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J.A. Happ effective, Yankees hit five home runs in win over Rangers

Happ strikes out nine in six innings in first start since contracting hand, foot and mouth disease, and Neil Walker hits two home runs as Yankees win fourth straight.

J.A. Happ #34 of the New York Yankees

J.A. Happ #34 of the New York Yankees pitches in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

J.A. Happ may be coming off a nasty case of hand, foot and mouth disease, but his arm seems just fine.

Happ — who made only one start in pinstripes before contracting the virus that felled him and Noah Syndergaard — made fairly easy work of the Rangers in six innings Thursday, showing a glimpse of the stability the Yankees were looking for when they traded for him before the July 31 deadline.

And the rest of the team? Well, they did what the Yankees do: They hit home runs.

The Yankees belted four of their five against Ariel Jurado in a 7-3 win at Yankee Stadium for their fourth win in a row. Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andujar, Neil Walker and Giancarlo Stanton all went yard against the rookie lefty, who was pulled after five innings and 73 pitches. Walker, who hit his first homer from the right side of the plate, hit his second from the left side in the sixth, off reliever Matt Moore — the first time he has homer ed from both sides of the plate in his career and his sixth multi-home run game.

Hicks’ homer was his 20th, giving the Yankees four hitters with 20 or more homers.

Perhaps just as important, the Yankees seemed to fully exorcise the lingering bad feelings from that five-game losing streak, including four brutal losses to the Red Sox. They followed that series with a sweep of the White Sox.

“Really good,” Aaron Boone said of Happ. “We needed some length today . . . We wanted to stay away from Sonny [Gray], [Chad] Green and [Jonathan] Holder, so we needed a good outing from our starter tonight and especially with J.A. coming off the virus — how do you respond from that? We’re hopeful and felt he was in a good place physically . . . but you never know how that’s going to show itself and I thought he did really well.”

The lefty no-hit the Rangers for the first 3 2⁄3 innings, and truly blinked only once — on his third time around the order. Happ (12-6) allowed four hits over six innings, giving up three runs with a walk and nine strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the lineup more than made up for the power hitting vacuum left by Aaron Judge’s and Gary Sanchez’s absences.

Hicks kicked it off in the first inning. After Didi Gregorius walked, Hicks — who’s already far eclipsed his career high for home runs — sent a long shot to the rightfield bleachers off Jurado’s 92- mph fastball to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Hicks’ previous career high was 15 homers, which he hit last year.

“I think we started to see in the last year [that] this is a really talented player,” Boone said of Hicks. “It’s quality at-bats from both sides of the plate.”

Happ didn’t make a mistake until the fourth, when a fastball down the middle of the plate found Jurickson Profar’s bat. He blasted it into the visitors’ bullpen to cut the Yankees’ lead to 2-1. They got that run back, with interest in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Jurado walked Greg Bird and Andujar homered to left to make it 4-1. Two pitches later, Walker belted a solo shot to right.

The Rangers did manage to touch up Happ a bit in the top of the fifth, when the first two batters reached on a walk and a single. Carlos Tocci’s sacrificed the runners and Shin-Soo Choo (who, up until that point, had been hit twice) laced a double to center to drive in both runs to make it 5-3. Stanton, though, hit a solo homer in the fifth, and Walker made it 7-3 in the sixth.

Aroldis Chapman got into trouble in the ninth — walking the first two hitters and showcasing a slower-than-usual fastball that dipped into the mid-90s — but he got out of it. Boone said he doesn’t believe Chapman is hurt but is struggling with mechanical issues.

New York Sports