10 Degrees: Doc visit could spell doom for Phillies

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Officially, Roy Halladay's odometer reads 38,116. A pitcher's mileage is best expressed in pitches thrown, and even then it's impossible to know what's going on underneath his flesh – how ligaments and tendons and muscles are conspiring to help or hinder the man who puts them through so much.

That career pitch count doesn't tell half the story, literally, because it's not even 50 percent of the pitches Halladay has thrown since arriving in the major leagues 14 years ago. There are all the between-innings warm-ups (about 20,000), the spring training work (around 10,000), the between-starts bullpen sessions (another 10,000) and the offseason tosses (somewhere in the five figures, certainly).

In other words, of course Roy Halladay's shoulder is beat up. Every pitcher's shoulder and elbow and arm is a disaster, unless he's a Terminator, the existence of which was disproven when Stephen Strasburg's elbow blew out. Just how bad Doc's shoulder is he'll learn Tuesday, and with it the Philadelphia Phillies will learn the fortunes of the rest of their season. Because without Halladay, their great rotation becomes merely good, and not enough to sustain a lineup that expects a guy with chronically shot knees and another with a slow-healing Achilles to arrive like Tywin Lannister at the Battle of the Blackwater.

This may be little more than pain, the searing stuff that oozes deep into every pitcher's arm and, for the lucky, goes away. It could be something felled by cortisone. Or it could be something bad, in which case all of baseball will offer its apologies, because …

1. Roy Halladay better epitomizes the modern pitcher than anyone – the doctor of cutting, sinking, spinning and fading, an artisan, a master, a craftsman, hitters' to bemoan and the rest of baseball's to cherish.

Shoulder weakness shut him down for about half of 2004, and that proved to be overworked muscles. Halladay, coming off his first Cy Young Award, lifted weights like a maniac so as not to fall into the post-award lazy trap. He since has pared back his weight work, focused on cardio, thrown 1,628 2/3 innings and booked six top-5 Cy Young votes, including a second victory.

Halladay is 35 now, and that his arm has made it this long without an incision makes him something of a freak. We sometimes fail to remember a truism: Our best pitchers also are our healthiest. Nobody reaches the plateau of greatness without a willing limb, and it's why when …

2. Jered Weaver left his start Sunday night, the Angels were thankful it was a lower-back injury and not something with a shoulder or an elbow. This is not to minimize back problems; plenty of pitchers' careers have been derailed by backs that lock up. Just not 1/100th that of arms.

In a lot of ways, Weaver is to the AL what Halladay is to the NL: an extreme command-and-control right-hander with an arm slot lower than most. While he doesn't have quite the array of stuff, Weaver is a bona fide ace and No. 1, a title only a handful of pitchers in baseball own, and losing him for any extended period of time would crush an Angels team on the mend.

[MLB Full Count: Watch live look-ins and highlights for free all season long]

What caused the injury is unclear. Weaver's delivery is among the most unorthodox in the game, an across-the-body whip because of a release point 3 feet from the center of the plate unmatched by even Justin Masterson. The closest thing to Weaver, actually, comes from the left side in the form of …

3. Chris Sale, who, oh, by the way, struck out 15 in 7 1/3 innings Sunday. Buried in the Chicago White Sox's bullpen for the last two seasons, in part because the team worried his delivery would lead to arm injuries, Sale looked fantastic over his first five starts until his elbow started barking.

The White Sox backed him out of the rotation and named him closer. "It's the best way to keep him healthy and strong," pitching coach Don Cooper said.

A week later, he was back in the rotation. Because it was … the best way to win games?

Shifty logic aside, Sale now has allowed one run in his last 19 2/3 innings (on an Albert Pujols homer) and has struck out 28 against five walks. He has lost about 3 mph on his fastball, but at around 92 mph it remains potent, particularly with a much-improved changeup and a mean slider that tilts like a pinball machine. Say what you will about a cutter, but a great slider can turn a pitcher from an also-ran into …

4. James McDonald, anything but these days. McDonald epitomizes a Pittsburgh Pirates team that with four consecutive wins has snuck to within three games of the NL Central lead. Now, we did this song and dance last year, in which the Pirates smoke-and-mirrored their way to contention for the season's first four months until choking on their own success the final two.

The pitching this year seems plenty more legitimate, though, and McDonald is at the forefront. He added a slider last year that he honed this season and throws about 20 percent of the time. It's more a slurve than a hard slider, and it has become a favorite of McDonald's to bury hitters: He has thrown it half the time on 1-2 counts and more than a quarter of the time on all two-strike counts.

[Related: Pirates' walkoff plunking is game-changing play of the week]

Eight shutout innings against Cincinnati dropped McDonald's ERA to 2.20 and pushed his record to 4-2, which would be far better if the Pirates' lineup weren't Andrew McCutchen and a who's who of "Who?" Pedro Alvarez gets on base barely a quarter of the time. Neil Walker is a glorified singles hitter. Jose Tabata is like Alvarez and Walker's awful baby. Clint Barmes has two walks in 147 plate appearances, which Luke Ravenstahl is trying to make an arrestable offense.

Before buying into the Pirates, take heed: They've been outscored by 23 runs. Still, McDonald's emergence after leaving the Dodgers looks real and reminiscent of when …

5. Paul Konerko was dealt to Cincinnati for reliever Jeff Shaw, then shuttled along four months later to the White Sox for Mike Cameron. All he has done since is hit 400 home runs.

And while it seems late to make a spirited run at the Hall of Fame – he's just another in a generation of big-number-producing first basemen – Konerko's revival continues four years after his production cratered and decline looked inevitable.

What Konerko's doing now – batting a major-league-leading .395 with a big-league-best .471 on-base percentage and a .671 slugging percentage exceeded only by Josh Hamilton's – is made all the more incredible by his 36th birthday having come in March. The next-highest OPS among a player his age is David Ortiz's, more than 200 points lower, and Konerko's May in particular has turned silly.

Since the month began, his batting average is .410 (better than Chooch Ruiz's .405 and the incredible Melky Cabrera's .404), his OBP is .505 (best in the bigs, too) and only five players – not including his partner in mash, Adam Dunn – top his .683 slugging percentage. How …

6. Giancarlo Stanton, one of those at .724, ever went 19 games to start the year without a homer just seems wrong. He sneezes at balls and they go 472 feet. He stares at them and they fly 396 out of fear. He looks at them and they jump 200 feet on principle.

If only he could close.

For now, the Miami Marlins are fine penciling Stanton's name into the cleanup hole and letting him use a bat that looks like a toothpick in his hands to swat balls and break things. First it was a scoreboard. Next, hopefully, will be the monstrosity in center field. Perhaps he can send one to the bullpen as a welcome souvenir for when …

7. Juan Oviedo, like Stanton a Marlin with a brand-new name, returns from serving the eight-week suspension Major League Baseball levied Sunday afternoon for falsifying his identity and keeping up the ruse throughout the first six years of his career.

Between now and July 22, when Oviedo can return, the Marlins play 46 games. Essentially, MLB is saying players who sneak through the system and embarrass the league are as bad as steroid users. And 46 times worse than those who drive drunk.

Now: Oviedo, previously Leo Nunez, didn't take MLB's offer of amnesty in 2008. Seemingly that would have absolved him of all troubles. So Oviedo, even though he made a decision plenty of us would make as well, is no innocent victim. The severity of the punishment, however, reflects the seriousness with which baseball wants to enforce its rules in Latin America – and the harsh lengths to which it will go to do so.

If Oviedo returns in top form, perhaps he could provide the sort of back-end option Heath Bell hasn't. And with three series against the Washington Nationals and …

8. Bryce Harper the Marlins may need the help. Because by then, if Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Drew Storen and others from the Nats' walking wounded have returned, the NL could go through Washington.

Harper has settled into the Nationals' lineup, and all he's doing is hitting .286/.372/.514 as a 19-year-old. Factoring in a few off-days, Harper should end up with around 550 plate appearances if he stays healthy. Only five players 19 or younger have logged so many. The high OPS was Buddy Lewis, in 1936, at .746. The most home runs for a 19-year-old were Tony Conigliaro's 24, and while Harper may not reach that, his power is blossoming, and goodness is it fun to see.

Well, fun from a distance, and sort of frightening if a 113.1-mph bullet is sent your direction. This poor woman saw Harper's opposite-field tractor beam off Jonny Venters coming her way and went into the fetal position.

Perfect. A new slogan. Bryce Harper: Making fans cower like infants with his bat.

OK. Maybe that doesn't work. Hey …

9. Gio Gonzalez makes batters cower like infants with his stuff, and he has had even more to do with the Nationals' success than the rookie.

Yes, the Nationals gave up a hefty package to Oakland for Gonzalez this offseason: Tommy Milone (who has a 3.64 ERA and is averaging more than 6 1/3 innings a start), Derek Norris (a catcher raking at Triple-A), Brad Peacock (51 strikeouts in 55 Triple-A innings) and A.J. Cole (struggling mightily in Class A).

And it's been worth every morsel of talent and penny of the five-year, $42 million extension they handed him. Gonzalez is 7-1. He leads the NL with 79 strikeouts. His 2.04 ERA is third. Since Gonzalez's first start of the year, opponents are hitting .134, getting on base at a .224 clip and slugging .211. Essentially, he's turning entire lineups into pitchers.

In the NL East, that used to be the domain of …

10. Roy Halladay until his shoulder started acting the fool. This is not something from his recent start only, either. It has bugged him on and off this season, sapping his velocity and turning his ERA a pedestrian 3.98 even if his peripherals haven't predicated the spike.

Ever since 2001, when Halladay rebuilt his delivery and turned into the pitcher we now know, he has been baseball's Timex, its paragon of consistency. Licked? He ticks anyway. Four seasons leading the NL in innings pitched. Four more with at least 220 innings. Tons of pitches. And outs.

He's the sort whom anyone can take for granted, even those closest to him. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was talking earlier this week about just how special it is to have a pitcher who survives even a decade without arm surgery, and he said: "Look at Halladay. Hope that doesn't change."

Manuel is hoping harder than ever today, where an MRI will look inside one of the most important shoulders in the game and render its judgment. Baseball can be a cruel game. All those miles add up. And all pitchers do is hope against hope they can keep outrunning the inevitable.

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