Yankees GM Brian Cashman was confident when he extended a two-year, $34 million contract to veteran LHP J.A. Happ this offseason.
Despite other pitchers out on the free agent market, it was a sensible move by him. Happ came over from the Blue Jays at the trade deadline last season to bolster the Yankees' rotation, mainly because he was a Red Sox killer over his career. It may not have panned out in the postseason when the two teams met -- Happ was on the losing end of Game 1 of the ALDS after allowing five runs over two innings -- but he owned a 2.69 ERA over 11 starts before that.
Looking back on that now, though, it's hard to defend that signing.
Happ has been all out of sorts this season, with his ERA currently sitting at 5.58 over 25 starts (129 innings). And his last start against the A's -- 4 IP, 5 ER, 2 HR, 2 BB, 4 SO, 80 pitches -- has been the norm for the beleaguered left-hander.
"I haven't struggled like this in a while," Happ told The Post's Ken Davidoff. "But again, I'm doing everything I can every day to come in and try to figure this thing out. Try to support the rest of the guys. And I feel good. So I feel like I can make the adjustments and make the changes. That's my hope."
Well, Happ better hope those adjustments come quickly because his time to convince the Yankees he should be in their postseason rotation come October is starting to run out.
The home stretch is here for the regular season, with September games forcing manager Aaron Boone and the rest of the Yankees staff thinking about their postseason strategy. And the starting rotation will certainly be at the top of the priority list given that it's the team's biggest weakness.
At the moment, Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton will be the 1-2 punch at the top followed by Domingo German, who continued his impressive 2019 campaign against the Dodgers on Sunday with one-run ball over six innings. That leaves Happ and CC Sabathia as the potential fourth starters, with the option of an opener also in the mix as well.
Sabathia has loads of postseason experience over Happ, and being that it's his final year in the league, you can bet he wants to get the ball one last time in that high-pressure situation. But he hasn't been much better than Happ with a 4.99 ERA on the season with injuries mixed in there as well.
When it comes down to who the Yankees would choose it could go based entirely off the matchup. If the season were to end today, the Twins, winners of the AL Central, would be the Yankees' ALDS matchup. Happ owns a 10.00 ERA over two starts against Minnesota after allowing 10 runs on 13 hits with four homers mixed in there. Sabathia has just one start against the Twins this season, but he allowed six earned runs over four innings with four homers allowed as well.
These stats right here are why the Yankees will certainly be thinking about maybe using Chad Green to open their Game 4 of a series to give way to a bullpen that could include Luis Severino and Dellin Betances in it as well. But, if Happ can produce better outings in his next five or six starts to end the season, the Yankees could find more comfort putting him out there for a Game 4.
One giant step in making that happen for Happ would be eliminating the long ball.
Happ is allowing a career high in both homers allowed (31) and home run per fly ball rate at 20.3 percent. In the HR/FB% category, his career average is 11.4 percent. Happ is also being hit a lot harder than usually at 40.1 percent compared to his 30.7 career average.
A lot of that has to do with Happ's lack of command on his fastball. Instead of painting the corners with that mid-90s heater, he's been leaving it out over the plate or getting himself down in counts that forces him to get one over for a strike. Being that his fastball doesn't have a natural two-seam tail that lefties normally possess, that allows hitters to load up and give their best swing to a pitch that can go a long way when connected properly.
It has been Happ's crux all season, and even when it looks like he's about to star cruising, a homer shifts the gear completely and puts him and the Yankees in a hole.
Tonight, though, he can take the first step in reversing those trends and prove he is worthy of a rotation spot as the team vies for a World Series title.
Happ's postseason actually starts right now.