Halladay is far from ready for the 2013 season, but everybody seemed to be heartened by his effort in two innings in his Grapefruit League debut against the Tigers. He allowed one hit, one run and struck out two in two innings -- with nearly every Phillies front office executive and scout watching from the stands.
"He was filthy," said Hunter, who struck out swinging on a 1-2 changeup in the first inning. "He's always filthy to me. I haven't faced him in a couple years, but he looks good. His fastball was sneaky. He had the ball sinking, cutting. He was in and out of the zone. This is probably his first start, but if he gets better from here, he's scary -- which you know he is."
The Phillies pray Hunter is right. Halladay is trying to bounce back from one of the worst seasons of his career, and they absolutely need him to rebound if they expect to return to the postseason after missing it last year.
Halladay threw 22 pitches (16 strikes) and the radar gun had his fastball in the 89-91-mph range, which seems OK considering this is his first time pitching this spring.
"It feels a lot freer and easier right now than it did at the end of the season," Halladay said. "Arm-wise, it's less effort. My arm is in a better position. Last year, there were times when I felt like I had to throw as hard as I could to make up for the lack of [my] lower half. Especially through my bullpens and the game, I felt like my arm was in a better spot. I didn't feel like I had to try to throw really hard."
Halladay totally revamped his offseason training program, which emphasized strengthening his lower back. He said his back caused problems early last season, which eventually led to upper back, shoulder and delivery issues. He said a stronger core has his lower half stronger, which should get him back to his old self.
That is the talk, anyway.
"Really I'm just trying to get my arm back to where it was," Halladay said. "I think this stuff that I'm doing is just allowing my lower half to be more involved, where last year I feel like it wasn't at all. It was all upper half. I'm really just trying to get back to where I'm using my lower half more efficiently and taking less stress off my arm. I don't feel like ... I'm trying to throw every ball as hard as I can. I feel like it's coming out easier. It's that smooth feeling. I don't feel like I have to be herky jerky with it.
"I knew I felt good. The big thing is the ups and downs [in between innings] and trying to maintain [the good feeling]. I felt good all winter, but all winter I've been throwing 45 or 60 pitches straight. The first few times is knowing when I sit back down, get up, and still feel as good as I did. That was a tough part last year. Early on, I [felt] good but the more in-betweens I had, the tighter things would get. I was real happy with how that was [today]. In between, it was real consistent."
Halladay retired the side in order in the first inning, when Austin Jackson flied out, Hunter struck out and Miguel Cabrera grounded out weakly to second base. After he struck out Prince Fielder on a 2-2 changeup to start the second, Halladay allowed a solo home run to right field to Victor Martinez on a 2-1 cutter. Quintin Berry followed by lining out to left field and Alex Avila flied out to left, as Halladay's day ended after allowing just the single run.
"I threw some good cutters," Halladay said. "Victor Martinez was one that backed up on me. I kind of rushed it. I felt like when I stayed back and stayed on them, I threw some good ones. It's just a matter of repeating. At times, all of the three -- sinker, changeup, cutter -- I threw some good ones. It's a matter of doing it consistently. That's going to come."
Halladay makes his second Grapefruit League start on Friday in Tampa against the Yankees. He hopes it is another positive step forward.
"It's been kind of a prolonged process," Halladay said. "It's all baby steps all the way through. So for me, it wasn't really like the end of the season; there are a lot of little steps in between to where it doesn't feel like a big step. And there are going to be smaller steps as we go through spring. I feel like things are translating the way I want them to. I've felt good about the program we did all winter and the changes we made. Just hoping the rest of the steps go the way we plan them to."