The Philadelphia Phillies have a chance Thursday to start a pitcher with 198 career wins, two Cy Young Awards and $20 million in annual salary against the Washington Nationals.
Yet for reasons physical, precautionary and a little fuzzy, they are resisting committing one more start this season to Roy Halladay.
Halladay, 35, labored through 1 2/3 innings Saturday, surrendering seven runs in an 8-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Afterward, he revealed that he'd seen a doctor the day before to evaluate some spasms in the area of his pitching shoulder.
Halladay said he was told of no structural damage but admitted that he would have to alter the way he prepares his pitching arm for big-league baseball.
"I think I need to make some changes and do some things differently," Halladay said. "And I think that comes with age."
Halladay was clear that he would be available to pitch if necessary, and if the Phillies are still mathematically alive in the playoff race, it would be necessary. Manager Charlie Manuel, though, is already considering alternatives -- not that they are in deep supply.
The likely choice would be rookie Tyler Cloyd, who has not started since Sept. 20. But when a $20 million pitcher is iffy on regular rest in September, it is a strain ... in more ways than one.
"That makes it tough for us," Manuel said. "Right now, our starters are who they are. We have some guys in the bullpen who could throw two innings. But that would be tough on us."
Though Halladay fizzled Saturday, he'd thrown six or more innings in each of his previous three starts. But after allowing one run in 7 1/3 innings Sept. 5 against Cincinnati, he had allowed five, three and seven runs.
"You have to compete better than that," Halladay said Saturday. "It was tough. I had a hard time locating and made some bad pitches, pitches that backed up. I obviously didn't do my job."
Halladay spent nearly two months on the disabled list earlier this season with a right latissimus dorsal strain that caused him discomfort in the shoulder blade area. Manuel said Sunday that he expected team doctor Michael Ciccotti to further examine Halladay, who is signed through next season with a vesting option for 2014.
Thus, the Phillies' crossroad: Pitch Halladay on Thursday in a playoff race ... or protect him for one next season. The Phillies have posted "TBA" as their Thursday starter.
"It's been a tough year, physically," Halladay said. "Going into the DL stint, coming off the DL." He added, "I feel like I still can compete. There are times I feel good and feel like I can give us a chance. I feel that's something that can be fixed."
The Phillies have Cole Hamels ready to face the Nationals on Tuesday and Kyle Kendrick set for Wednesday.
"I think everybody is just used to seeing Roy do what he's done the last 10 or 12 years," the Phillies' other starter, Cliff Lee, said. "He's been the best pitcher in baseball. Anytime you see somebody go through struggles who is that good, you wonder why. I can't speak for him, but it is definitely not what you would expect from him.
"So that raises some questions about what is going on there. But I know what kind of worker he is and what kind of competitor he is. And he is definitely not going to give up. He is going to go out and give us a chance to win every time."
Maybe Thursday ... maybe not.