J.A. Happ
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

J.A. Happ is an irreplaceable member of the starting rotation after recent injuries. The New York Yankees are all-in on the southpaw.

Allison Case

When the New York Yankees snagged J.A. Happ from the Toronto Blue Jays midway through the 2018 season, they found another lefty to shore up their rotation and make waves. And boy, did Happ deliver in his first stint in the Bronx.

After a 7-0 performance during the second half of 2018, the Yankees came into 2019 with Happ slotted as a sure thing in their rotation. And then 2019 happened.

Happ’s numbers last year didn’t live up to expectations—not by a long shot. In fact, he became best friends with the long ball, allowing 34 home runs in 161.1 innings of work.

And just like that, Happ went from being a useful July pickup to a piece the Bombers couldn’t wait to toss aside.

With trade rumors lingering all offseason long, the assumption was that Happ would not be wearing pinstripes come the beginning of spring training. Imagine the surprise when he emerged alongside the other pitchers on Feb. 12.

Initially, it looked like Happ would have to scratch and claw just to be the fifth starter. Now, weeks later, he has officially moved up the depth chart in the wake of injuries to Luis Severino and James Paxton.

My, how the tables have turned. J.A. Happ has shed his public enemy No. 1 status and become the superhero the Yankees will need for the majority of the season.

While Happ’s numbers weren’t horrific in 2019, his 4.91 ERA was definitely a shock along with the home runs allowed. He provided depth when the Yankees needed it most and played a crucial role in a spotty rotation. Did he win every game? Absolutely not. But if you take away the home runs, his season would not have looked near as bad.

Happ is back to being a primary name in the rotation and although he’s only had one start this spring, he showed some flashes of the 2018 Happ who anchored the rotation and propelled the Yankees into the postseason.

Now, they need Happ. The timeline for Severino’s return is unclear while Paxton is expected to be out until at least May. While the Yankees have potential candidates to fill in the holes in the rotation, Happ is a reliable and proven starter who is serving as a stop-gap until the rest prove their worth.

Jordan Montgomery threw 82 total pitches in four innings during 2019, a ratio that is not favorable. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery so his regular repertoire might not be as dominant. Relying on him to return to his 2017 form is a precarious notion, especially in the beginning of the season.

Whether the Yankees like it or not, Happ will be in the rotation, at least for the interim. When everyone else comes back, decision time will come and the numbers will tell the truth.

The 37-year-old lefty completed two scoreless innings of work in the first game of the spring. He threw 26 pitches without allowing a baserunner while striking out three and touched 93 mph on his fastball. Happ is showing signs of life in his first outing and while that is an incredibly small sample size, it’s a good indicator that he’s feeling positive about his arm and stuff.

Happ has emerged as a pretty important character in the 2020 New York Yankees story due to injury already. From a potential trade chip to a crucial member of the rotation, Saturday’s outing definitely allowed Yankees fans to breathe a sigh of relief.

Like it or not, J.A. Happ is going to play a huge role for the Bombers in their chase for a 28th title. Hopefully, “Home Run Happ” is gone and 2018 Happ will return because all eyes are on him at this moment.

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