You witnessed the tenacity and fire still burning inside Pedro Martinez as he launched 130 pitches Sunday night. Whether he was just getting up for a big game against his former team, or he’s been chugging from the fountain of youth, Martinez has officially become part of the fabric of this team.
The schedule says there are only 20 games remaining for the Phillies. Within those 20 are six against Florida, who stand six-and-a-half back in the NL East, and 11 more against sub-.500 opponents (Washington, Milwaukee, and Houston). The final three-quarters of a month will certainly put Pedro on display as he gears up for a run at the postseason roster. But is that all he has warranted?
Three spots in the rotation are locked up, with the fourth still as mysterious as ever. Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton will start the first three games of the Phillies first round series; that much is certain. Each has earned it. However, what becomes cloudy is the final piece to the four-man rotation.
J.A. Happ could very well be tossed back into the position he came from earlier this year. His record would indicate that he deserves to be the Phils second starting pitcher in any foursome in October. Happ’s star has shone brightly since swapping with Chan Ho Park, going 10-4 through 19 starts, posting a 2.77 ERA. Unjust as it may be, Happ’s oblique strain could force him to into yet another demotion. If you recall his exceptional Spring Training, the lanky lefty was certainly thought of as the fifth guy, until Park was handed the keys. Now, this scenario could be playing itself out once again.
The job may be given to Pedro. A stalwart during fall baseball, Martinez is absolutely dealing right now, which could set him up for the final turn after the top three. In his career, Pedro is 6-2 in postseason play, with an ERA in the mid-three’s. Layer that onto his 5-0 regular season here in 2009, and it provides the makings of an interesting coup.
Adding fuel to the combustible situation is J.A. Happ’s inning total. It has now reached 149.2, and some believe the Phillies are proceeding with caution when it comes to that figure. Last year between Triple-A Lehigh Valley and the Phillies, Happ threw 166.2 innings. His oblique injury has given the team the ability to monitor the innings pitched, although no one is really sure as to how serious the ailment is. It’s possible the Phils are using this time to rest him for the playoffs, keeping that prized extremity as fresh as possible.
To make matters worse for Happ is his skill out of the bullpen. That is uncharted territory for Martinez, but has become a familiar scene for Happ over his year-plus in the majors. And looking at the current status of the pen illustrates a beaten and broken crew.
Any way you look at it, this has become another pitching staff controversy. Charlie Manuel is a visceral creature, so to handicap a conclusion here would be a mistake. He’s shown his love for the young gun, but also gives his veterans every opportunity to succeed. Unfortunately for J.A. Happ, he could ultimately be on the wrong side of this debate once again.