Connect with us

Toronto Blue Jays

Yankees pursued J.A. Happ for Fenway assignment

BOSTON — The bumpy road of the past two seasons aside, J.A. Happ feels his time as a Toronto Blue Jay has helped make him the pitcher he is today.

And on Friday night at Fenway Park, the biggest team in baseball hopes that in front of a hostile crowd rooting hard against its biggest rival, the veteran left-hander will show just how close he has come to being one of the elite starters in the game.

Aggressively pursued by the New York Yankees prior to the July 31 major league trade deadline, it isn’t as large a leap as you might think to suggest that Happ was acquired more for this one start than any of his other solid body of work in August and September.

Sure, the Yankees felt they needed Happ to get to this point — in an historical showdown in the five-game ALDS against the mighty Red Sox. But general manager Brian Cashman loved Happ’s experience in the American League East and specifically his past performance lines against Boston over the past two seasons.

For his part, Happ senses that he has evolved as well, building on the playoff season with the Jays two years (and what feels like an eternity) ago to the point where he was the most trusted arm on the Toronto staff and now, apparently, the Yankees.

“I feel my game has come a long way in the last few years, especially from my playoff experiences with Philadelphia,” Happ said on Thursday at Fenway where the Yanks were preparing to face the 108-win Sox in games Friday and Saturday. “I think this most recent (post-season experience) with Toronto in ’16 is more similar to the kind of pitcher I am now.

“So I’ll rely on that a bit, but to me I’m trying to treat it as another game.”

So what kind of pitcher is Happ now? Well, in building a 7-0 record in 11 starts with the Yankees (with a skimpy 2.69 ERA), he has shown his excellence with a high-in-the-zone fastball.

When Happ’s command is on, he is highly effective, even in hitter-friendly parks such as Fenway and Yankee Stadium. (“He can command and repeat pitches with his fastball to some good right-handed hitters,” is how New York manager Aaron Boone described it.)

There’s a reason Cashman went hard for Happ at the trade deadline, giving up infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney to the Jays. Other teams were in serious pursuit, but to Cashman’s way of thinking, if the Yanks were going to have any chance of making up ground on the Red Sox — much less competing with them in a post-season series — they needed an able lefty.

Happ, the class of the bedraggled Jays rotation, excelled once again this season in Toronto despite a dormant offence and a ditzy defence. And his past record at the home of the Green Monster was a further selling point to the Pinstripers.

In 2018, Happ was 2-0 in four starts vs. the Sox with a 1.90 ERA. In his most recent start here just last week, the veteran was humming along nicely through five shutout innings before none other than his former teammate, Steve Pearce, rocked him for a grand slam.

“We scored four the last inning we played against him, let’s use that,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said with a laugh when asked to assess his team’s Game 1 foe.

“He’s made some adjustments, too. When he went to Pittsburgh he was a heavy sinker guy. All of a sudden he’s pitching up in the zone and he’s a good one, really a good one.”

Happ isn’t shy about sharing some of the credit for that with Jays pitching coach Pete Walker, who worked closely with the Illinois native after he left the Pirates.

While most of his Jays teammates were mired in misery this season, Happ was his workmanlike self, making him the easy choice to be the team’s lone representative in Washington at the All-Star Game. Heading towards the autumn of his career, it was unquestionably a career highlight.

And then came the courting by the Yankees, which ended weeks of speculation that had taken a toll on Happ mentally. When he was finally dealt, relief gave way to the sense of opportunity, which in turn escalated to making him the only starter on the Bronx Bombers staff likely to get the ball twice in this series should it go the distance.

“I didn’t think about that coming over here,” Happ said when asked if he believed he was brought in for just such an assignment. “I think my thought was I was a piece that could potentially help them get to wherever they wanted to be.

“I didn’t think of it in terms of specifics. I’m certainly happy to have the ball tomorrow. I feel honoured to have it.”

Typical of Happ’s mindset, he was already deeply into mental pre-game mode on Thursday evening. A pitcher who thrives on routine and preparation, he hopes that discipline will help carry him against the power-laden Red Sox lineup in front of a frenetic Friday night crowd at Fenway.

“I want to focus on being aggressive and trusting my stuff and just continuing to do what I do and trusting that’s going to be enough,” said Happ, who started a pair of post-season games for the Jays in 2016 — a 5-3 win over Texas in Game 2 of the ALDS and a gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Cleveland in Game 2 of the ALCS.

“It’s a big game, but I’m going to treat it like another one.”


BOSTON — The shackles are off — and so is the pitch limit for Chris Sale.
After suffering from shoulder inflammation earlier in the season, the Red Sox ace has thrown just a shade over 300 pitches since the end of July.

But facing Yankees counterpart J.A. Happ on Friday, Sale says he’s good to go for 100 tosses or more in Game 1 of the ALDS at Fenway Park.

“He’s a full go,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Just go out there and perform. He’s in a good place and he’s ready to roll.”

Sale is particularly keen to rebound from his effort last post season when he was a meek 0-2 with a bulky 8.38 ERA.

“From when we show up in spring training, this is the only goal,” Sale said on Thursday.

“This is it. This is what we’re here to do. We don’t show up to spring training wanting to know when our last game is.

“You’ve got two big-time teams that played really good baseball throughout the regular season about to go head-to-head at the most important time of the year. If you can’t get excited for that, I think you’re doing the wrong thing.”

Source Link

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Toronto Blue Jays