The Yankees’ decision-makers probably have an idea of what they’d like to do with J.A. Happ come October. Now it’s just a matter of whether he can change their minds during the next three weeks.
And even then, the Yankees’ playoff rotation already may be out of his reach.
Happ again was impressive in Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Red Sox, allowing two hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings. He has given up no runs and three hits in 12 1/3 innings in his last two starts.
He’s the only Yankees lefthander besides Ron Guidry (1978) to have consecutive starts of at least six innings, zero runs and two or fewer hits (hat tip to stat guru Katie Sharp).
Once you bring Gator into the mix, that’s some elite company, but Happ can’t claw his way back into the playoff picture on his own. He sounds as if he realizes that, too.
“I don’t know how they’re going to feel,” Happ said. “But if I can go out there and feel like I felt today, I like my chances. They’ll decide what they want to decide, and whenever they ask me to pitch, I’m pitching.”
Here’s where Happ runs into trouble. The Yankees' top three starters in the postseason look fairly set. Masahiro Tanaka is penciled in for Game 1, and based on Domingo German’s drastic home/road splits, he’s better off going in Game 2 if he’s still physically OK to do so after his spike in innings this season. German has a 2.35 ERA, a 4.35 K/BB ratio and a 1.00 WHIP at Yankee Stadium compared to a 5.73 ERA, 3.60 K/BB ratio and 1.30 WHIP away from the Bronx.
Brian Cashman already has stated that German’s regular season innings workload won’t be a factor in his October usage, but he’ll be in uncharted territory during the rest of this month as he finishes up his first full major league season. Let’s check back and see if he’s still as strong by Sept. 30.
James Paxton, who’s finding his stride at the perfect time, seems to be the right call for Game 3. Since Aug. 1, he’s 7-0 with a 2.98 ERA, a 10.84 K/9 rate and a 0.94 WHIP. No worries there. Paxton created a bit of buyer’s remorse earlier this season when he struggled with the Stadium mound, but overall, the Yankees now have to be confident in his stopper ability.
Complicating matters is the imminent return of Luis Severino, who could rejoin the Yankees as early as Sunday and is being stretched into a starter for them. Severino had an encouraging second rehab start for Triple-A Scranton on Friday, allowing five hits and striking out five in three innings-plus. He threw 50 pitches.
As of Saturday night, Aaron Boone said they still were determining the next venue for Severino. But as soon as he’s back with the Yankees, he’ll be a starter as they push to get his pitch count up. Being Severino, he’ll deserve consideration for the playoff rotation as well, which makes the rest of September an audition for October roles.
That’s fair,” Boone said. “I think these three weeks will be important in kind of seeing where guys are at as we get into the decision-making process of how we’re going to match up guys up and things like that. So yeah, I think it’s fair to say this is an important few weeks.”
Severino hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors all season, and regardless of his resume, and what he’s done down at Scranton, it’s not as if he can put on pinstripes again and instantly be that same guy. Is three weeks enough time to get there? No one knows the answer to that yet.
We haven’t forgotten about CC Sabathia, but based on his debilitating right knee trouble, the Yankees really can’t trust him on a playoff roster. It has become more difficult for him to put stress on his landing leg, and even sending him out for a regular-season start has turned into a dice roll.
So where does all this leave Happ? Cashman brought him back for $34 million to be a pillar of the rotation, but German has outpitched him this season, and now Severino could challenge his place on the pitching depth chart.
Another threat? The Yankees also have been very successful with the opener concept this season, and that could get serious consideration for October.
As Boone said, the Yankees are still in the evaluation process, and health can always enter into the equation. Nothing is set in stone.
For Happ, it has to be about staying on a roll and hoping for an opening.
"I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “We’ll figure that stuff out. That always has a way of taking care of itself.”
At least now he's doing a better job of getting his name into that discussion.