout the season.
While Halladay's pitch type percentages show he actually has thrown curveballs on roughly 25 percent of his pitches this season, there just seemed to be something different.
Halladay takes pitching very seriously, much more so than other pitchers in the game. He keeps track of every pitch he has thrown. His fastball was about as good as it may get at this stage of his career. His curveball was unhittable.
Aside from Carlos Beltran's second-inning home run, nothing was hit deep. Bats shattered, anything in the air was weakly hit and easily playable, ground balls were hit right at awaiting fielders. Hopefully, he'll look at this start as a guide to pitching the rest of the season, and perhaps the rest of his career.
He has to throw fastballs, even as the velocity decreases. But he seemed to have something figured out. Doc may have to rely a little more on his breaking pitches and his heavily moving cutter, but if he can get hitters out with the ease that he did on Friday, then there may still be plenty left in the tank for Doc in his career.
Kevin Durso is a contributor for Philliedelphia. You can follow him on twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.