PIRATES – DIAMONDBACKS REACTIONS
By John Perrotto
Photo: David Hague
PITTSBURGH — It is only two starts but J.A. Happ is only helping Ray Searage further cement his reputation as one of baseball’s best pitching coaches.
Happ had his second strong start in a row Wednesday night for the Pirates following a disastrous debut two weeks ago and a string of bad outings for the Seattle Mariners before being traded on July 31 for pitching prospect Adrian Sampson.
The left-hander pitched six scoreless innings and allowed just two hits for his first win with the Pirates as they beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-1 on Wednesday night at PNC Park. The Diamondbacks had been averaging 5.24 runs in their first 17 games of August.
The Pirates stayed five games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central and moved to four games in front of the Chicago Cubs in the NL wild card standings.
Happ’s effort came on the heels of holding the NL East-leading Mets to one run in 5 1/3 innings last Saturday at New York. He did not factor in the decision, though the Pirates went on to win 3-2 in 10 innings.
That is quite a turnaround from his first outing for the Pirates when he was tagged for four runs in 4 1/3 innings on Aug. 2 in a 5-0 loss to the Cubs. He also went 1-5 with a 6.65 ERA in his last 10 games, nine of which were starts, for the Mariners.
The Pirates took advantage of two off days in a four-day span to skip Happ’s turn in the rotation last week. That gave them the tactical advantage of not having the then-struggling Happ have to face the Cardinals in St. Louis but also gave the 32-year-old nine days off between starts and time to work out a few mechanical flaws with Searage.
“To start with, the delivery is in a really solid place, he’s repeating his delivery,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “The ball coming out of his hand has angle now. A downhill angle, fastball command based on the repeating of the delivery has improved. He’s getting the ball glove side and efficient. He’s moving his fastball around. He’s kept the hitters off balance with the breaking ball, with the changeup.
“Just pitching with a lot more confidence, figuring himself out. I think he was able to make some minor adjustments and fun to watch him out there tonight.”
Happ feels confidence has played the biggest part in his turnaround. It was pretty much shot when he got to the Pirates and the extra time off between starts allowed him to recharge mentally.
“Trusting your stuff, whether you’re feeling great or not,” Happ said. “I didn’t think I had my best fastball tonight compared to the game in New York, but still throwing with conviction, trying to locate and mix it up.”
Switching teams in the middle of the season and being counted on to perform in a pennant race — the Pirates traded for Happ in response to right-hander A.J. Burnett going on the disabled list
with a strained flexor tendon in his elbow — can be daunting. Hurdle, though, believes Happ has settled in now.
“It’s always good when everybody can contribute,” Hurdle said. “For them just as much for anybody else. Everyone wants to contribute. No one wants to be the weakest link. Everybody wants to get something done.”
Happ’s teammates are also appreciating his turnaround.
“He was just phenomenal. So much fun to watch,” said utility player Sean Rodriguez, who had three hits while starting at second place in place of Neil Walker, who was rested.
“He’s throwing the ball where he wants, not only commanding it but you see a lot of pitchers sometimes when guys foul off a lot of pitches and they did that tonight off of him but it didn’t matter, he put the next pitch right where he wanted. They kept fouling them off and he kept going at them, it showed a lot of resilience on his part.”
–Outfielder Travis Snider was signed to a minor league contract and assigned to Class AAA Indianapolis.
Snider played for the Pirates from 2012-14 but was traded to the Baltimore Orioles on Jan. 27 for minor league left-handers Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley. The Orioles released Snider last week after he hit just .237 with three home runs in 69 games.
While Snider fizzled with the Orioles, Brault and Tarpley have shined in the minor leagues. Brault has gone a combined 10-4 with a 2.83 ERA with high Class A Bradenton and Class AA Altoona while Tarpley is 10-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 16 starts for low Class A West Virginia.
–Utility infielder Pedro Florimon was designated for assignment before the game, just hours after his triple in the 15th inning gave the Pirates a 9-8 victory over the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night.
— Right-hander John Wall’s contract was purchased from Indianapolis to give the Pirates an extra reliever after right-handers Arquimedes Caminero and Joe Blanton were used three innings each Tuesday.
Wall wasn’t needed, though, as Joakim Soria, Tony Watson, Antonio Bastardo and Mark Melancon combined to pitch the last three innings.