PHILADELPHIA -- Before Roy Halladay threw his first pitch on Wednesday, pitching coach Rich Dubee said that the front office will have to look into a crystal ball to gauge Halladay's effectiveness in 2014, because nobody will see the finished product this season.
Halladay is just four months removed from surgery on his right shoulder, and he needs time to rest and prepare for Spring Training, like he has in the past.
"You have to try to envision what the high side could be," Dubee said before the Phillies' 3-2 loss to the Nationals.
Halladay offered an uneven performance in his third start back from the disabled list. He allowed one hit, one run and three walks in the first inning. Halladay walked a batter and hit another in the second. He then retired 12 of 13 before working out of a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the sixth.
"I was feeling sorry for him the first couple of innings," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "Then I was hating him as he went along, because he got better."
It was the 10th time in Halladay's career he walked three batters in an inning. The first five times came in a 40-game stretch from June 24, 1999, to July 2, 2001, when he went 7-11 with a 7.08 ERA. The last three came in a 32-game stretch from April 21, 2012, through Wednesday, when he went 11-12 with a 5.65 ERA.
In between, Halladay went 178-78 with a 2.94 ERA.
Halladay also hit two batters, just the 10th time in his career that has happened. But it has now happened in two consecutive starts, three times this season and four times since the beginning of last season. His command hasn't been there, but he battled with a fastball that hung in the 86-to-89-mph range.
"I feel good," Halladay said. "I felt like every step I went through, from playing catch to long toss to bullpens to games, I've hit a little bit of dead arm at each one of those points, and I felt like I kind of had that going a little bit in Chicago [last weekend] and a little bit in the bullpen before that. I felt like in my last bullpen, things were a lot better and then today I felt better, so ...
"I still feel like things can increase and, you know, the more I'm out there, the more I can gain. That's the way it's been throughout the whole process -- that dead arm, then I'll start gaining a little bit. I don't anticipate jumping to 95 or anything or something like that, but I feel like command-wise, movement-wise, I feel like I can gain throughout the rest of the year."
Halladay allowed three hits, one run, five walks and struck out five in six innings.
"The only thing that's tough, really, is coming off surgery and everything else, you're just so used to being able to repeat mechanically without thinking about it," he said. "Now your arm is in a different spot. It's more of a challenge than it was early on. It's just a matter of getting used to that. That's the part I need to be patient with and really work on in the bullpens and the side work and the games, concentrate on trying to do that."
The Phils took a one-run lead in the second inning. Cody Asche and John Mayberry Jr. started the frame with singles, Halladay advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt and both runners scored on Cesar Hernandez's two-out double into the left-field corner.
But Halladay earned a no-decision when Zach Miner allowed a towering, game-tying solo home run to left field to Ryan Zimmerman in the seventh. The Nationals then took a one-run lead in the eighth when Jake Diekman allowed a run. Diekman walked Wilson Ramos on four pitches. Ramos advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third and scored on a fielder's choice.
A couple of great defensive plays prevented the Phillies from scoring in the seventh and eighth innings. Nats second baseman Steve Lombardozzi and pitcher Jordan Zimmermann combined on a fantastic 4-1 putout to end the seventh, and in the eighth, catcher Jhonatan Solano made a nice tag to prevent Chase Utley from scoring at home.
But Halladay is the story whenever he pitches this month. The final score is inconsequential, but with Halladay a free agent following the season and the Phils with holes to fill in the rotation, they have a decision to make:
Bring back Doc, or move on?
Interim manager Ryne Sandberg, like Dubee, seems to think Halladay could look different next season following a full offseason of recovery and preseason preparation.
"I wouldn't count it out," Sandberg said about Halladay finding additional velocity on his fastball. "The way he's going now, he's healthy, he is pitching. There's talk about [there] being a great chance of gaining some velocity then."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.