Happ belongs in Phillies' rotation

J.A. Happ leaves the dugout after pitching seven full innings on July 12. Happ has had a pretty solid season on the whole. It's been quite a few years since Pedro Martinez could say the same. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

They were at opposite ends of the Phillies' clubhouse yesterday. Fitting since they're at opposite ends of their careers.

Pedro Martinez was lounging by his locker toward the back, while J.A. Happ stood in front of his locker near the entrance. Martinez didn't feel like talking, but Happ did.

It's been a long year for Happ. He traded his seat in the bullpen for a slot in the starting rotation. He spent much of June and July wondering if he'd have to dust off his passport for a one-way trip to Toronto. And now Happ is waiting to hear whether he'll be shipped back to the pen to make room for the garrulous former Cy Young winner.

The rest of us live in Philly. Happ lives in Flux.

"It would be nice not to have it that way," Happ said. "I feel good about the way I've pitched, and I want to remain in the rotation. But I'm not the one making the decision."

No, he's not. Decision making is the domain of Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel, but they're not eager to do any of that right now.

Yesterday, Manuel wouldn't reveal which starter - Martinez, Happ, or even Jamie Moyer - might be left without a chair when the music stops. When someone tried to pin him down on it and make him commit, Manuel joked, "I may look like I just got off the turnip truck, or someone rolled me off it . . ."

Not long after Manuel deflected questions with quips, Amaro did some artful dodging of his own on Daily News Live.

Amaro on Martinez: "We fully expect him to help us as a starter."

Amaro on Happ: "He's pitched well, and he deserves to stay in the rotation."

Then Amaro said they might even go with a six-man rotation. That will happen around the same time the Phils hold Mets Appreciation Night at Citizens Bank Park.

We get it. They don't want to decide right now. But they'll have to make a move pretty soon, because as the wise philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "It gets late early out there."

It's August. The Phils have already climbed to the top of Mount Midseason and are well into their descent down baseball's typically treacherous back side. On the horizon, they can see October. It isn't far off now. It's time for the fearless Fightin's to pick Martinez or Happ. It shouldn't be a tough choice.

Tonight in Philly, Happ will take the bump for the NL East-leading Phillies. This evening in Reading - which, incidentally, is the birthplace of such American icons as the ice cream scoop and John Updike - Martinez will make his second rehab start since signing with the Phils.

In his first outing, by his own admission, Pedro was "a little rusty," surrendering five runs in five innings on 84 pitches at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Happ's last two starts haven't been so terrific either (two loses, and an ERA over 5). But Happ has had a pretty solid season on the whole. It's been quite a few years since Pedro could say the same.

Leave Happ in the rotation, and you're fairly certain what you'll get. Take him out, and the only thing you can guarantee is that your fourth and fifth starters will have a combined age of 83. That's great if you want to get the senior citizens' discount to see Bruno at The Bridge but not so hot otherwise.

Baseball should be a meritocracy. If it's me, I'm leaving Happ where he is and shipping Pedro to the pen. Happ has earned it.

But like Happ said, I'm not the one making the decision.

The Phils held their seventh annual Gay Community Night at the Bank last evening. About 850 tickets were sold. Considering there isn't a single professional athlete in any of the four major sports right now with the courage to admit he's gay, it's refreshing that the Phillies held a public event reminding everyone that athletics aren't simply the domain of heterosexual males.

"We have a lot of group nights - Irish Night, Autism Night, Jewish Heritage Night," Kathy Killian, the team's vice president of employee and customer service, said.

Seven years ago, when Killian was the director of group sales, she helped organize the team's first Gay Community Night. "All these different groups come to us because they love the Phillies. That's a testament to the message of baseball being America's game. America is a collection of people. If you're a fan of baseball, we welcome you at our park."

The Arena Football League is reportedly set to close up shop forever. Back in February, I wrote a column about the free concert Jon Bon Jovi promised but never delivered after the Soul won an AFL championship. (The one-year anniversary of that title was last week.) In the piece, a spokesman for Bon Jovi said the hair-band rocker would "fulfill his commitment when the schedule for the return of the Soul is clarified." OK. It's clarified. So, about that concert. . . . Eagles linebacker Joe Mays wore a Phillies hat on Comcast SportsNet last night. Wait till the Birds brass finds out. There goes Mays' starting gig. . . . First he was going to the Grizzlies. Then the Heat. Then the Knicks. Now the latest rumors have Allen Iverson headed to Greece. Final nail, please meet the coffin that is A.I.'s once-great career.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.