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Opinion: Park Deserves Fifth Starter

Comparison time:

Player A: 20 IP / 7 ER / 18 H / 14 K / 6 BB
Player B: 21.1 IP / 6 ER / 20 H / 25 K / 2 BB

Clearly, we’re talking about JA Happ (A) and Chan Ho Park (B). And Park clearly has the edge over Happ. He deserves the fifth-starter spot on the opening night 25-man roster.

It’s no fault of Happ’s — the 26-year-old lefty has done everything to sustain his position as fifth starter. Any other season Happ would’ve glided into the spot without trouble, but Park has outshone all expectations. A 12.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio? Sure it’s the Grapefruit League, but you can’t deny his consistent dominance.

Quickly back to Happ. The kid deserves to be a major league starter. He cannot do any more in triple-A. He has the stuff to overpower hitters — a moderate fastball, a strong changeup, a fantastic slider, an average curve. With correct placement and pacing he can go deep into games, maybe registering as a solid third starter. His strikeout rates have always been above-average. Basically, he’s ready. Now, should he then be given the chance to succeed on a major league roster today … with another team?

No. If there’s one necessity early in the season, it’s depth — especially pitching depth. The first sign of injury or underperformance would bring Happ back to the rotation. And once he’s there, he should stay there.

It’s very possible that Happ supplants Park, if he does win the battle. Remember, this is a pitcher who last regularly started in 2006, notching a 4.81 ERA while calling PETCO Park his home base. He only pitched four major league innings in 2007. Frankly, while I think Park should win the fifth-starter battle, he should be watched closely and given a short leash.

But Park’s performance this spring has confirmed he’s worthy of a starting rotation spot again, even against a young firecracker with four average or above-average pitches. Moreover, there’s something to be said about Park’s focus: The man desires above everything to win the fifth-starter battle and take the hill every five days. He desires to give his fellow South Koreans a reason to watch Philadelphia Phillies baseball. He recently struggled to respond about if he’d accept a bullpen role: “Uh, I don’t know. Let’s see. Wait, wait, wait, wait. Sometimes I’m crazy.”

If he’s that determined to seize the role, don’t you think he’ll be as determined to keep it?

Park deserves it. The numbers show it. The fire shows it. Give him the chance.

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