Happ Stays Hot in Pirates’ 4-3 Victory over Rockies

PITTSBURGH – Behind one of the hottest starting pitchers in the National League, the Pirates defeated the Colorado Rockies 4-3, keeping pace with the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals and raising their record to 30 games over .500.

J.A Happ continued his red-hot August, and was in control for a majority of his outing tonight. The Rockies’ only real threat came in the third inning. Brandon Barnes led off the inning with an opposite field double, followed by a single by pitcher Chris Rusin that put runners on the corners with no outs. Happ was able to limit the damage to just one run by inducing a fielder’s choice groundout, a shallow fly out to Gregory Polanco in right field that wasn’t deep enough for the Rockies to chance sending the runner from third base — the Rockies seemed to learn their lesson after last night — and a broken bat pop-out to end the rally. After a tenuous third inning, Happ settled back down and cruised through the fourth and fifth inning.

Happ’s night came to end in the sixth inning after Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez laid down a perfect bunt against the Pirates’ shift and a throwing error by Jung-Ho Kang put runners on first and second with two outs. Arquimedes Caminero came on in relief and induced a soft groundout to third base to keep the Rockies at bay and closed the book on Happ.

Overall, Happ allowed just one earned run in 5.2 innings of work, lowering his August ERA to an astounding 1.98 – good for the seventh-best ERA in the NL this month.

“The overall outing was very solid, it was very consistent,” Hurdle said afterwards. “He’s continued to stay focused on being aggressive, working the fastball, the two-seamer, mixing in the breaking stuff. He only had three, three-ball counts on the night, he retired 14 guys on three pitches or less, 17 out of 24 first pitch strikes.”

Since Happ and Pitching Coach Ray Searage have corrected Happ’s directional movement to home plate in his delivery, he’s commanded his pitches more efficiently and has developed good downhill angle. Barreling up his pitches has become a tough task for the opposition.

Much of his recent success can be credited to a more effective fastball. Opposing hitters were slugging .537 and .607 against his four-seam fastball in June and July respectively, but have seen that number shrink significantly in August to .365, according to Brooks Baseball. In turn, Happ’s hard contact percentage dropped from 43.2% in July to 26.2% in August.

“I’m feeling pretty good about my delivery and locating pitches more consistently,” Happ explained. “You get those foul balls or a groundball here, a pop-up there, it’s usually from a pretty decently located pitch.”

Happ has continued to provide the Pirates’ rotation with the boost it has needed since A.J. Burnett went down with a forearm strain. If/when Burnett returns from injury in September, it is looking more and more likely that Happ has solidified his spot in the rotation.

** Offensively, Aramis Ramirez provided Happ and the Pirates with an early three-run lead when he launched a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers in the first inning. The Pirates didn’t score again until the seventh inning, when Polanco’s fielder’s choice provided extra insurance that ended up being the difference in the game.

Mark Melancon gave up a two-run home run to Rockies catcher Nick Hundley in the ninth inning to cut the Pirates’ lead to 4-3, but Melancon was able to stop the bleeding and earn his 43rd save of the season. It was the first home run Melancon has allowed since May 11th.

** Arquimedes Caminero has become scary-good. In what is becoming a trend, Hurdle called upon the rookie to shut down another potential rally and he did so with ease. Caminero pitched a perfect 1.1 innings, seeing his scoreless streak reach 17.1 innings.

** On May 20th, the Pirates lost a tough 13-inning affair to the Minnesota Twins and saw their record fall to 18-22. It was looking more and more likely that the Pirates would have to earn their way into the playoffs through another Wild Card berth.

Since that night, the Pirates have gone 61-27, a whopping .693 clip, and are on pace to win 100 games for the first time since 1909.

“We’ve really programmed ourselves to be concerned about the game we‘re playing that day,” Hurdle said when asked whether the team is aware of the historical run they are currently on. “We’ll continue to do that with a goal in mind — the goal is to win the division. We’re doing some things of significance that we’ll be mindful of later. We are in second place. We want to get to first place.”

** The Pirates will look for their 14th series sweep of the season tomorrow afternoon when they send out Charlie Morton against the Rockies and left-hander Jorge De La Rosa.

  • So much positive energy with this team right now and everyone who likes to pick at the team is commenting on things small and barely relevant or things beyond this year. It’s such an amazing change to commentary and posts of the past.
    The impressive thing about this team truly has to be the depth, and that’s a funny thing in itself because that topic has been almost in a league of it’s own.
    1. We have a terrible bench – as recently as last year.
    2. Who cares about the 25th man – as recently as this spring.
    3. Corey Hart, Morel, Barmes, Snider, etc. and so on.
    4. How is Hurdle going to deal with the returning injured? – this year.
    And then somehow, it all fell into place and it was like we have depth, and Hurdle is taking advantage of it. It’s like an impossible thing has finally happened. A full 25 man crew of good players. Pretty fun to watch right now. Maybe the best I ever remember including the 90’s teams. I think this group can go further, but we’ll have to see on that.

  • Why didn’t anyone complain about Rusin quick pitching hitters. I spotted it as early as Cervelli’s first AB,but nobody said a word till Walk pointed it out on the air in the 6th inning.

    • the radio guys were talking about it in the 2nd inning.

    • leo: I do not think there is anything in the rules regarding the windup or lack thereof unless there is a runner on base. He could not do that with runners on because, by rule, he has to come to a set position for at least a second. But, with nobody on base, he is free to do whatever he thinks he needs to do to remain a pitcher in MLB.

      I would say he is not thought of very highly by the opposing teams for trying to do something that relatively few other pitchers would have the nerve to do because it is BS. But, it only takes the first time for a batter to see it and be well-advised to be prepared. Was it Leake or some other Cincy pitcher who would try that every so often?

      • I thought a pitcher always had to come set.There have, after all, been at least four bases-empty balk calls this year.

    • I noticed that early on also, it was more like a Cueto quick pitch, than some bush league stuff of throwing a pitch with the hitter not looking. But I also noticed Rusin’s command appeared to suffer when he did quick pitch.

  • Happ may fall apart in any start, but he has been a great pickup to this point.

  • Marte is in a hitting slump. He did make a great play off the left field wall, holding the hitter to a single. But he may need to sit out more with Harrison in LF.

    In September Travis Snider could also spell Marte and/or Polanco if they need occasional rest. And of course McCutcheon may also need occasional rest.

    Also Melancon should not be used too much consecutively in games. He almost blew the save tonight.with the two-run home run. Harrison made a great catch and doubled the runner off first base for a miraculous close of the game, saving the save.

    Great we are 30 games over .500. Go Bucs!

    • The 9th inning did become a tense escape act. You are correct….Melancon needs two or three days off. His cutter and curve both lacked movement and bite last night, all he had was a fastball. The Rockies were killing his pitches and we were fortunate to hold on to this one. With the great bullpen we have Hurdle and company should not be concerned about Melancon getting all the save opportunities. I hope last night makes that obvious point. Wins are more important than Melancon leading the league in saves.
      This team appears happy and confident heading into a big week.
      I want to see Cole, Liriano and Happ against the Cards.

      • Soria was up and ready before Melancon came in…Hurdle should’ve went to Soria there. Melancon has to be unavailable today and with a travel day tomorrow he should be good to go afterwards.

      • Particularly the two lefthanders.

    • WC: I agree re Melancon, and so did the crew announcing the game who thought he would not be used last night. The catch by Harrison was good, but the runner made a bad decision making the catch look better than it actually was.

      Marte is struggling at the plate lately, but I like the way that Hurdle has mixed in rest for all of the starters all season. Marte will play himself back and absolutely crushed the last ball that almost ate up the SS. Harrison was 1 for 19 in AAA and until the last game or two, was doing very little at the plate for the Pirates. And, trying to steal 2B with ‘Cutch at the plate was ridiculous. He was “guessing” all the way and got picked off – a very poor percentage move on his part.

      I liked Snider last year, and he is playing for a contract in 2016, while NH is looking for a bigger return when he is traded during the off-season. Is he better than other AAA options? I like Broxton – power and speed, and I may even want the switchhitting Hanson to be an option. Decker?

      • Both radio and TV color guys have been very critical of Bucco base runners getting thrown out with Cutch at the plate. Time for Hurdle and staff to review this issue and talk to Polanco, Harrison and company. The one guy who is close to a sure thing stealing second is Marte.

        • The comments about being picked off, bad base running is spot on. You cannot get picked off with the numbers 3 and 4 batters up. They get paid to drive in runs. I wonder what would happen if say a Reggie Jackson or Barry Bonds was up and a runner was picked off? It has been bad base running all year and this may kill you especially if you had only a 1 game playoff.

    • To be fair, that homerun was as much about luck as it was about a failure on Melancon’s part. It was a 93 mph fastball right in on the hands,about 4″ off the black. Sometimes the best just get beat by the opponent. However, I do agree with you about over using him.

    • I’m not benching the 4th best hitter on the team because of 15 at bats. Harrison is passable in the OF, but is below average.

      Agree on Melancon, it would be nice if the Pirates and Hurdle wouldn’t manage for the save, any reliever can see out a 3 run lead.

  • Regarding Caminero: The at bat against Blackmon tonight showed me our dear, wonderfully-named Arquimedes has learned how to pitch. Blackmon battled, but he was off-balance the whole time. And then Caminero started a sequence which really impressed me, pitching him backwards in the second half of the at-bat. Cutter on the edge. Splitter on the edge. Stay “soft.” Then he threw the high heat at 99. Even a flat one, located where he put it, and after all those “slow” pitches, with that velocity, is unhittable. I was really impressed with him again tonight for that at bat in particular.

    Regarding Happ: The stuff was always good, but he was always inconsistent with command. If he keeps this up through the end of the season, and if the Pirates feel they have made a permanent correction to his delivery, I think they have to make an offer to try to sign him back next year. He could be a nice piece at the back of the rotation.

    • Agree on Caminero…very nice sequence. If Happ continues in this manner (which I believe he will) they must consider signing him for at least 1 more year and maybe an option year as well.

      Looks like J-Hay is getting his stroke back. Needs to start at 2nd today and give Walker a couple days down (with Monday being off day).

    • If Happ finishes the year like this, like he started the year in Seattle, then I do think you try to bring him back. That would give you a 2nd lefty and, potentially, replace Jeff Locke.

    • Happ is making $6.7 mill this year. What’s he worth next year? What’s he worth in consideration of other moves the Bucs could make?

      Interesting sabermetrics interpretation as it applies to opportunity cost: Melancon got the save last night. He did what he was paid to do. However, his WAR dipped from 1.2 to 1.0 as a result. Happ’s WAR is 1.8 as of this morning, including his time in Seattle. Melancon is probably looking at $9 million in his final arb. Maybe Happ can be signed for $7.5 or $8 or so.

      If you had to make a choice this offseason between resigning Happ or Melancon (assuming you could not afford both), which would you choose?

      • Christopher R
        August 31, 2015 1:49 am

        Happ, hands down. NH has a trend of flipping his closers when they’re value is up, which MM definitely will be. I don’t see any issues with Watson taking the ball in the ninth, or finding another project reliever for Searage and Benedict to work their magic on. Flipping MM for some prospects will happen this off season IMO.