OAKLAND, Calif. — It has been far and away the most perplexing, and frustrating, season of J.A. Happ’s 13-year career.
The lefthander, though showing flashes here and there of the above-average-to-good-major-league-pitcher he’s always been, has mostly been a train wreck this season.
The issues have been so pronounced that it’s difficult to imagine the Yankees feeling comfortable giving this version of Happ a postseason start.
Happ saw his overall record fall to 10-8 and his ERA to climb to 5.58 with his latest rough outing Wednesday night when when he allowed five runs and four hits over four innings of a 6-4 loss to the A's.
The 36-year-old professionally answered questions afterward, but it’s clear the pitcher is searching for real answers.
Asked if this season has been head-scratching to him, Happ said, "It is. I haven’t struggled like this in a while. But again, I’m doing everything I can every day to come in and try to figure this thing out and support the rest of the guys. I feel good. I feel like I can make the adjustments. That’s my hope at least.”
Two of the four hits allowed by Happ Wednesday were home runs, giving him 31 allowed in 25 starts.
“Struggling to keep the ball in the park for whatever reason,” said Happ, who again struggled with his fastball, previously the lefty’s best pitch but one that's given him issues all season. “It’s not for lack of trying to figure it out. We’re trying to do everything we can between starts to figure out sequencing, location, execution, even delivery. But they got the two [homers] today and they had a guy on base each time and that makes it tough.”
Happ’s previous single-season high in homers allowed was the 27 he gave up last season, a year in which he went 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA, including 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA with the Yankees after they acquired him from the Blue Jays at the trade deadline.
Somewhat troubling – at least in the sense of not having an answer – was Happ saying that his stuff overall feels no different than last season.
“I feel like I have the same stuff,” Happ said. “It seems similar to me. So that’s part of the process of trying to figure out why the results haven’t been there.”
Happ added later: “We’re trying to figure out tunneling [the pathway pitches travel to the plate], pitching selection, delivery, tinkering with grips. I’m trying to do what we can. Really, I feel similar, very similar to the way I have in previous years. So we’ll continue to work and try to figure it out.”
The stakes are high for him to do so. Not so much as far as the AL East is concerned – the Yankees took a nine-game lead over the Rays into Thursday – but home-field advantage is up in the air, both for the entire AL playoffs and the World Series.
Boone said after Wednesday night that Happ without question will make his next scheduled start and isn’t going to be dropped from the rotation.
But even though the Yankees aren’t publicly looking that far ahead, it’s safe to wonder where he’ll fit come October if there isn’t significant improvement between now and then.
“I know he’s frustrated obviously,” Boone said. “We just have to keep grinding away. The stuff is there enough for him to go out and be successful. We have to continue to try and find a way with him.”