ATLANTA -- Despite reassurances and proclamations everything would be fine with Roy Halladay, privately the Phillies could not have been completely surprised with what they witnessed Wednesday at Turner Field.
Halladay has not pitched like himself in quite some time.
Nobody knows if he will regain that dominant form, but on this night, he slogged through 3 1/3 innings in a 9-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves, which only swelled concerns and doubts following a troubling Spring Training. He allowed six hits, five runs, three walks and two home runs, although he also struck out nine to become the first pitcher since 1916 to strike out nine in less than 3 2/3 innings.
"I'm going to fix it. I'm going to fix it," said a visibly aggravated Halladay in front of his locker. "It will be fixed. And the results will be better.
"I'm frustrated. I should have gotten deeper than that. Not aggressive enough early in the count and went deep counts, and that's the most frustrating part, really. I'm going to clean that up and be more aggressive. I've got to be more aggressive getting ahead of guys and putting guys away. I can't take three or four pitches to put guys away. We can take ground balls earlier in the count and do something to be more efficient and go deeper. I'd rather get beat 20-0 and pitch eight innings than pitch 3 1/3. So that's got to change. But I felt good, felt good in the bullpen and felt good on the mound."
The right-hander threw 95 pitches, but just 55 strikes. Forty-seven of those pitches were offspeed, as he seemed to get away from his fastball following a rough first inning. His bloated pitch count forced Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to take the ball from Halladay's hand in the bottom of the fourth inning.
But Manuel, like Halladay, put a positive spin on things afterward.
"I still say he's going to be all right," the manager said.
The Phillies only can hope, because if Halladay continues to struggle like this, their chances to return to the postseason take a hit.
Halladay's first inning could not have gone much worse. He allowed three hits, three runs, two walks and one home run as he threw 40 pitches (23 strikes) to hand the Braves a 3-0 lead. Jason Heyward got jammed on a 90-mph cutter, but muscled the ball to right field for a one-out single. Justin Upton followed and fell behind 0-2, but crushed a 91-mph fastball to right-center field for a two-run home run.
"We talked about going away to him," Halladay said of the pitch to Upton. "If we were going in, we were going to stand him up. We went in with a low target, which isn't what we wanted to do. You're not going to get him out there. What I wanted to do wasn't executed."
Halladay walked Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla before Juan Francisco hit a 1-1 cutter past Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard for a single to score Freeman.
Halladay hit 92 mph once with his fastball, but he found most of his success with his offspeed pitches. He struck out three batters in a perfect second, coming on two changeups and one curveball. He struck out two more batters in the third, coming on changeups. Halladay's first eight outs came on strikeouts before Francisco grounded out to Howard to end the third inning.
But the Braves continued to hit anything hard, including Evan Gattis' solo home run to left field in the fourth inning. The homer came on a 0-1 cutter tracked at 88 mph.
"Not velocity-wise," said Heyward, when asked if Halladay looked like the pitcher the Braves had seen in the past. "But he has a lot of weapons. So it was no surprise to see the strikeouts. Once he gets two strikes against you with him, he can go whatever way he wants and pick at you. We did wear him down and we made sure we got some pitches to hit. When we hit him, we hit him hard."
Halladay recorded his only out on a cutter or sinker when he struck out Braves pitcher Paul Maholm for his only out in the fourth.
"The cutter was better, the sinker was better," Halladay insisted. "Everything was better, and that's the frustrating part. You go into the bullpen and feel so good, go into the game and feel good. You're making quality pitches; four or five pitches over the course of a game cost you. ... I feel the arm strength is there where every pitch doesn't have to be on the black. It just has to be down so we can get more ground balls and be more efficient. That's something we need to work on and address -- quickly."
Asked if he understood the concerns about his results or if he thought the doom-and-gloom talk was ridiculous, Halladay said, "I feel like the progressions have been there, the results haven't, and that's frustrating. But I feel like they are going to come. I want them to come sooner than they have, and I'm pushing for them to come sooner than they have, and sometimes that's part of the problem."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.