Happ To Lehigh Valley Makes Sense

Photo: Tom Mihalik/AP

The Phillies optioned pitcher J.A. Happ to Lehigh Valley just one day after he made a strong start against the St.Louis Cardinals. The move was the right one to make even though some fans disagree.

J.A. Happ lowered his season ERA to 3.27 on the season after a strong outing against the Cardinals Wednesday night (7.9.2008) when he went 6.1 innings, allowing just two earned runs. Happ has struggled with his control in his first two starts with the Phillies this season, but has pitched pretty well overall.

So, why is he back at Triple-A?

Fans on the internet are ripping apart the Phillies for the move, pointing out that they would prefer to have him in the rotation than Adam Eaton and they're not clamoring for the return of Brett Myers, who is currently on the Lehigh Valley roster. The move was made for the simple reason that it will allow Happ to pitch again immediately after the All-Star Break (the 'Pigs have a double-header scheduled July 17) rather than having him sit around in the majors to make his next start. The Phillies won't need a fifth starter for a while and when they do, it's very possible that Happ will return.

Aligning the pitching rotations both in Philadelphia and in Lehigh Valley will be interesting. The Phillies figure to return from the break with Cole Hamels on the mound and Lehigh Valley will have a choice to make. Since they return with two games on one night against Scranton, it's conceivable that the 'Pigs will run Happ or Myers out there for one of the games. Because of how the schedules play out, the Phillies won't need a fifth starter until they face the Mets in New York on July 23rd and they could even push that back to the 26th when they play the Braves at home, thanks to an off-day on the 21st.

If you do the calendar math, a pitcher who starts on the 17th (when the 'Pigs return from the break) would be on schedule to start again on the 22nd or 23rd. One option is to have both Happ and Myers pitch on the 17th and then bring one of them up to face the Mets. They could also split them and have one start on the 17th and push the other back to put them on a schedule that would have them return to the Phillies on the 26th.

Of course, there's only one spot technically open in the rotation, meaning that the Phillies could have a decision to make. Would they decide to make a move to drop Adam Eaton from the rotation or would they leave either Happ or Myers in the minors to continue working their way back to the majors.

There has been a bit of a trend this season that has seen teams eat sizable contracts to simply rid themselves of dead weight. The Pirates did it with Matt Morris and now, Seattle has done it with Richie Sexson. Could the Phillies follow that trend and simply cut Eaton lose if they believed that their rotation is better with Happ? There is some speculation that Eaton could be a goner if he doesn't pitch well in his start Saturday against Arizona.

The Phillies will want some depth in starting pitching to handle any injuries that could hit later in the season, so kicking out Eaton may not be what the Phillies want to do at this point. Happ could play that insurance role for them if they were to keep him at Lehigh Valley and put Myers back into the starting rotation. There doesn't appear to be another option in the minors at this point, with Carlos Carrasco facing injury concerns and Kris Benson struggling to return to form. Watching how the Phillies set up their starting rotations after the Major League and Minor League All-Star Games may give a hint as to what direction they'll take down the road; that is if there isn't an announcement about Eaton's future with the club.

The All-Star Game will also provide the Phillies with the chance to talk to some other clubs about potential deals. After all, the Trade Deadline is just three weeks away.


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