CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies haven't revealed how they plan to line up their rotation once the regular season starts beyond the fact that Cole Hamels will get the Opening Day assignment against the Braves in two weeks. Logic, and the order the starters have been used in Grapefruit League play, however, suggest that Roy Halladay would be the next guy to get the ball.
But the two-time Cy Young Award winner had to leave Sunday's 5-3 win over the split-squad Orioles at Bright House Field after one inning with a stomach virus. That came five days after he gave up six runs on seven hits and a walk in 2 2/3 innings; after that game he said he was working on things.
So it's fair to wonder, even if everything goes well the rest of the spring, whether Doc can be completely ready when the bell rings. His Grapefruit League ERA, after all, is 6.75. And the clock is tick, tick, ticking.
The Phillies not only insist he can be, but that he will be. Skeptics will point out that he was advertised as completely healthy last season as well, but later admitted to having back problems in Spring Training and then went on the disabled list with a strained shoulder in May.
Erik Kratz, who caught Halladay on March 12 when he was knocked around by the Tigers and again Sunday, said he was "100 percent" confident that the 35-year-old right-hander will more resemble the dominant ace of 2011 than the pitcher who struggled last season.
"I think there's something to be said when competitive people don't do as well as they want," Kratz said. "He would never say it, but there were some issues he was dealing with last year that he was trying to fight through. And fighting through those shows his competitiveness. ... I'm excited, let's put it that way.
"The last time his cutter wasn't cutting, he wasn't locating his pitches where he wanted to, so when you're trying to work on things, you're continually banging your head against the wall and trying to get it done and he wasn't able to do it. This time he was able to do it pretty well -- very well. He was executing his pitches. His cutter was cutting, his sinker was sinking and he was throwing them on the corners. For him, that's huge. I don't have any idea what his velocity was and that's neither here nor there, because when he's on, he's locating his pitches. And he was able to do that."
Halladay's fastball, according to scouts who watched the game from behind the plate, was in the 86-88-mph range and his breaking pitches lacked bite. The velocity is still down, but it's hard to know whether it's because he's continuing to have problems or if it was because he was sick.
"I actually thought he was better," said pitching coach Rich Dubee. "I haven't looked at velocity or anything like that. But he threw some sliders that had some action to them, and doing it with no legs, really. I thought he was fine.
"He'll probably [throw next] on his regular turn. We'll see how sick he is. I didn't know if he'd make it out of the bullpen. He was bad. But he got cranked up and warmed up fine again. I didn't know how long he was going to be able to go, because I knew he was going to get weak and I knew he had some problems with his stomach. But we've got an extra start this spring. He's still got a couple more. So I'm not at all [worried]."
Halladay, who was not available after the game, gave up a hit and a walk in a scoreless top of the first. It's possible he has the same bug that caused closer Jonathan Papelbon to be sent home before the game.
Charlie Manuel also expressed confidence that this is nothing more than a minor setback.
"We'll get him healthy," Manuel said. "He's going to be fine. It won't hurt him. We'll see how long he's sick, but that shouldn't hurt him. He'll be ready when the season opens."
Kratz certainly thinks so.
"He [threw] a lot better," the catcher said. "The other day we were trying to work on some things, and there were some situations where it was, 'Hey, we're probably going to go away from something that was working.' He was persistent, trying to get that pitch, trying to get a couple of pitches going. So it's harder to evaluate. But definitely, his stuff was way better.
"A guy with less experience, you'd probably worry, but maybe he'll throw a few more pitches in his next outing, his next bullpen. He's had these situations before. I think you can really set yourself back if you go out there throwing sick. It's kind of like throwing hurt. If he had gone out there and thrown 50 or 60 more pitches under those conditions, it probably wouldn't have been good for the long term."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.