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04/24/08 8:09 PM ET

Halladay holding up under heavy load

Ace righty has thrown three consecutive complete games

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was quick to dismiss any suggestion that he might be overworking ace Roy Halladay. One look at Halladay's recent pitching lines and it's hard to argue.

The issue came up in response to a segment during ESPN's Baseball Tonight show that aired on Wednesday night. Halladay turned in his third straight complete game on Wednesday and the television pundits were questioning whether or not it was smart to use Toronto's top starter so much this early in the season.

"I didn't hear that," said Gibbons, sounding surprised by the criticism. "He hasn't been abused. That's being ill-informed. That's searching. Guys are looking for something to say."

The Blue Jays would certainly face a tough situation if they were to lose a pitcher of Halladay's skill to an injury, but Gibbons doesn't believe that the pitcher's workload has been overly excessive. Over Halladay's past three starts -- his first string of at least three complete efforts since 2003 -- he's logged 334 pitches, or slightly more than 111 per outing.

In an age where 100 pitches is considered to be the target for a starting pitcher's outing, Halladay's pitch total doesn't seem alarming. In fact, Halladay's 13.07 pitches per inning ranked second in the Majors among starters, entering Thursday.

On Wednesday, when Halladay picked up a hard-luck loss against the Rays, he finished with 107 pitches in an eight-inning complete game for the Jays. Halladay logged 117 and 110 pitches in each of his previous two starts, respectively -- both of the nine-inning variety.

Gibbons noted that he and his staff pay close attention to Halladay's pitch count.

"We keep an eye on that," Gibbons said. "If he was getting abused and in a losing effort, he was throwing a ton of pitches, that's different. That's not the case. [On Wednesday], it was a one-run game and he wasn't much over [100 pitches]."

Helping Halladay is his talent for inducing ground-ball outs with his pitch-to-contact style. Entering Thursday, the right-hander led the Majors with 73 such outs. Complete games are nothing new for the ace, either. Last season, Halladay led the Majors with seven complete games and his 31 full outings since 2002 rank first among Major League pitchers.

Gibbons also cited a recent article in USA Today, in which Hall of Fame pitcher and Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan critized the use of pitch counts. In the story, Ryan said he would rid of pitch counts, if he had his way, and noted that logging high pitch totals or long outings wasn't unordinary in the past.

"It should be tailored to the individual," Ryan told USA Today. "These pitchers have to realize what their capabilities are, and build up their stamina. I remember it used to be that 300 innings was the benchmark for an ace.

"If you were a starter, you were expected to pitch at least 250 innings. Now, you may have one guy go 200 innings on your whole staff."

On Toronto's staff, that pitcher is Halladay, who turned in 225 1/3 innings last year, despite missing three weeks in May with acute appendicitis. Among Major League starters with five outings or fewer this season, Halladay ranks first with 41 innings pitched, entering Thursday.

Gibbons said it's hard for him to disagree with Ryan's take on the matter, though Toronto's manager can see both sides of the issue.

"You've heard that argument on and off," Gibbons said. "But when [Ryan] comes out and says something, that probably carries a little more weight. ... I could see both sides of it, too. I've seen some guys get injured and you think maybe we should protect him. I don't think anybody's got the answer."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.