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What The Heck To Do With Happ?

JA Happ has become the biggest legend in Phillie-land this season. The 25-year-old lefty got two starts earlier this season and looked pretty good. I compared him to a left-handed Kyle Kendrick, but at this point, Happ is further along in his development. Most phollowers say Happ is ready to be on the five-man rotation now. Forget Brett Myers, forget Joe Blanton, forget Kendrick even — let’s get Happ-enin’!

Okay, slow down. At least that’s what we found out this week. First, Brett Myers delivered a sterling start against the Nationals, deserving himself of another big look. Then Joe Blanton chewed up seven frames Saturday night, making the Cards’ offense look like the Nats. Add their performances to Kendrick, who consistently rips off Kendrickian (6 IP/3 ER) starts, and it’s hard to just drop a guy from the scene.

Of course, Myers could just stink tonight. That would possibly heave Happ into the rotation, dropping Myers to a bullpen spot (where he could thrive). But we can’t predict that. My easy answer to all this is Myers should be in the bullpen, slowly moving into the setup role, giving Chad Durbin his swing role back and keeping JC Romero fresh. Isn’t that really the best scenario?

But in the interest of knowing the Phils aren’t ready to move Myers back into the ‘pen, we’ll assume that doesn’t happen. So, what the heck do the Phillies do with Happ?

They can’t let him rot in the bullpen. And at this point it’s unfair to send him back to Lehigh Valley. Enough of that. At 25, he’s received all the training he could possibly get in the system. He’s championed all levels of play and is absolutely ready to contribute to the big league roster. I would dare to say he’s absolutely ready to contribute in a pennant race as a back-end starter.

So here’s my idea: Bullpen ace. Last season, after leaving the rotation and before turning into closer, Myers pitched late in games in extended spots (an inning, maybe two). Because he knew how to start, he could extend himself while channeling a reliever’s mentality of “get ’em out with your best stuff.” Happ could do that, at least for now. It’s a lot like the role Durbin had earlier this season. What it does is take away your middle relievers (Ryan Madson has been ineffective lately; nobody really needs to see Clay Condrey in a middle relief role) while possibly giving your late inning guys rests (Romero needs one; Durbin as well). Happ may give up a run in two or three innings, but he would easily provide a bridge from the starter to Lidge.

Giving Happ this kind of role also helps the rotation conserve itself. Most of the Phillies’ starters are golden in six innings. Give them six. Go to Happ for the seventh and eighth. Lidge in the ninth. Do this twice a week, if possible. It gives Happ some innings in gametime, until he’s really needed as a starter.

It makes no sense trolling Durbin and Romero out there five times a week. Let Happ cut that workload in half while keeping him fresh and ready to step in when necessary. It just may work.

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