Bill Conlin: Sixth sense: Happ will go to Phillies bullpen

Jamie Moyer hasn't pitched nearly as well as J.A. Happ, but his years of service and salary likely will keep him in the rotation.
Jamie Moyer hasn't pitched nearly as well as J.A. Happ, but his years of service and salary likely will keep him in the rotation.
Posted: August 06, 2009

HERE'S A POP quiz in honor of Pedro's most recent outing in the most chronicled rehab since Betty Ford. According to the usual reliable sources - OK, to break this news, Andy? - Pedro Martinez made what probably was his final rehab start for the Reading Phillies last night, striking out 11 in six innings, allowing five hits and three earned runs.

At the same time, J.A. Happ was starting in the Bank against the power-packed Colorado Rockies, who are running arm and bat for the wild card with the pitching-blessed San Francisco Giants. All J.A. did was throw a complete-game, 127-pitch shutout, with 10 strikeouts.

I'll get to the quiz shortly . . .

A defining moment of the 2009 season is at hand. How Charlie Manuel, his general manager and the gaggle of scouts who dropped Pedro in the manager's lap resolve some thorny issues will change the look and potential effectiveness of a pitching staff in flux.

Pedro most likely will go into the rotation and he will most certainly replace a lefthanded starter in Wrigley Field, probably Tuesday night.

It is a decision fraught with implication, drama and possible unintended consequences.

And there is a distinct chance that because major league baseball historically has a strong sense of obligation to warriors who have paid dues over many years, that the Phillies will screw this up.

Look, this is a no-brain decision. You saw the battering 46-year-old Jamie Moyer took Tuesday night - five innings, six hits, six earned runs. The rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air gave proof through his short night that his location wasn't quite there. Saying Moyer was a "little short" is like suggesting Venus de Milo needs Tommy John.

But Moyer is a hero of 2008's Magical Mystery Tour. He is a man of giving back and of all the right stuff in the clubhouse and off the field. He also is owed $6.5 million next season.

But there's more. Jamie also leads the Staff That Longballs Saved with a 10-8 record despite the distended belly of a 5.55 ERA. So there's a powerful Moyer Factor, which gets us to our pop quiz.

Question: Who has better numbers over their last 10 starts, New York Mets' $137.5 million lefthander Johan Santana? Or Phillies' $405,000 lefthander J.A. Happ?

Well, their numbers were actually fairly close until Happ mastered Colorado. Now Happ is blowing him away.

Santana is 4-5 with a 3.95 ERA. He has pitched 66 innings, allowing 66 hits, walked 21 and struck out 43. For the season, his ERA in road games is 4.48. We acknowledge that Johan pitches for a wretched, battered ballclub being sailed onto the rocks by a manager and GM working in life jackets. But the numbers are the numbers.

Happ is 4-2 with five no-decisions and a 2.6 ERA. He has pitched 75 innings, allowed 67 hits, walked 23 and struck out 56. For the season, his ERA in road games is a miniscule 1.72.

The Phillies ended their relentless pursuit of Toronto Blue Jays uber ace Roy Halladay because the asking price included Happ.

There is a certain organizational expendability that attends decisions of such weight. Happ is viewed as an overachiever who has greatly exceeded projections after a so-so 28-28 record over five minor league seasons. He has been an interchangeable piece, called up from a starter's role in 2007 for one emergency start. Called up again last year for four starts and four relief appearances. Loser to Chan Ho Park in the spring-training competition for a No. 5 spot in the shifting sands of the rotation. But all things considered, Happ has been the best starter on the staff since exchanging roles with Chan Ho to save wear and tear on outfielders and paying customers.

Investment value underlies many baseball decisions. It's no different with a ballclub than with a real-world business. CEOs of companies losing billions are strapped into golden parachutes and handed diamond-studded ripcords. They drive their Bentleys to their Hamptons mansions while the companies they mismanaged drown in red ink and stockholders watch their 401(k)s do the dead-cat bounce. The Phillies have eaten more bad paper in recent years than a family of hamsters. They wasted a $4.2 million bonus on Gavin Floyd then suffered the double horror of dealing him to the White Sox for lame-armed Freddy Garcia, followed by watching Floyd go 25-14 the past two seasons. Adam Eaton gave Pat Gillick a severe case of buyer's remorse when Dave Montgomery absorbed an $8 million hit to erase the final year of his 3-year contract off the books.

So, hell yeah, they'd blow off their big toes and send Happ back to the bullpen for the second time this year because it works for them on a couple of levels. No. 1 is they still control Happ's economics. And Moyer is not the good soldier type who would grab a hamstring and limp into one of those injury-of-convenience DL assignments. He wants the ball. Did you see the guy yammering at himself Tuesday night?

And if Ruben Amaro signed Pedro to pitch the sixth inning a couple of times a week, well, there are about a half-dozen rehabbing Phillies relievers getting ready to come back and do that. Ruben, you blew $1 million.

Charlie Manuel is on a spot bigger than the steamer trunk of weight he just chucked off his ample frame. He'll be second-guessed no matter what because there's no easy answer here.

By signing a high-maintenance legend like Pedro while he was still locked in the negotiations that eventually locked up the stunning Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco deal, Ruben done painted Old Cholly into one helluva tiny corner.

Six-man rotation, anybody? Cole Hamels looks like he could use one.

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com

|
|
|
|
|