PHILADELPHIA — In the past, Roy Halladay would have picked up the phone and called Harvey Dorfman for his insight.
His words and advice had proven invaluable to him. Halladay credits Dorfman, the famed sports psychologist, for much of his success as a pitcher, helping resurrect his career after a demotion from the big leagues to Class A Dunedin in 2001. But here was Halladay, two starts into the 2013 season, 0-2 with a 14.73 ERA, looking nothing like a two-time Cy Young Award winner or one of the best pitchers of his generation.
He looked lost.
Had Halladay been able to call or email Dorfman, he might have told him to keep things simple, concentrate on the task at hand and focus on the next pitch. But Dorfman died in February 2011 at the age of 75, so Halladay had no phone call to make or email to send, no chance to have Dorfman walk him through his issues and concerns.
Fortunately for Halladay, he saved nearly every email exchange with Dorfman over the last five years of his life, so before his April 14 start against the Marlins in Miami, he read the ones he sent before the 2010 postseason, when the pitcher no-hit the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series and beat the Giants in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series, despite pitching with a strained groin, to keep the series alive.
“It was pertaining to big games and big situations and must-wins and those types of things,” Halladay said last week at Citizens Bank Park. “I felt like that was something that I was kind of dealing with at that point, even though winning a game at Miami isn’t a must-win. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. As much as you read, you just never remember it as much as you wish you could.”
Halladay allowed one run on five hits and one walk while striking out two in eight innings against the Marlins. He is 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his last three starts as he gets set to face the Indians on Tuesday night at Progressive Field.
Halladay has credited an improved outlook for much of the turnaround.
“It’s a way of looking at a game,” he said. “It’s not a mental thing. It’s how you approach the game. I think coming out of Spring Training, having short outings, having some poor outings, coming back wanting to prove that I was healthy, my focus wasn’t on making pitches. My focus was on trying to prove something that necessarily didn’t need to be proven. So I just tried to readjust and get back to having my focus on singular pitches and working counts and simplifying. That has always been my bread and butter, and for some reason, I got away from that. I think just coming off the injuries that I had [in 2012], obviously, being under a microscope and a lot of questions being asked, I let that kind of divert my attention. Just getting back to really simplifying is what I always tried to do.
“And I feel like that’s what helped me get back to where I need to be.”
Halladay still has room to improve, and it is too early to say if he is out of the woods yet. In each of his last two starts, he has fallen behind more hitters than he would like and has gotten into too many deep counts. He threw 109 pitches in seven innings April 19 against the Cardinals. He threw 95 pitches in six innings against the Pirates last Wednesday.
Halladay still believes he can be that efficient pitching machine he had been in the past, carving up batters quickly and mercilessly.
It could come back to simplification.
“At times you get thinking about mechanics, you miss a pitch and you think about mechanics,” he said. “Later on in the game when you miss, it’s a miss and you go back to throwing. I think overthinking sometimes adds to that. Just getting that mentality of late in the game, trusting that it’s going to be there and letting it go.”
If these last three starts are a barometer of what Halladay can accomplish this year, the Phillies’ chances to dig out from their 12-14 start improve dramatically, although some consistent run support for the entire rotation would be welcomed.
But people at Citizens Bank Park certainly have been breathing easier seeing Halladay pitch with positive results.
“I feel good,” Halladay said. “I think that there’s always things to improve on. Obviously, getting ahead. The cutter has been getting better each time out. It’s been a little more consistent each time out, so that’s been good. Everything else is coming around. If I can stay there and be a little more effective early on in the game, I think that would be ideal.”
And if things get rough again, Halladay can always pull up those old emails or flip through Dorfman’s book, “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching,” which he still reads before he pitches.
“There’s a lot of information there,” Halladay said in March 2011. “But I think, obviously, you’re going to miss talking to him. I’m going to stick to the stuff he left behind, I think, as much as possible.”