After Brad Lidge blew his 11th save of the season Wednesday night and set-up man Ryan Madson contributed by allowing a run in the eighth, the focus once again turned to the situation at the back of the bullpen. During a post-game conversation with another writer, I floated one possible remedy: J.A. Happ. Several of you were thinking the same thing, judging by the three or four emails I received today inquiring about the possibility. And, interestingly enough, Charlie Manuel admitted tonight that the thought has crossed his mind.
Before we go any further, let me stress: Manuel said, as he has all along, that he views Happ as a starter. The lefty did not give him any reason to feel otherwise Thursday night, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings in his first full start in more than three weeks. Happ has proven to be a valuable commodity this season, routinely pitching deep into games. Lately, he has relied more heavily on his off-speed stuff, an important and impressive evolution for a young pitcher who already possesses an incredibly deceptive fastball. Happ has the stuff to be a very good major league pitcher for a long time.
But the Phillies' only concern is the present, and the present currently holds a number of uncertainties with regards to the bullpen. Chief among those uncertainties are the team's left-handed options and their options in the ninth inning of tight games. For that reason, Manuel said yesterday he viewed Happ as a potential component of the back end of the bullpen come playoff time.
"Happ's really improved as the season's gone along," Manuel said. "I like Happ as a starter. I always have. But I also see him, with the way our pitching looks, there would be a chance that he could wind up in the back end of our bullpen if we don't get some things straightened out."