Happ dominates Rox in four-hit shutout

Happ dominates Rox in four-hit shutout

PHILADELPHIA -- J.A. Happ has earned his spot in the Phillies' rotation, but sometimes performance is not enough.

Sometimes the numbers don't jive.

Happ will learn soon enough if the numbers work in his favor, although he certainly made a compelling case for himself Wednesday. He threw his second shutout of the season in a 7-0 victory over the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed just four hits and struck out a career-high 10 batters. He left the mound 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA, which ranks sixth in the National League.

Happ left the mound unquestionably one of the five best starting pitchers on Philadelphia's roster, although that might not matter.

"I don't know. I guess. Maybe," Happ said when asked if he felt like he was pitching for his job in the rotation.

It is crazy to think Happ might be in the bullpen, but the reality is this: The Phils have six starting pitchers and five spots.

Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton take three spots. Jamie Moyer leads the team with 10 wins, but his 5.55 ERA is the second highest of any pitcher in the NL. Pedro Martinez struck out 11 and allowed three earned runs in six innings in a rehab start Wednesday for Double-A Reading, but he hasn't pitched in the Majors since last season.

The Phillies have said Moyer, 46, is not made for the bullpen.

They have also said they signed Martinez, 37, to be a starter.

But while Happ, 26, arguably has been the team's most consistent starter, he also has pitched effectively out of the bullpen.

"Tremendous pitching. Outstanding," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "If he didn't allow any hits that might have been the only way he could have done better. I think he showed me he wants to stay in the rotation."

Has he?

"Let me answer that for you later on, OK?" Manuel said. "I don't feel like getting into that no more. I've answered that now for what, a week?"

But that was before Happ threw his latest shutout.

"One of these days I'll answer it correctly, OK?" Manuel said.

If the Phillies think Martinez is ready for the big leagues, that decision might come before Happ's next scheduled start Tuesday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

A sellout crowd of 45,129 voiced its opinion. Of course, it cheered because Happ was throwing a shutout. But it also cheered because Happ was throwing a shutout with so much speculation about his future.

Fans chanted "J.A. Happ! J.A. Happ!" after he doubled to center field in the eighth inning. They stood on their feet and cheered as he struck out Troy Tulowitzki on a 94-mph fastball to end the game.

"He was hitting his spots," Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler said. "The first few innings he wasn't really hitting his spots, but from the fifth inning on he was just spotting up. He'd go in, he'd go further in. Then he'd go on the black and go away."

Happ pitched great, and the Phils' offense showed a pulse for the first time in a week. Chase Utley hit a two-out double in the first and scored on Ryan Howard's single to center. It was Howard's first RBI with a runner in scoring position since July 26. Pedro Feliz hit a solo home run to left field in the second to make it 2-0. Jimmy Rollins hit a two-run homer to left field in the second for a 4-0 lead. Jayson Werth hit a three-run homer to right field in the fifth to make it 7-0.

But while the Phillies have been dying for more offense, they got it on a night they didn't need it.

Happ had this one covered.

"He's got all the stuff to stay in the rotation," catcher Carlos Ruiz said. "He's working hard. We'll see what happens. We don't have control over that. It's pitching and that's it."

It has been an interesting year for Happ. He narrowly lost a Spring Training competition for the fifth spot in the rotation to Chan Ho Park. He replaced Park in the rotation on May 23, and pitched well enough that the Blue Jays requested him in trade talks for Roy Halladay. The Phillies landed Lee instead, but now Happ finds himself trying to prove himself again.

The constant speculation and questioning of his place has motivated him.

"I don't like to keep talking about it," Happ said. "I wish that maybe I didn't have to, but that's the reality of it. You're never not going to try to prove yourself."

He proved himself Wednesday. He proved he belongs.

But will he?

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.