From Ray Parrillo, live at the ballpark Thursday:
In the debate over whether or not J.A. Happ should remain in the Phillies rotation when Pedro Martinez is deemed ready, the rookie lefthander couldn’t have stated his case more strongly with his complete-game, four-hit shutout of the heavy-hitting Rockies Wednesday night.
The debate is settled.
Happ’s performance, as well as several that led up to it, has convinced the club’s brass to keep him in the rotation the remainder of the season.
“I think his whole progression has convinced everybody he should stay in the rotation,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said before today’s last of a three-game series against Colorado at Citizens Bank Park. “Happ deserves to stay in the rotation.”
With Happ’s role settled, the club still faces a difficult decision on the fifth starter. Will it be Martinez or Jamie Moyer?
Amaro said that decision has yet to be made, adding the possibility remains the team would go with a six-man rotation.
But with three scheduled days off this month, a six-man rotation doesn’t seem practical until September, when there is only one off-day scheduled.
For the most part, starters are geared to pitch every five days and too much time off between starts could negatively impact their performance.
“Going with a six-man rotation is not out of the realm of possibility,” Amaro said. “There are a lot of permutations. We haven’t discussed it yet. You never know what’s going to happen in the next week to 10 days. A guy can go down [get injure].”
The Phillies will have six starting pitchers when Martinez is activated, which will be any day. Even though Happ is 8-2 with a 2.74 earned run average, which ranks sixth in the National League, his success out of the bullpen earlier in the season, along with a rash of injuries to the relief corps, made him a more likely candidate than Martinez or Jamie Moyer to be a reliever.
With Happ remaining in the rotation, along with Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton, the Phillies must decide what to do with Martinez and Moyer. Amaro said no decision has been made, but the club appears committed to employing Martinez as a starter, and the 37-year-old righthander has expressed his desire to start. If so, that would leave the 46-year-old Moyer as the odd man out, and Moyer’s stuff is not considered effective in a relief role.
Either way, it’s a tough call. Martinez is a likely future Hall of Famer and Moyer, who has been inconsistent most of the season, is among the most respected players on the team.
“They will get our respect,” Amaro said. “At the same time, we’re in the business of winning and it’s really about making the right decision for the club and not a matter of hurting some feelings.”
Amaro was in Reading Wednesday night to watch Martinez in his third minor-league rehab assignment. Martinez struck out 11 and had no walks while allowing five hits and three earned runs in six innings. He threw 82 pitches, and Amaro said he believes he could have thrown more.
Amaro said he was impressed and indicated Martinez was ready to be activated.
“I think he can get major league hitters out with his stuff,” Amaro said, adding it was yet to be determined when Martinez would be activated. “I know it was a minor-league club, but when you have 11 strikeouts and no walks, that’s good in Little League.”
Amaro had high praise for Happ for overcoming speculation he’d be in a trade package for Toronto’s Roy Halladay and the potential distraction he’d return to the bullpen after becoming arguably the team’s most consistent starter.
Moyer will make his next start Sunday against Florida. Happ’s next turn is Tuesday.