While neither of them would ever admit to thinking of it this way, Pedro Martinez and J.A. Happ were dueling last night. With Pedro about ready to complete his rehab and return to the big leagues, the Phillies can't stall much longer in making a decision about how the back-end of the rotation will look.
On paper, it's a duel that Happ clearly won. He dominated the Colorado Rockies last night, pitching a complete game shutout with 10 strikeouts in a 7-0 victory. Martinez, meanwhile, had a solid outing of his own. He struck out 11 in six innings against the Yankees AA affiliate. However, he did give up three runs.
That clearly seems to favor Happ. He had the better game and did so against better competition. But this is not an even playing field. For Happ is but a 26 year-old rookie and Martinez is a three-time Cy Young Award winner who will have a plaque in Cooperstown in the next ten years.
Despite Martinez's credentials, this start should convince the Phillies that Happ needs to stay in the rotation. Happ is now 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA. He is a NL Rookie of the Year candidate and has been the Phillies' most effective starter this year. Martinez, on the other hand, struggled in the majors last year and has not been overly dominant in the minors. This last start was encouraging, but aside from the strikeouts, it's no more than a quality start.
But the Phillies signed Martinez to be a starter and it's hard to imagine him accepting a spot in the bullpen. The real problem may be Jamie Moyer, who is complicating this decision with his continued struggles. In most cases, the worst starter in the rotation would be jettisoned -- end of story. But that's not a viable option with Moyer, who is a fan favorite and an essential part of the locker room. Not to mention that it's hard to picture him pitching effectively out of the bullpen.
With that in mind, the best option for the Phillies would be to try and coax Pedro into the bullpen. He's not the dominant ace he used to be, but he still has the stuff to get hitters out. If he could strike out 11 in six innings yesterday, why can't he dominate for an inning or two of relief? Better to experiment with that than to remove a starter who ranks 6th in the NL in ERA and 7th in WHIP and who has pitched 6+ innings in each of his last nine starts.
Unfortunately, it's hard to see Pedro putting his ego aside and taking a seat in the bullpen, which means we may have seen the last of Happ in the rotation this season. If that's the case, it would be a bit of an outrage. It's one thing to pull a solid fifth starter, but in this case, Happ figures heavily into the Phillies' postseason plans. Not just in helping them make the playoffs, but if the playoffs started today, Happ would have to be the fourth starter, or maybe even the third starter. I don't think there's any question that everyone, from the fans to the front office, would feel more comfortable with Happ pitching Game 4 of the NLCS than Martinez or Moyer.
Here's hoping all involved come to their senses and send Pedro to the bullpen. Hell, let him close if that's what it takes. Just don't pull the likely Rookie of the Year for an aging starter who hasn't pitched a complete game since 2005.
This afternoon, Ruben Amaro announced that Happ will not be removed from the rotation. It's unclear what will happen, but there was mention of trying out a six-man rotation. Not sure how I feel about that, as it takes starts away from Hamels and Lee during the stretch run, but maybe it's a good move. They can get a good look at Pedro and, who knows, maybe he'll light it up and beat out Happ/Moyer to be the fourth starter in the playoffs. Plus it ought to ease the burden on the rest of the rotation, and Hamels could probably use the rest. Not to mention it would simplify matters in the event of a doubleheader (i.e. no more Andrew Carpenter spot-starts), and the Phillies already have two doubleheaders scheduled for September (9/13 vs Mets, 9/22 vs Marlins).