Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Embarrassment of Pitches

Don't look now, but the Phillies may have a playoff starting rotation controversy. Let's get the first part out of the way: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton will be the top three pitches when (if?) the Phillies make it to the postseason. There's no question about that. But presumed fourth starter J.A. Happ may not be such a sure bet.

For starters, Happ was scratched from his start Monday after straining a muscle in his rib cage taking batting practice, and the young lefty will miss his next start as well. Jamie Moyer, who pitched extremely well Monday and has been unflappable since being demoted to the bullpen, is expected to start in Happ's place. Missing two starts due to injury is a huge concern this time of year, especially when you add on top of that the last two outings by Happ.

In his last start, Sept. 2 against the Giants, I was there to witness Happ get beat around by Juan Uribe en route to a 6-inning, 8-hit, 4-run loss in which he gave up back-to-back homers to Uribe and Aaron Rowand. Five days before that, Happ lost to the Pirates 3-2 mainly due to a lack of run support, but he also unraveled late in the game, giving up a lethal home run to a fellow rookie. Against the Pirates.

Now, neither one of those starts were awful. In fact, the one against the Pirates was downright good for the most part, and Happ has had a phenomenal year. In 19 starts, he is 10-4 with a 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .231 batting average against and has struck out 104 batters. In 149.2 innings, he's surrendered just 125 hits and 46 runs. Simply put, he's been good. Really good.

But with Happ now down with injury and not having his best performance last time out, there's a wily old veteran breathing down his neck for a spot in the playoff rotation —  a willy old vet with a penchant for coming up big in big moments.

Pedro Martinez has now started six games for the Phillies. He is 4-0 with a 3.64 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and .252 opponents batting average. In 29 and two-thirds, he's given up 29 hits, 12 runs and struck out 27 batters while walking just 4. Very solid numbers. Not spectacular, but very, very good. Still, not up to snuff with Happ's overall performance this year.

But that doesn't mean Happ has this thing all sewn up, especially given Pedro's last two starts. Last night, after giving up a run early, Pedro settled down, went 6 and two-thirds, giving up three runs and striking out four to pick up the win. More importantly, he looked good doing it, especially as the game wore on. Five games prior to that, Pedro unleashed his Cy Young form, outdueling reigning NL Cy Young winner Tim LIncecum with a 7-inning, 5-hit, 1-run, 9-strikeout gem. Suddenly, Pedro looks much more like the Pedro of old than simply old Pedro.

Now the Phils may have a tough decision to make for that fourth spot: Pedro or Happ? Only time will tell, but it's a very nice problem to have. Out of the blue, a franchise notorious for its shortage of arms now has more than it knows what to do with. Jamie Moyer is an old, reliable veteran. J.A. Happ is a very good young pitcher. Pedro is a former 3-time Cy Young winner who has gotten the job done in the postseason. Cole Hamels is the reigning NLCS and World Series MVP. Cliff Lee the reigning AL Cy Young winner. And Joe Blanton has done nothing but impress since becoming a Philadelphia Phillie, pitching his best baseball in the 2008 playoffs and even hitting a home run.

Six starting pitchers. Five spots in the rotation. Just four come playoff time. This is nice for a change.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. nice to have problem of too many starters but if Lidge keeps choking on his own balls like he did again last night the Phills will up shits creek. They should be more worried about having a closer who won't shit the bed in the playoffs. And their offense hasn't been the best lately either seems like when they win it's cause they hit 4 homeruns in the game, and if they don't hit them then they lose. They need to manufacture some more runs with smallball instead of just looking to go yard all night.