Another Strong Outing From J.A. Happ Leads to Another Win for the Pirates

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates defeated Arizona 4-1 behind another strong outing from J.A. Happ, locking up another series win — their 21st series win of the year.

For the second consecutive start, Happ was efficient and effective, scattering four baserunners (two hits and two walks) across six innings, while inducing mostly weak contact and striking out three.

“I felt pretty good the whole game – I didn’t have my best fastball tonight,” Happ said afterwards. “I think we were able to move it around, use some off-speed and try to keep them off-balanced. I felt pretty good from the get-go and gained some confidence as we went along.”

Happ only allowed one runner to reach second base the entire evening, when in the second inning he allowed two straight walks to start the frame. Happ escaped that jam with ease, inducing a groundball double-play followed by a weak ground out to first base.

From then on, he limited the Diamondbacks to just two base hits. Overall, Happ pitched six scoreless innings using only 83 pitches.

“He works quick,” Cervelli said after the game. “He works in, out, up, down – he gets people out so fast.”

Since the Pirates’ skipped Happ’s start last week, he has thrown 11.1 total innings, giving up only one earned run to go along with a 10:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last week, I wrote about the minor mechanical adjustments Happ was working through, and tonight, Clint Hurdle credited Happ’s consistent delivery and adjustments to his recent success.

“The delivery is in a really solid place. He’s repeating his delivery,” Hurdle said. “The ball out of the hand has angle now, downhill angle. Fastball command, I think based on repeating the delivery has improved. He’s actually getting the ball glove side very, very well and efficiently. He’s moving his fastball around. He’s kept the hitters off-balanced with the breaking ball, with the changeup. He’s just pitching with a lot more confidence.”

Happ is throwing the ball as well as he did in the first-half while in Seattle, when he had a 3.58 FIP. If he can continue to repeat his delivery and maintain his recent success, the Pirates can feel a lot better about their rotational depth.

** Sean Rodriguez led the way offensively tonight, smacking three hits and driving in the second run of the game in the second inning. He has six hits in his last 16 at-bats, and has a .281 average in the month of August. His recent performance is a modest improvement, but an improvement nevertheless, and it’s encouraging to see him making stronger contact after his dreadful July, when he batted .113.

“We saw some things over the weekend, he works extremely hard,” Hurdle said of Rodriguez. “He probably found more offense last year, but he’s working hard to get better. He believes there is more in him, we believe there is more in him.”

Rodriguez has provided good value on the defensive side, but to date has contributed minimally offensively. Based on how often Hurdle turns to Rodriguez, it would be helpful if his offensive production could maintain at least the adequate level that it has been so far in August.

** The Pirates begin a key four-game set tomorrow against the San Francisco Giants, and are currently seven games ahead of them in the Wild Card standings.

The Pirates could be catching the Giants at the right time, with their second baseman Joe Panik currently on the disabled list with a back injury, and right fielder Hunter Pence joining him on the DL yesterday after straining his oblique. They could make their lead over the Giants insurmountable if they can win or split the four-game set. Charlie Morton will oppose Jake Peavy in game one tomorrow night.

  • Looks like Happ is out to make Lee Foo eat crow

  • Is Huntington a clairvoyant or something? How is this trade actually working out for us right now?

  • The ball girl incident. Could have had serious consequences. Seriously, there ought to be a suspension and then bring her back.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 20, 2015 11:14 am

    I have to admit it and I have to give credit where credit is due….Happ pitched well again last night. I am not sure if this is a short term fluke or NL hitters not being familiar with him or if Ray Searage has truly made a long term difference in his delivery, etc. Time will tell. Arizona is a pretty good hitting team, so that was impressive. Good series win, after losing the first game.

    Now its Morton’s turn, which always makes me nervous….he’s like a box of chocolates, you just never know what you will get.

    • Happ spent more time in the national league than the american league, so i doubt it was unfamiliarity. Playing with a horrible team (astros) followed by playing in a dump in canada……can certainly have a negative effect on a player. This is the first top notch team he’s been on since he was a rookie with phili- it matters

  • Why only six innings? He could of been trotted out for the seventh. Save a bullpen arm!

    • Hurdles management of the pitchers is so odd…normally leaves people in too long…quick hook last night bc he wanted his 7-8-9 men…it’s just very odd how he chooses what to do.

      • I agree. Sometimes he pulls guys who are cruising with low pitch counts. There is always a risk the reliever will be off. I think it is strange that in the modern game they only use “the closer” in a situation where he can get a save and pad his stats. Last night was an example……started Bastardo in the 9th and pulled him as soon as Melancon was save eligible.

        • I find this odd also as those save numbers will directly affect next years salary. Unless you’re building value for a trade.

        • The game was 4-0. Bastardo had just let the first two guys on base. First one, no problem as that was an excellent bunt. But a walk followed and Goldschmidt was up next.

          Any sane manager would’ve lifted his lefty reliever in that situation.

        • To the point about a reliever be off, while true it’s more likely a back end rotation type at 85ish pitches will struggle rather than a fresh bullpen arm, particularly a guy like Soria.

          Nearly all pitchers are worse the third time through the order and deeper into games.

          • True, but how much worse, and how fast they get worse…..differs from pitcher to pitcher and game to game. There is such disparity from a #1 or #2 pitcher in most rotations over a middle reliever, that even when the third time through the lineup, the starter can still often be a better choice until he shows *signs* of getting tired. All i’m saying is that this isn’t a subject i’d choose to make generalities on, there just isn’t any right answer

        • I pretty much disagree with how relievers are used as a whole. I think it’s silly to save a guy for the ninth inning if, for instance, the heart of the order is due up in the eighth. There should be less rigidity and more usage based on matchups imo.

          • That’s been pretty much proven statistically over the past few years, but good luck getting that adopted in the near future. I’m somewhat surprised a guy like Maddon isn’t doing that. However, I do think that eventually most MLB managers/GMs will return to using their best relievers in the highest leverage situations, and 6 inning starters will be the norm even at the front end.

            • Yeah, its pretty clear at this point that how we use late inning relievers in baseball is almost universally dumb for no reason other than “saves”.

              I’d think the MLBPA would really dislike a change, since the closer would lose saves (and therefor money) by it. If the market still paid the best relief arm top money thatd be one thing, but id guess as soon as a guy went from 40 saves to say 20 they’d get paid less for no real reason.

            • The main reason starters struggle after 6 innings is because they spend their entire minor league career only pitching 6 innings. Good luck learning how to do something effectively at the highest level that you haven’t really done since college, or for a high school player- ever. There is no reason why pitchers can’t pitch deeper, they just aren’t asked to do it anymore

          • I remember when your best reliever came in when the starter got in trouble. I think there was a fireman award or something back then. .

          • This is a true statement, but it ignores the mindset of the player (like most theoretical ideas do) and baseball is far more a mental game than a physical game. Another reason I laugh with the sabermetric stuff, baseball is not purely science and therefore cannot be explained using only the language of science (math)

            • I don’t know what mindset it would be ignoring…the “closer mentality” thing is an awfully convenient idea for closers to trot out since it gets them bigger contracts but I’ve heard plenty of non closers say they don’t believe in that. Also, how many closers started out as 7th or 8th inning guys? They seemed to adjust fine all the time…

              • I forgot Mike, they are all either soldiers or robots that go out and play exactly the same no matter what time, what day, where in the order, or in what role they are used. Sorry about that, my bad.

                • I don’t really think that’s what I was saying, but ok. Just because I think an “8th inning ” guy is perfectly capable of pitching the 9th and a “closer” is capable of pitching the 8th doesn’t mean they’re robots. Actually what I’m promoting is greater flexibility and less rigidity.
                  I actually get your point and agree with it a lot of times, but managers use relievers stupidly. I just feel there’s mounds of evidence to support that.

                  • You are the one discounting the effect it has to the players when they don’t have a set role and routine. Regardless of what you say or what you think, it does have an impact. Whether it should or it shouldn’t is irrelevant. They are human, so it matters

                    • I think that you are overstating the certainty of their “role and routine” these guys have when they don’t even have any idea if they’ll be used til the game is 2/3rds of the way over at the earliest. To me it’s a classic case of doing something one way because “that’s just the way we’ve always done it”, and I hate that type of thinking. Would there be pushback? Yes. If it was successful…well then that tends to smooth over a lot of emotions. And none of this even addresses the thing that really drives me crazy, which is not using a closer in road games that are tied in the 9th inning or later.
                      But either way, one thing I’m sure of is that we’re not going to come to a middle ground on this point haha.

              • ….and people usually adjust to promotions better than demotions in every walk of life.

        • people complained when he left Frankie in too long. He was on a roll with 13 in a row. Now, people are complaining he has a quick hook. You can’t have it both ways. Give J.A. a good game with no 7th inn problems to knock the luster off. Frankie just lost control in the 8th and was pulled. If the bullpen does it’s job, there would be no complaints. One time (8th inn) they fail. There are somethings I don’t like about CH’s bench coaching, but pitching isn’t one of them.

          • Honestly, most of ourstarting pitchers are actually really really predictable on when they are losing it. They fall off a cliff. Frankie, Gerritt, Charlie especially. When they are done, their command goes into the toilet in the case of Frankie and Gerritt, and Charlie flattens out and losing control. Burnett and Locke not so much because Locke never pitches clean anyways, and Burnett doesn’t usually have a drastic change, although he sometimes loses the plate as well

    • I don’t disagree, but I could imagine that Hurdle might think that Happ continues to need to have “good outings” for his mental makeup and wanted to leave a “good taste” in his mouth. Despite his newfound love of analytics, there’s still some old school psychology in Hurdle, and I honestly don’t know enough about Happ’s personality to know if he’s psychologically fragile. (To be honest, I’d like to see him have a quicker hook for Morton for this reason…and the whole, he gets killed the 3rd time through).

      • I dont really disagree implicitly with your post, but ill use this as a chance to again put forward my assertion that the idea that a ML player is “psychologically fragile” seems insane. To go from HS-college-ML (or even skipping college and spending many years in the minors) in baseball and make it to the bigs you have to be pretty psychologically strong.

        A person with lacking mental strength doesnt reach the majors, imo.

        • I agree that is “seems” insane, but just because a player is physically gifted doesn’t mean he isn’t a basket case. Kip Wells, Ian Snell, Old McDonald- 3 key generally accepted examples of this. At lower levels these guys weren’t necessarily tested, at higher levels they face the greatest stress and have, from time to time, shown an inability to handle it. We are all human, and there is a certain percentage of people who are psychologically fragile, Baseball does not make these people superhereos, they are just people who are good at baseball

  • Somehow, I think that if the FO traded for Cy Young, he’d come back from the dead. I think we should refer to NH as “Moonlight”.