ST. LOUIS -- Phillies lefty J.A. Happ threw in the bullpen during the later innings of Thursday's 8-4 win over the Nationals, but didn't get in the game, as usual. Bullpen side sessions have become Happ's weird reality since he tossed 41 pitches July 27 for Triple-A, then joined the Phillies two days later at Nationals Park. He's still with the club, wondering about what has become a confusing game of "What's My Role?" "I'm just going with the flow," Happ said, with a smile. "If they want to talk to me, they know where I'm at. I still have to be ready if the situation arises. I feel like I will be."
The challenge for manager Charlie Manuel has been figuring out when to use Happ, who is essentially the No. 6 starter. Necessity has dictated that Happ be used out of the bullpen -- as the second lefty to complement J.C. Romero -- but Manuel, general manager Pat Gillick and pitching coach Rich Dubee see the 24-year-old as a starting pitcher looking for a slot. Rather than use Happ situationally, Manuel is trying to keep him stretched out, so the skipper's waiting for an opportunity to pitch the lefty multiple innings in relief. "That's the hard part," Manuel said. "You have to find enough work for him. That's kind of difficult. We consider him a starter and like the way he pitched. We're still trying to find what's best for our rotation." Manuel said no drastic ideas have been considered, such as a six-man rotation, or an alternating fifth starter, similar to what Brewers manager Ned Yost has done with Dave Bush and Seth McClung. That suggests that Happ will either relieve, start in Triple-A or replace a starter in the rotation. The team is leery of placing Brett Myers back in the bullpen, after working so hard to get him refocused on starting. Joe Blanton is a possibility, but he was billed as an innings-eater, and he hasn't received a proper evaluation. Through the confusion, Happ's strongly prefers St. Louis, Washington and Philadelphia to Allentown, Pa., Richmond or Norfolk, Va. "This is better than being on the road in those places," he said. "This is definitely a lot more exciting." Happ can also take solace in the fact that he showed enough in his two big league starts last month that the team is trying to find him a place. "His confidence has something to do with it," Manuel said. "He's more aggressive. He showed that he had good enough stuff and is capable of pitching a good game. That's what guys have to show you when they come up." For now, Happ is happy walking into a big league clubhouse. "I know a lot of guys start their careers [in the bullpen], at least they used to," Happ said. "Whatever it takes to stay, I'll do. It's their decision, and I'll respect whatever they decide. I feel I've shown I can pitch in Triple-A, so it would be nice to stay here, obviously. They're going to do what they feel is right for the team."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.