Mixed results from Happ's latest rehab outing

J.A. Happ struck out four but gave up a three-run homer in five innings pitching for Reading.
J.A. Happ struck out four but gave up a three-run homer in five innings pitching for Reading.
Posted: June 24, 2010

READING - As the ball sailed over his head, J.A. Happ didn't bother looking back.

No need to. Bowie's Robbie Widlansky cranked a shot deep over the rightfield fence and Happ immediately walked toward his catcher for a new ball.

Back to the drawing board.

After another up-and-down rehab start, Happ may not be ready to rejoin the Phillies. In his fourth appearance since feeling tightness in his left forearm, an 8-3 win for the Reading Phillies over the Bowie Baysox last night, Happ said he felt pain-free. But if velocity is the chief indicator, he still isn't himself. He still seems to be operating at a gear much lower than what he should be.

At times, Happ showed control - he didn't allow a walk and struck out four. But with his fastball hovering in the mid-to-upper 80s, Happ scattered seven hits over five innings and allowed the three-run homer.

Earning the win, Happ threw 88 pitches (55 strikes, 33 balls). Afterward, he was optimistic.

"Tonight is probably the best I've felt," he said. "I'm definitely happy to report that. I got the pitches in and started to feel better with my body and where the ball was going."

Since being put on the disabled list April 22, Happ's progress has been discomforting. After one start in Clearwater, he had two shaky outings for Reading on June 13 and June 18. His fastball was lagging in the 80s as he allowed 11 hits and eight earned runs in only 7 1/3 innings.

So after another similar start, Happ's return to the majors remains uncertain. His fastball is stagnant, indicating that maybe his arm isn't at full strength. Happ was pleased, outside of the one bad pitch, of which he said he didn't deliver the fastball with enough "conviction." He expects to reclaim a starting spot in the rotation whenever he's called up.

As for that velocity issue? The fastball that should be touching 92, 93 mph?

"It's not quite there but it's not what the board is reading," Happ said. "It's better. We're getting reports at what it is. It can be a little bit higher than that and I expect that it will be, but it just might not come back right yet."

Pitchers are allowed 30 days on a rehab assignment, which would give Happ two more starts. Soon after that, the Phillies will need to make a choice: Activate Happ or send him back to the disabled list.

Reading pitching coach Bob Milacki doesn't see this injury as a debilitating setback.

"It's just another bump in the road," Milacki said. "I think he's mature enough to get through that. He knows his body well enough to where he knows what he needs to do. He has played the game long enough to know that."

At times, Happ showed command. He coaxed one Bowie batter to swing badly on a molasses-slow 67 mph curveball. Maybe he is turning the corner, which would be a well-timed boost to the Phillies. Just a year ago, Happ's emergence was one mini-revelation that helped the Phillies return to the World Series. He went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Slumping in the standings, the Phillies could use him. It's up to management to determine whether Happ returns to the majors or remains surrounded by quirky mascots and Mr. Belding - yes, the former "Saved by the Bell" principal who was in attendance last night.

Happ hopes to head East soon.

"Whenever they want me," Happ said, "I know I'm ready to go."

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