CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Roy Halladay spoke assuredly as he stood in front of his locker Saturday at Bright House Field.
He said he feels strong. He said he has another click or two on his fastball. And he said he will be ready to pitch and pitch effectively April 3 against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.
"I feel like I'm ready," he insisted. "I feel like physically, I'm ready."
Things looked and felt differently during the four innings he pitched at Carpenter Complex, where he faced Triple-A hitters from the Toronto Blue Jays. Eleven of the 18 batters he faced reached base. He got just three swings and misses with Blue Jays batters hitting numerous balls hard as he had trouble putting away hitters deep in the count. His fastball consistently hit 87-89 mph on the radar gun, hitting 90 mph once in the first inning.
He officially allowed three runs, although he had the bases loaded with two out before the first inning was cut short after reaching his pitch limit.
Maybe Halladay struggled because he is behind schedule. He pitched just one inning because of a stomach virus in his last start Sunday against the Orioles at Bright House Field. He lost eight to 10 pounds because of the illness, sapping energy and strength in the process. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his previous start March 12, which he attributed to lethargy following an extra bullpen session in between starts.
"My goal today going in was to feel good, be strong all the way through, to feel like my arm slot was repeating, and I felt like that was there," said Halladay, asked if the results mattered to him. "I think going in with the plan that we had, trying to go as hard as we could, as much as we could, against a Minor League team probably isn't the best plan. But that's kind of what we needed to do. It's going to be something that's going to be important for me during the season -- to be able to go hard and soft counts. It's something we had to work on, and if I'm going to go pitch and try to win, I'm going to throw as much soft as I can. That wasn't the goal today."
Much has been made about Halladay's velocity since last spring, when it took a noticeable dip from the 2011 season. Halladay said last spring he was healthy, but it was revealed later he was battling lower-back problems.
Halladay and the Phillies maintain he is healthy again this year.
But he is not throwing as hard as he has in the past. He hit 89-91 mph on the gun in his first two Grapefruit League starts. It dropped to the 86-88 mph in the following three, before landing in the 87-89 range Saturday.
So he saw some improvement Saturday.
"I think there's more there," he said. "I really do. I kept telling [pitching coach Rich Dubee], it was hard to step on it out there. You've got a mushy mound. It was hard to kind of use your legs to drive the ball, because if you did, you're kind of sliding around a little bit. So I feel like there's more in there.
"I felt like I didn't want to go out there and overdo it. But I do feel like there's an extra click or two. And I feel like I can repeat it easier. So that was the great thing about today. I felt like it wasn't a lot of effort, where last year it was everything I had and it's 87-88. And it's everything I had. And now I feel like I can repeat it nice and fluid. And it's coming out of there easy. And I felt like if I needed to add to it, I could."
But what if that's it? What if Halladay sits 88-89 the entire season?
Can he win like that?
"Yeah, really, that's probably something I'll have to do more," he said. "I'm going to have to pitch that way. Add. Subtract. The older you get, unfortunately, you don't always have the ability to go harder, harder, harder. That's something you have to adjust to. Change your spots, change your location. I feel comfortable I can pitch in that area. If I need a click or two, I have it. When you get older, you're not going to throw 95, 96 the whole game."
Halladay said it has not been difficult mentally to pitch knowing he can't hit 93-95 mph anymore.
"To me, it's a competition," he said. "It's not a boxing match. It's not a strength versus strength. It's a chess match. It's a competition of the mind and execution and being smarter and being more prepared. To me, that's what I've enjoyed. That's what I've liked about baseball.
"You look at a Jamie Moyer. He could compete with the best of them. He would've gotten knocked out in the first round if he was a boxer. It's just a different mentality. It's not about the strength and throwing harder and overpowering guys. It's about outsmarting and being more prepared and being more consistent. That, to me, is a challenge."
He also said his cutter has been a challenge this spring. He has been fiddling with his grip, but the pitch is not there yet.
The cutter has been a very important pitch for Halladay in the past, and he needs it working April 3, when he faces the Braves.
"I felt like toward the end, I felt like at least I felt a grip that was more comfortable and a release point that was more comfortable," he said. "So, it's nice to have that to work off of. And I think going into the last start will be more like a regular start, where you're trying to mix pitches like you normally would during a game. I think being able to figure out that cutter grip today, I can work on that in my bullpen more, and then my next time out, I feel like we can go out and pitch like I would pitch during a game."
There are certainly skeptics out there. Halladay has not been himself since 2011, and it is fair to ask if he simply is running out of bullets. He turns 36 on May 14. He has pitched 2,351 1/3 innings from 2002-12, which ranks third in baseball. He has thrown 34,423 pitches in the regular season and postseason in that span, not including Spring Training games, bullpen sessions and warmups.
He said he is good to go. The results Saturday said differently.
The proof will come April 3, when he faces a tough Atlanta lineup.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.