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Happ makes rare trot in from the bullpen

@ladsonbill24
October 5, 2019

NEW YORK -- Yankees left-hander J.A. Happ found himself in a role he is not used to. The 13-year veteran came out of the bullpen in the eighth inning Friday night and threw a shutout inning during New York’s 10-4 victory over the Twins at Yankee Stadium in Game 1

NEW YORK -- Yankees left-hander J.A. Happ found himself in a role he is not used to. The 13-year veteran came out of the bullpen in the eighth inning Friday night and threw a shutout inning during New York’s 10-4 victory over the Twins at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

While a seemingly minor moment in what was at that point a blowout, the appearance has significant implications. Manager Aaron Boone aggressively used relievers Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle earlier in the game, getting a combined two outs from two of his best arms over the course of five batters in the fifth and sixth innings.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 4 NYY 10, MIN 4 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 5 NYY 8, MIN 2 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 7 NYY 5, MIN 1 Watch

By getting an inning from Happ, Boone was able to spare Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman from having to pitch more than a frame apiece, so he should have his full complement of relievers available for Game 2.

Boone was impressed by what he saw from Happ. In fact, the skipper said Happ could be seen in various roles in the postseason. There is even talk that Happ could start Game 4, if the Division Series goes that far.

“I thought he threw the ball well,” Boone said. “… It was good to get him out there because I really think J.A. Happ is going to play a big role for us if we're going to go deep in [the postseason].

“And it could be in so many different roles. It could be in a high-leverage situation for short [relief]. It could be a matchup situation. It could be starting a game. It could be in a lot of different roles, and the fact that he was ready for that tonight and came in and picked us up was big.”

The Yankees had prepared Happ for a postseason relief role by bringing him out of the bullpen on Sept. 25 against the Rays. However, that was planned in advance, and he entered in the second inning and pitched five innings of one-run ball. This was Happ’s first “unplanned” relief appearance since July 27, 2015, when he was with the Mariners.

On Friday, Happ needed 23 pitches to get out of the frame against Minnesota.

He started off by striking out Miguel Sanó. After Max Kepler walked, Marwin Gonzalez singled to left center-field to put runners on first and second. But Happ was able to get out of the inning. C.J. Cron flied out to right fielder Aaron Judge, and Jonathan Schoop struck out to end the threat.

Happ was inconsistent as a starter in 2019 until the month of September, when he allowed just five runs in 27 1/3 innings. But the great finish wasn’t good enough to earn a spot in the rotation during the postseason.

However, some of his teammates believe that Happ will thrive out of the bullpen.

“He is willing to do anything to help this team win,” said outfielder Brett Gardner. Obviously, with CC [Sabathia] not available, I think Happ is going to have a pretty big role out of the 'pen. Happ is a true pro with the way he prepares, the way that he works. He is a big asset for us down there in whatever role you use him. I thought he looked good tonight.”

The way reliever Chad Green sees it, the more Happ comes out of the bullpen, the more comfortable he’ll become on the mound.

“That’s a tough situation to come into because I know how routine-oriented starters are,” Green said. “It was awesome to see how sharp he was and the life he had on his pitches.”

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.