Following a tough night in Beantown, the Yankees came back against the Sox on Saturday afternoon, riding a good start by JA Happ to a 5-1 victory. The Yankees got runs when they needed them, and the Sox just didn’t have an answer at the plate today.
Happ Spins a Good One
JA Happ knows that he is on the bubble for the playoff roster. Happ has not had a good season to-date, but he deserves credit for tonight’s game. Happ was aggressive in the strike zone, throwing 62 of his 92 pitches for strikes. Happ also had solid velocity on his four seam fastball, sitting 91-94 MPH throughout his outing without losing velocity, which is a good sign. Earlier this season, Happ’s fastball was closer to 89-92 MPH, which seems to make him quite hittable.
All in, Happ spun 6.1 innings of 2-hit, shutout ball, while striking out 7 and issuing just 1 walk. Happ allowed hits in the 1st inning and the 4th. Otherwise, the Red Sox never threatened to score against Happ today.
Watching Happ pitch today, what I liked best was the way that he changed his approach with regards to pitch mix as the game went along. Happ mixed in a significant number of two-seam fastballs in the first 3 innings of his outing before moving exclusively to a four-seam fastball later. Happ also utilized his slider more than he has in the past, throwing 25 in 92 pitches, according to Statcast. It is possible for Happ to be effective when he mixes speed and pitches when he pitches like he did today. The four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball have approximately 2 MPH of velocity separation for Happ, not to mention the difference in movement, while his off-speed stuff comes to hitters in the mid-80 MPH range. Happ is most comfortable working off of his four-seam fastball, which can work when he mixes pitches like he did today.
To throw a bit of cold water on an otherwise great day for Happ, he did get hit pretty hard today, allowing an average exit velocity of 93.45 MPH on balls in play today, according to Statcast. That’s not hard to imagine when looking at his pitch map for today:
There are a lot of strikes there, but there are also a high concentration of pitches right in the middle of the zone. I loved Happ’s aggressiveness and pitch mix today, but that’s too many pitches in the heart of the plate. I really want to believe that Happ has turned a corner and is ready to be a mid-rotation stalwart for the Yankees just in time for the playoffs, but I’m not sure I buy it yet.
At least Happ was great today - no one can take that away from him. 6.1 innings of shutout ball at Fenway in September is nothing to sneeze at.
Just Enough Offensively
The Yankees waited until the 4th inning to put together their biggest rally of the game. DJ Lemahieu led off the inning with a single, and Didi Gregorius pushed him to 3rd base with a one-out double. Sanchez then hit a “whoopsie” ground rule double to RF off of a Colten Brewer hanging slider to score both Didi and LeMahieu. Seriously, does this look like a guy who just hit a ball hard:
Sanchez’s hit looked like a pop-out to either the second baseman or the right fielder. Instead, it fell harmlessly into no-man’s-land in the outfield before bouncing into the stands in foul territory. According to Statcast, balls hit with Sanchez’s launch characteristics on that hit (87.5 MPH, 59 degree launch angle) have an expected batting average of just .010 (!). Sanchez doesn’t get lucky often at the plate, as evidenced by his .241 BABIP, but he definitely got lucky in putting the Yankees ahead 2-0.
The Yankees didn’t let good luck go to waste, as Encarnacion went yard the very next at-bat, scoring Sanchez and putting the Yanks ahead 4-0 in the 4th inning. Encarnacion hit the ball 106.5 on a no-doubt homer. Great to see him help in the middle of the order, but more importantly, an exit velocity that high means that Encarnacion’s wrist is likely healthy enough to allow him to make an impact down the stretch.
Eddy later helped the Yankees tack on another insurance run in the 9th inning, bringing Sanchez around to score on a hard hit ball to left-center.
Just a solid all-around game by the Yankees today - the Yankees had a nice bounce-back after a tough loss on Friday night, and I’m encouraged by the play of a couple of guys who will be under the microscope for the next couple of weeks (albeit for different reasons), Edwin Encarnacion and JA Happ.
Hopefully, the good vibes continue on Sunday, as Masahiro Tanaka takes the Fenway bump against NJ native Rick Porcello. It’s the ESPN Sunday night game, with the game set to start at 8:00. Get ready for a late night, but hopefully some good baseball.