Yankees avoid old school-vs.-new school clash — this time
Which task required more effort by J.A. Happ on Wednesday?
A. Throwing 64 pitches over 5 ¹/₃ innings to lead the Yankees to a 5-3 victory over the horrid Orioles in the opening game of a doubleheader.
B. Talking in a postgame news conference for 3 ¹/₂ minutes without shredding his manager Aaron Boone.
The answer: “Too close to call.”
On one hand, the Orioles did go deep a couple of times against the veteran left-hander. On the other, only a 64-pitch leash when the Yankees had another game to play after the first one?
Or, as a clearly fired up Happ relayed when asked what he said to his manager upon getting the quick hook, “I just wanted to make sure he remembered we had a doubleheader today.”
Old schools around the tri-state area shook to their foundations as Boone violated conventional wisdom and turned so early to his bullpen — as Happ noted, in a Game 1, to boot. Nevertheless, the numbers don’t lie. This was the right call even if it backfired, and it didn’t, with a quartet of hard-throwing Yankees relievers recording the final 11 outs over a span of 13 batters.
“The four guys that came in were as nasty as we’ve seen all year,” Happ said of Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. “And they were disgusting. But at the same time, I still would’ve rather stayed in there. That’s kind of the way it goes.
“You know what? It worked today. Hopefully we get the second one.”
They got the second one, 3-1, with Domingo German going a strong seven innings and Britton and Chapman both finishing double shifts after the entire team rested Monday and Tuesday thanks to rainouts. Besides the inevitable becoming the reality in the form of Miguel Andujar electing season-ending right shoulder surgery, all ended well for the Yankees, and the schedule affords another off day Thursday before the first-place Rays visit for the weekend.
“Most of our guys are big-time competitors,” Boone said. “Those are just some of the calls you have every now and then that aren’t necessarily the right or wrong calls … but conversations that you have to have. Trust in the relationship I have with each guy that there’s a reason behind it.”
Happ left the game after striking out Dwight Smith Jr. to start the sixth, with Trey Mancini and Renato Nunez coming up. Each of the pair already had gone deep off Happ in this game, Mancini in the first and Nunez in the fourth. The round-trippers gave Mancini and Nunez each three career homers off Happ in 24 and 14 at-bats, respectively.
More generally, when going the third time through the order, as was the case here, opponents are slashing .306/.359/.500 against Happ.
When Boone was asked whether he wanted to regularly protect Happ from that third time through, the manager replied, “No, every game’s a little bit different, depending on usage and days off and where you are. There’s going to be times where he’s going to have to push through and get us deep into the game. Today was a game where we felt like, in that spot, in a tight game, we were lined up the right way.”
Happ’s pitch count marked his lowest in a regular-season start since May 16, 2016, when he threw only 51 pitches for the Blue Jays against the Rays while getting hammered for eight runs in two-plus innings. He did, you might remember, last only 44 pitches in last year’s American League Division Series Game 1 at Fenway Park.
“I’m still trying to deal with it,” the 36-year-old Happ admitted when asked about the trending in favor of heavy bullpen usage. “I don’t know. I think again, those guys that came in were lights out, and that’s awesome. I just think you’re sort of taught and built to want to stay in there, especially on a day like today.”
The old-school left-hander exhibited impressive discipline holding his tongue to the extent he did. Boone did right by honoring the new-school principles. Isn’t it nice when the two schools can coexist without causing too much of a ruckus?
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