Luis Severino’s recent struggles have created a situation where the Yankees are waiting for their ace to find himself.
Or maybe they have found a new ace.
J.A. Happ allowed one bloop single in seven shutout innings Tuesday night as the Yankees topped the Rays, 4-1, before 40,393 at Yankee Stadium.
Happ improved to 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts since the Yankees acquired him from the Blue Jays on July 26. Other than a stint on the 10-day disabled list with hand, foot and mouth disease, Happ has been just what the doctor ordered for the Yankees' rotation.
"He was great," manager Aaron Boone said. "Needed it. Needed him to give us some innings and to go out there and give us seven. It was a clinic. Great rhythm, great pace to it. Fun to sit over there and watch."
Severino is the Yankees’ unquestioned No. 1 starter, but he has a 7.50 ERA in his last seven starts. Severino will get every opportunity to straighten himself out down the stretch, but the identity of the Yankees’ ace will take on a greater significance if they can’t catch the Red Sox and have to play a winner-take-all wild-card game.
The Yankees, who have won seven of nine after getting swept in a four-game series in Boston, still trail the Red Sox by 10 games in the AL East. Boston beat the Phillies, 2-1.
Happ (13-6) struck out four, walked four and hit a batter. He threw 106 pitches, 71 for strikes.
Austin Romine hit a two-run homer for the Yankees. Romine has eight this season. The backup catcher had seven coming into the year. He was more interested in talking about his pitcher.
"The past three outings have been exactly what we needed," Romine said. "He's been huge for us since the day he got over here."
The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the first inning against Tampa Bay “opener” Hunter Wood. Giancarlo Stanton laced a double to right-center and moved to third when an attempted pickoff throw by catcher Jesus Sucre bounced off the glove of shortstop Willy Adames and into centerfield for an error that was charged to Adames.
Rays manager Kevin Cash brought the infield in. That strategy backfired when Aaron Hicks blooped an RBI single to short center.
The righthanded Wood threw 26 pitches in the first (and his only) inning. Cash called on rookie lefthander Jalen Beeks to start the second as the Rays continue their attempt to reinvent baseball by using starters as relievers and relievers as starters.
Beeks went five innings and struck out eight, including six in a row in the third and fourth innings. The streak ended when Beeks walked Neil Walker leading off the fifth and then surrendered a true Yankee Stadium home run to Romine to make it a 3-0 game. The drive landed just inside the rightfield foul pole and about 10 rows beyond the 314-foot sign.
Happ walked the leadoff man in the first and third innings but escaped both times unscathed. He also walked leadoff man Matt Duffy in the fourth, but Duffy was erased on a stolen-base attempt and what might have been a blown hit-and-run. Happ then walked Jake Bauers and allowed the only hit against him, a bloop single to left by C.J. Cron.
Happ recovered to get Joey Wendle to pop to short for the second out. Carlos Gomez lined out to first to end the threat.
Happ found his control and retired 11 of his final 12 batters. After hitting Gomez with a pitch with two outs in the seventh, Happ struck out Kevin Kiermaier on his final pitch.
"I felt like I was getting better as the game was going on, able to throw more of the pitches for strikes," Happ said. "That was a big help."
Adames homered on the first pitch thrown by Dellin Betances to make it 3-1 in the eighth.
Miguel Andujar and Greg Bird had back-to-back two-out doubles in the eighth to make it 4-1. Aroldis Chapman allowed a hit in the ninth but recorded his 31st save.