By Rich Mancuso:/ theny extra.com
Is the Yankees starting rotation a concern? As the Yankees continue to go through opponents during the first two weeks of this truncated 2020 season, we are not talking about Gerrit Cole.
We are not talking about Left-hander Jordan Montgomery who closes out a four-game series at the Phillies Thursday night with a 1-0 start and 1.59 ERA. Montgomery, back from Tommy John surgery, will not work a significant amount of innings and that would be under normal circumstances of a 162-game schedule.
Masahiro Tanaka? Always a concern with the home run ball. The Right-hander, on the mound Friday night for the first of four at Tampa Bay, gets his second start after working 2.2 innings last week against the Red Sox.
His season debut, delayed after being cleared from concussion protocols and relied on a fastball, and not as much with the secondary pitches. The Yankees are not concerned and are confident that Tanaka will provide innings as the schedule moves along.
James Paxton? That’s another hurler in this rotation that has a tendency to not go with his out pitch. The Yankees need Paxton to give them innings.
So there is Cole. In an expanded playoff format, October baseball, and Cole will be dominant. He always is. Dominant in his Yankee Stadium debut this week against the Phillies and extending his win streak to 19 games.
J.A. Happ? That’s the issue. In a brief postseason series, that is more of a concern. Happ, could not throw strikes Wednesday night in the Yankees seven-inning 11-7 first game loss at the Phillies.
He had a 3-0 lead. The Yankees had to use their late inning theatrics at the plate and came up short. More so, Happ, a key component to this rotation, could not find the strike zone as the Phillies scored four runs in the top of the third inning.
The home run ball syndrome? Yes, Happ, with no feel of the strike zone, gave up the two-run homer to Bryce Harper that put the Phillies in the lead.
With this sprint of a season, and a hopeful October of unusual playoff baseball, the Yankees need Happ to find that zone. There is concern. Compared to the marathon, yes, there is every reason for concern and panic.
The Yankees need Happ, as much as they need Cole, Tanaka, Paxton and Montgomery. A short series, best of three or four, Happ is expected to get a start.
“Had a hard time getting the ball to the arm side,” manager Aaron Boone said about Happ. “I thought his mix of pitches and stuff looked crisp enough.”
That was the internal optimism of the Yankees manager. Because, after the Harper home run ball, Happ walked three of the next four. As much as Boone would say, the Happ slider and changeup were okay, there were issues with his command.
Boone said it was an issue of mechanics. Again, very little time to get the mechanics on the right track with a limited number of starts in a truncated season of a sprint.
Happ, in his first two starts, has not gone past five innings. That is a concern. The Yankees need length from the rotation to not tax a bullpen as rosters go from 30 to 28 as of tomorrow night in Tampa Bay.
We are at this juncture. The 9-2 Yankees, with the best record in baseball. The offense is not an issue. The tendency all along was for the Yankees to score runs, but, they need J.A. Happ. He needs to get those mechanics in order because there is not much time.
“It’s not characteristic of me with the walks,” Happ said. “It’s getting back to staying aggressive. I thought I was very close a lot of the time. But I wasn’t able to get back into the count.”
Yet, Happ was not ahead in the counts. The breaking balls missed, though, to his defense, the unusual strike zone of home plate umpire Angel Hernandez put some of those pitches in the border line category
Happ said ,the breaking balls were there. But they missed, regardless of the Hernandez strike zone.
“I think it’s just cleaning that up,” Haap said. That would be my plan.
But there is limited time to go with that plan. If not, the Yankees will be forced to go with another option. They have the arms. But they need and hope J.A. Happ will make the adjustments.
Boone, that internal optimist could not commit to making a move in the rotation. However,, and more so the way this unusual season is constructed, he may be forced to remove Happ from the rotation.
This a sprint and not a marathon. That applies to the Yankees. It applies to J.A. Happ.
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