03/31/09 11:52 PM ET
Park overjoyed to be Phils' No. 5 starter
After putting all aside in bid for role, veteran hurler overcomes Happ
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
He wanted that job so badly that he chose not to pitch for South Korea in the World Baseball Classic.
He learned Tuesday afternoon that those decisions paid off: he had beaten out J.A. Happ for the fifth job in the rotation.
"I feel very happy," Park said before Tuesday's 9-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. "First, because I had a good spring. Second, I made a deal to make the rotation instead of playing for the national team. It worked out pretty well. I'm sorry about not playing for the country, but I think they're happy about it and excited about it."
Park went 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 21 1/3 innings this spring. He allowed 20 hits, six earned runs, two walks and struck out 25. Opponents hit .244 against him. Happ went 0-0 with a 3.15 ERA in 20 Grapefruit League innings. He allowed 18 hits, seven earned runs, six walks and struck out 14. Opponents hit .240 against him.
In a sense, the difference between the hurlers' ERA marks came from one earned run and 1 1/3 innings pitched. But Park's walks and strikeouts could not be ignored.
Happ was not happy with the decision, tossing something into his locker afterward.
"Regardless of what anybody says or what's been written, there's no one that wanted this job more or worked harder to get it," Happ said. "I busted my butt to try to get it. That was my goal. I thought I had a good spring. With that being said, I did all those things to be a big leaguer. If I can get a job in the bullpen, and if I can have some success there, I think an opportunity will come where I can get back to a starting job. If I can get a job on this club, it's still a good thing."
That remains to be seen. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team has four candidates for two bullpen jobs: left-handers Happ and Jack Taschner, and right-handers Gary Majewski and Bobby Mosebach -- although it would be surprising for Taschner not to make the team because the Phillies just acquired him in a trade with the San Francisco Giants, and he is slated make $830,000.
Amaro, manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee said they feel Happ has the ability to pitch out of the bullpen, but they have not publicly committed to him yet, which means Happ still could start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
"If he's one of the best 12 [pitchers], he'd probably benefit from pitching up here," Dubee said.
Park has not pitched successfully as a starter since 2001 with the Dodgers. He went 78-51 with a 3.74 ERA in 176 starts from 1994-2001, but is 34-34 with a 5.48 ERA in 104 starts from '02-'08. Dubee said Tuesday that Park eased concerns this spring that he could be an effective starter over a six-month season, but pointed out the difference between Spring Training and the regular season.
"We think he can do it based on the way he's pitched," Amaro said. "He's come in prepared to take this job. And again, this is not something that necessarily has to continue. We expect all of our starters to perform. If they're not performing, then they'll be taken out of the rotation. It's been done before. This is a decision we've made now. We're hoping he can give us 200 innings and be an extremely effective starter for us, but ... you have to continue to earn your spot in the rotation, and we fully expect and hope that he will."
If Park doesn't pitch well in the rotation or should somebody else stumble or suffer an injury, the Phillies think Happ can get enough work in the bullpen to be a viable option.
But that will develop over time. For the moment, the Phillies only know they made Park very happy and Happ very disappointed.
"He took it the way I expected him to take it," Dubee said of Happ. "This is a kid that came into camp in very good shape. He came into camp trying to win a job. And I think it's always disappointing when you're told you haven't won the job. I wouldn't have liked it had he taken it any differently, that's for sure."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.