The Phils should have J.A. Happ start Game 3.
Rich Hofmann, Daily News Sports Columnist
Maybe this is a repeat of Game 1. Maybe Cole Hamels pitches like Cliff Lee, going nine innings, or lots of innings, and saving Phils manager Charlie Manuel from the bullpen decisions upon which this entire National League Division Series was expected to pivot.
Maybe, maybe not. And you wonder what it meant that J.A. Happ and Ryan Madson were both throwing in the ninth inning of Game 1, with the Phils leading by 5-zip at the time.
There are theories. One is that Happ was just getting in his normal throwing between starts. The way that theory goes is, Happ was only going to be a bullpen option in Game 1, that Manuel really wants to start Happ in Game 3 on Saturday night in Denver, and that when he wasn't needed in the series opener, that was that.
Another theory is that Happ remains very much ready if the Phillies need him to get out a tough lefty late in the game -- at which point he would still be available to start Game 4 on Sunday. Manuel has done nothing to discourage talk either way -- he has spoken in perfect circles on the issue for days now.
I understand what Manuel is thinking here, creating this hybrid role for Happ. But now that he has Game 1 in his back pocket, I think he ought to get Happ out of the bullpen and get him ready to start Saturday night. To me, it is unlikely that Game 2 will be decided when Happ has the ball in his hand. The moment will come later, with Madson in the game, or Brad Lidge. The nightmare scenario would involve Happ pitching in Game 2 and the Phillies losing anyway -- and, depending upon the number of pitches he had to throw, wondering when he would be able to pitch next. You would have expended a key piece for nothing. Again, that's the nightmare.
I think you make this calculation, if Hamels can't carry you today: Lee in Game 1, Happ in Game 3, Lee in Game 5. You do that and you take your chances. You do that and maximize your chances, in my mind. Again, I understand the imperative of Game 1 in a five-game series, understand why you might want to use Happ to help win that opener. But now that that's done, I think this is your best shot.
And, of course, Hamels has a chance to make it all moot anyway.
UPDATED: At his pre-game press availability, Manuel would not be cornered on his Game 3 starter, saying he probably would announce it after the team's Friday workout in Denver. Asked if he imagined it would be Happ if he were not needed out of the bullpen in Game 2, Manuel laughed and said, "I don't imagine nothing. Seriously."