03/15/08 6:06 PM ET
Halladay leading by example
Veteran pitcher hoping to elevate team's performance in '08
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
Halladay made quick work of the Pirates at Knology Park, spinning five shutout innings in his typically swift fashion. Spring Training games don't count for much in the grand scheme of a baseball season, but that doesn't matter to Halladay. With roughly two weeks remaining before Opening Day, Halladay is getting serious.
That is the type of attitude that Halladay hopes the Blue Jays can maintain throughout the upcoming season. Earlier this spring, Toronto's top starter and quiet clubhouse leader said he believed that the Blue Jays lacked a sense of urgency a year ago, playing with different levels of intensity against different opponents.
It's an issue he hopes has been eradicated in light of the Jays' desire to compete for a playoff spot.
"I think the guys that have been here in the past," Halladay said, "are starting to get -- not frustrated -- but we're tired of finishing the same every year and not really seeing that progression that we'd like to see. That, with the fact that we're bringing in guys that play the game the right way, I think that makes a big difference."
Halladay was referring to offseason additions like third baseman Scott Rolen and shortstop David Eckstein -- players who have each captured a World Series title in their career. Similar to Halladay, Rolen and Eckstein try to lead by example, with a dedicated work ethic, speaking up and providing input only when deemed necessary.
Toronto, which has finished in third place or lower in the American League East in 13 of the past 14 seasons, wants to make a run at the Yankees and the Red Sox in the division, which is a daunting task. Over the past few years, the Jays have acquired a cast of veteran players -- such as designated hitter Frank Thomas, Rolen and Eckstein -- to complement a relatively young core.
Last season, when a wave of injuries took a drastic toll on Toronto's roster, the club relied heavily on young pitchers like Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Jeremy Accardo. Now, as those players, along with other young players on the roster, have gained experience in the big leagues, the Blue Jays hope they can realize that sense of urgency Halladay has discussed.
"As an organization, I think everybody knows that we're not in a rebuilding process, that we're trying to win," Halladay said. "For those guys, knowing that you may be young and you may be here, but we're trying to win and it's not going to be a learning process as much as a rebuilding team, I think that kind of changes the attitude for them a little bit.
"They realize that it is our responsibility to start winning games and not just progress ability-wise."
It's still only spring, so it's hard to really gauge whether or not there is a difference in the team's mentality, but Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi has liked what he's seen so far.
"This has been a really good camp in a lot of ways," Ricciardi said. "Probably more from a -- I don't want to [say] this the wrong way, but there's a lot more professionalism and a lot more sense of urgency this year in the way everybody is going about their business."
Halladay said it'll be easier to see if things are really different once the season is under way. The pitcher wants the Blue Jays to approach games against teams like the Orioles and Rays the same way they'd approach series against the rival Red Sox and Yankees.
"For me, it was just a matter of treating every series like we do Boston and New York," Halladay said. "We go and play those guys so well and then there's kind of an emotional letdown when we play some of the other teams. For me, we just can't afford to do that in our division. We have to have an attitude of trying to bury teams every chance we get.
"It's just professionalism," he added. "You have to play the game the same way every time out. It's a matter of doing your job and taking care of your responsibility on the field, and that comes down to the little things. I think that's part of guys getting older and being more professional and realizing how important those things are. Hopefully, we're getting more to that point."
If that attitude change isn't apparent, Halladay said he's willing to speak up in the clubhouse, holding Toronto's players accountable, considering what's at stake.
"I think I would, as well as a couple other guys," said Halladay, who took home the AL Cy Young Award in 2003. "That's something that everybody is conscious of at this point, and I just think we have the right guys for it, I really do."
That type of mind-set was evident in Halladay's appearance against Pittsburgh on Saturday. In what could've been used as a time to toy with his pitch repertoire, Halladay said he approached the start like he would any start during the season.
During his five innings of work, Halladay was in top form, inducing nine outs via ground ball, striking out four and walking none. The Pirates managed just four singles off the right-hander and didn't have a runner advance beyond first base until the fifth inning.
"I told [catcher Gregg Zaun] today, 'We'll just pitch like normal from here on out,' Halladay said.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.