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Struggling J.A. Happ trying to turn it around for Yankees

Yankees manager Aaron Boone, left, pulls starting pitcher

Yankees manager Aaron Boone, left, pulls starting pitcher J.A. Happ, right, from a game during the fourth inning against the Orioles on Monday in Baltimore. Credit: AP/Nick Wass

BALTIMORE – Winning is the ultimate cover. In that respect, few on the Yankees are happier with the club’s performance this season than J.A. Happ is.

The lefthander excelled with the Yankees after they traded for him last season, and was re-signed this offseason to a two-year, $34 million deal. This season, he has not been good.

Through his first 10 starts, including another nightmare Monday night against the last-place Orioles, he stood at 3-3 with a 5.16 ERA.

“We won in spite of me, pretty much,” Happ said after he allowed six runs and nine hits, two shy of his career worst, over 3 2/3 innings. 

After trailing 6-1, the Yankees stormed back in the late innings, with Gary Sanchez punctuating a four-run ninth with a three-run homer that snapped a 7-7 tie.

“I heard the guys saying, ‘We’ve got a lot of game left,’ as I came out of the game, so we never lost faith in that sense,” Happ said.

Happ insists he hasn’t lost faith in himself, though there hasn’t been much in the way of silver linings for him to hold on to. He allowed two more homers, giving him 13 in 10 starts. He's on pace to smash his career high for homers in a season – 27 in 2018, which he split between the Blue Jays and Yankees. Happ has had only two starts in which he did not give up at least one home run, and has given up two in half of his starts.

Aaron Boone said he wouldn’t use the word “concern” in describing his thoughts about Happ, but said, "We want to get him rolling like he’s capable of.”

The key to that, the manager said, is for Happ to find consistency with his fastball.

“We’ve seen a lot of good, but we’ve seen some struggles, and I think it comes down to really where he starts owning his fastball in that lane and the command of that pitch, which is his calling card,” Boone said. “Once he does that, he’ll go on a stretch here where he’ll really get it rolling.”

Of his fastball inconsistency, Happ said: “I don’t know. We’re trying to figure that out, I’m trying to figure that out. Trying to put an end to it and be more consistent. I don’t know that I have an answer for it. [Monday] they hit the bad pitches, they hit the good pitches. I just got beat. My plan is to get better and figure that out and we’ll go from there.”

Happ immediately got on the kind of roll Boone referred to after arriving from the Blue Jays at last season’s trade deadline, going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Yankees. The lone blip came in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Red Sox, when he took the loss after allowing five runs in two innings.

His regular-season performance made him a no-brainer to bring back from the club’s perspective, but he has resembled the postseason Happ rather than the in-season one. Happ, 36, came into the year 109-82 with a 3.90 ERA in his big-league career.

“Absolutely,” said Happ, asked if he was frustrated he hadn’t gotten things going. “I’m doing my best to maintain and trust that it’s going to be there like it has been. That’s all I can do.”

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