THERE WILL BE a time, as the rest of the season plays itself out, for opposing hitters to make their adjustments.

And for J.A. Happ to see whether he can continue to stay one step ahead.

There will be a time, too, for the inexperienced lefthander to build up his arm and demonstrate that he can take his team deeper into games.

And, yes, if it comes to that, there will be time for the I-told-you-so chorus from all those who now say, cross their heart and hope to die, that they believed he should have been in the rotation from the start of the season.

For now, though, on a night when the Phillies found out for sure that they'll probably be without No. 2 starter Brett Myers for the rest of the season, it's enough that Happ is doing what he's doing.

He kept the Phillies in the game last night, setting the table for a 5-4 win over the reeling Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park, and earned his first win as a starter since Sept. 17 of last season at Atlanta. In his first start, on national television last Saturday at the new Yankee Stadium, he held the Bronx Bombers to two runs on four hits in his six innings.

Last night, he went 5 1/3 and was charged with three earned runs on three hits.

"Happ threw a lot of fastballs, but he was very aggressive," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I liked the way he pitched. I've seen him before. I liked some of the games he pitched for us last year."

Closer Brad Lidge had to come in to pitch the bottom of the ninth, protecting a one-run lead. He earned his 10th save of the season with a 1-2-3 inning, his first since April 11.

The Nationals have now lost 16 of their last 19 games and have the worst record in baseball.

Happ sailed through the first five innings last night, allowing only one run on one hit, a solo homer to Nationals leftfielder Josh Willingham leading off the second.

Making his second start after spending most of the first 2 months pitching out of the bullpen, Happ appeared to tire in the sixth. He gave up a leadoff single to Ryan Zimmerman and, with one out, hit Willingham with a pitch for the second time in the game.

That, along with a pitch count that had reached 96, persuaded Manuel to wave Chad Durbin in from the bullpen.

"I feel like I may have been fading a little bit," Happ acknowledged. "No pitcher wants to come out in the middle of an inning. It's not my call, but maybe [Manuel] saw that I was fatiguing a little bit."

Two runs were charged to Happ after he departed.

Even though Nationals manager Manny Acta started a lefthander, rookie Ross Detwiler, and had another pair of lefties (Ron Villone, Joe Beimel) in the bullpen, Manuel started a lineup that featured switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino at the top followed by three straight lefthanded hitters: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez.

That wasn't as big a risk as it might seem, since Ibanez came into the game batting .327 against lefties and Utley was at .308.

The Phillies knocked Detwiler out of the game after four innings, but were unable to score again against the bullpen, despite getting runners on base in every inning.

The Phillies had 16 hits, tying their season high, against six Nationals pitchers. They also went 3-for-16 (.188) with runners in scoring position and left 13 runners on base.

"We could have scored more runs, but 16 hits is a good sign that we're getting going," Manuel said. "When it's all said and done, I feel like we're going to score some runs. We're going to hit."

But the most important thing that happened on a night when the Phillies learned they should plan to be without Brett Myers for the rest of the season was that they can at least take some comfort in the thought that they are looking for only one more starter, not two, at the moment

Phillers

J.A. Happ is now 2-1 with a 3.69 earned run average in seven career starts in the big leagues . . . Centerfielder Shane Victorino had four hits for the third time this season. "He was just putting his bat on the ball, letting it go where it wanted. Nice and easy," Charlie Manuel said . . . Leftfielder Raul Ibanez went 2-for-4. He's batting .512 (21-for-41) with 18 RBI in 10 games against Washington . . . Last night's crowd of was the 18th sellout of the season at the Bank and pushed the home attendance to over 1 million after 24 dates, the earliest in CBP history that milestone has been reached. *