With the All-Star Break behind them, the Philadelphia Phillies are back to work and ready for the last half of the season.
Noticeably successful is rookie pitcher J.A. Happ. Initially, he lost the starting job to Chan Ho Park in the beginning of the season, having to settle with a spot in the bullpen. As Park floundered, the two swapped spots and began to flourish.
This season, the 26-year-old Happ has been a star in the starting rotation. In 11 starts, he has pitched 72 1/3 innings, earning a 2.74 ERA—much better than the team’s ace Cole Hamels, who started 18 games earning a 4.72 ERA and a 5-5 record.
In Happ’s last five starts he has gone seven innings with a 1.46 ERA, either clearly securing his spot on the team or his trade value—something he is aware of.
"I'm going to tell you that it doesn't bother me," Happ said to reporters following his July 12 start, "but it gets into your head. I love being here. I love being on this team. I think I fit in well. But I'm also trying to prove I'm a big-league pitcher. I'm not in control of what's going on."
True, Happ has no control over the decision to trade or not to trade, but what he has shown is control over his performance.
In his July 19 start against the Florida Marlins, Happ pitched seven innings, giving up only five hits and no runs while striking out four. He worked his way out of a major jam—loading the bases with no outs and not allowing the Marlins to score.
With this strong outing, does Happ get to dig his heels a little deeper and stay with the Phillies? Or does this mean the Phils have a stronger chance of picking up Roy Halladay, who pitched a complete game against the Boston Red Sox, allowing only one run, striking out seven, and earning the win?
Regardless of the whispers surrounding him, Happ remains focused.
"It's a long road," Happ said on July 12, "and you can never predict what's going to happen, but I'm feeling more comfortable with each start."
It showed as Happ earned his seventh win in the Phillies 5-0 win over the Marlins on July 19.
With the win, the Phillies swept the Marlins, and now lead the division by seven games—the largest lead this late in the season since July 29, 1993.