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The pressure is on J.A. Happ

The time for Happ to produce is now

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Yankees starter J.A Happ returns from paternity leave for a Sunday night start against Red Sox southpaw David Price, who also was on paternity leave. It just seems like the rivalry is never ending, from the field to the delivery of newborns.

With teams settled in for their second-half run, general manager Brian Cashman has made it clear that he “knocked on all doors”, but had trouble finding fair offers with potential partners ahead of last Wednesday’s trade deadline. Clearly Cashman believes the Yankees have enough to challenge a vaunted Houston Astros team that added ace Zack Greinke to be their third starter and come out with the American League pennant and fight for their 28th title.

None of that will be possible, however, if there is no major contribution from Happ. Following an impressive 2018 campaign in which he went 17-6, Happ re-signed with the Yankees to a two-year contract with a vesting option for the 2021 season. With other starters Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, and Charlie Morton available, Happ was brought back largely in part because of a career year in 2018 that featured career highs in strikeouts (193) and WHIP (1.93).

The 2019 season has been one of many ups and downs for the Yankees, but their perseverance has resulted in a first place position in the AL East and the third best record in the majors. In Happ’s case, however, this season has been tough him. An 8-6 record with a 5.19 ERA (5.29 FIP) is far from what the Yankees hoped to get after he was rewarded with $17 million per year. Nonetheless, a chance for any player to redeem himself in the eyes of Yankees fans always exists in October.

At home, the veteran left-hander is 5-6 with a 5.64 ERA, a 1.47 WHIP, 50 strikeouts, and 14 walks while allowing 15 home runs. On the road he's fared much better, going 3-0 with a 4.62 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 39 strikeouts, 14 walks and nine home runs allowed. Against righties, he's struggled mightily, giving up 18 home runs, 21 walks, 18 doubles and a 5.44 ERA. Against southpaws he’s had a little more success, allowing only six home runs and three doubles with a 4.39 ERA.

The key for Happ moving forward is to focus on his inability to keep teams off the board within the first time through an order. The rotation has had it’s share of bumps and bruises, so allowing teams to score early runs not only puts pressure on the hitters, but more importantly the bullpen.

When he’s aggressive and gets ahead in the count, he's lights out. When batters are in a 0-2 count Happ’s ERA is an astonishing 0.00 with 20 strikeouts. When he's in a 1-0 or 1-1 count, those numbers drastically change with a 14.73 ERA and 13.14 ERA, respectively. He’s allowed five home runs and 12 RBI in 1-0 counts, while allowing six home runs and 14 RBI in a 1-1 count.

In two starts against the Twins, a potential postseason opponent, Happ is 0-1 with a 10.00 ERA while allowing four home runs in nine innings. In one start against Houston, the Astros erupted with three home runs over four innings pitched, knocking Happ out of the game early with a 18.00 ERA.

Tonight’s start against Boston is a chance to right the ship. Against the Red Sox, Happ has been solid with a 1-0 record in two starts and a 3.18 era. Sweeping Boston will give the team a much needed confident boost moving towards the last stretch of the season. More importantly, it’ll give Happ an extra sense of assurance ahead of the postseason.

Ultimately, the decision to not trade for a starter shows the confidence that Cashman has in this rotation and more importantly in Happ. He was signed with arguably better options available. The time for him to put up is now.