PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - J.A. Happ threw a sixth-inning fastball near Pat Burrell's chin, forcing his former teammate to snap his head back and move out of the batter's box. Burrell later flied out in the at-bat.
The moment impressed Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
"He's gotten more aggressive and he's gotten more comfortable," the manager said. "He don't back away, whereas before he was a little reluctant. . . . That's good that he's going right in. He's not backing off. He's not afraid. That's determination - I'm going to get you out. I'm going to show I'm better than you. That's kind of what we're looking for."
Happ continued to advance his candidacy for the fifth spot in the Phillies' starting rotation, allowing one run in three innings in yesterday's 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay. The lefthander struck out one, walked one and allowed a home run to Gabe Kapler.
"Having success brings confidence," said Happ, whose Grapefruit League earned run average is 2.45. "I know you have to be aggressive. You can't give in to these hitters."
While Manuel praised Happ for his mound presence, pitching coach Rich Dubee complimented the pitcher for his intelligence and willingness to learn.
"J.A. continues to grow, continues to develop, continues to get better," Dubee said. "J.A. is a sharp kid, and he's baseball sharp. He's a student and he pays attention to what's going on. He is always trying to get better."
As an example, Dubee mentioned that he asked Happ to learn a change-up and develop his slider a few years ago, before the pitcher was sent to the minor leagues. When the coach next saw him, Happ had made significant progress with those pitches.
"He took that, put it into play," said Dubee, who has criticized righthander Kyle Kendrick, struggling in his own attempt to win the fifth spot, for being slow in learning the change-up.
Happ also has used another resource: Jamie Moyer. A few days ago, the two lefties spent more than a half-hour discussing how to use the cut fastball.
"He's always been curious," Moyer said. "He's trying to learn."
Moyer dissatisfied. Moyer started yesterday's game and allowed two runs on six hits in five innings. The 46-year-old lefthander was not pleased.
"Worst appearance of the spring," he said, adding that he was unhappy with command and mechanics.
"It has happened before and it will happen again," Moyer said, shrugging. "I don't see the need to be concerned. I felt healthy."
Moyer added that he could relate to his teammates who are competing for the final rotation spot. "I did [that] for most of my career," he said.
His advice to the pitchers: "Get ahead. Throw strikes. Work quick."
About the game. The Phillies' loss to Tampa Bay dropped their Grapefruit League record to 4-8. . . . Burrell, the designated hitter for Tampa Bay, went 1 for 3 against his former team. Burrell is batting .333. . . . Joe Blanton, Bobby Mosebach and Ryan Madson are slated to pitch against Pittsburgh today in Clearwater. Carlos Carrasco, Andrew Carpenter and Scott Eyre pitch tomorrow against Houston in Kissimmee, and Chan Ho Park and Clay Condrey face St. Louis on Sunday in Clearwater.
WBC update. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins and outfielder Shane Victorino are the only Phillies remaining in the World Baseball Classic, both playing for Team USA. After winning two games and losing one in the first round, the U.S. team will face Puerto Rico tomorrow.
Victorino, sharing time with Detroit's Curtis Granderson, has three hits in seven at-bats and a .420 on-base percentage. Rollins, splitting duties with the Yankees' Derek Jeter, is 3 for 9, with a .400 on-base percentage and a stolen base. He was caught stealing once.