Sources: Yankees planned to 'go to J.A. Happ early,' but not necessarily at beginning of second inning

Andy Martino
·4 min read
Side angle of J.A. Happ pitching against the Rays ALDS Game 2
Side angle of J.A. Happ pitching against the Rays ALDS Game 2

Weird game, right?

The Yankees’ decision to use Deivi Garcia as an opener and J.A. Happ as the bulk pitcher is sure to dominate Twitter and talk radio until the first pitch of Game 3. Let’s try to cut through the emotion and confusion with a brief bit of information.

Per sources, the actual plan was generic enough to allow for some managerial wiggle room. Aaron Boone knew he was to start Garcia and “go to Happ early,” as one person involved in the planning put it. But the exact moment of Happ’s entry wasn’t scripted.

After the game, Happ said that he was told to be ready for a specific batter. Other sources say the idea was to have him warmed up and ready to enter by the second inning, but not necessarily at the start of the second inning.

Perhaps those answers aren’t totally contradictory. Happ could have known he needed to be ready for six-hole hitter Joey Wendle, without knowing when Wendle would come up, or if he would definitely enter for that batter.

This clears up some of the confusion that initially stemmed from Boone’s postgame news conference. After he first seemed to say that the decision to remove Garcia after one inning was partly related to performance, I followed up with this question:

“Just to make sure I understood your answer before, you didn’t go into this knowing it was going to be one inning for Deivi, it was a little bit of feel it out and see what his stuff looked like?”

“Yeah,” Boone said. “Exactly. Exactly.”

It might be splitting hairs a bit, because the Yankees knew that Garcia’s outing would be very short. But it wasn’t written in ink that it would be precisely one inning.

At any rate, the larger truth is that the game plan didn’t work, because neither Garcia nor Happ pitched effectively. Garcia allowed a solo homer in the first and struggled with his fastball command. Happ then surrendered four earned runs in 2.2 innings.

The purpose of announcing the right-handed Garcia as the starter was to trick the Rays into starting a lefty-heavy lineup. Because Tampa Bay did not know when Boone planned to deploy Happ, they designed their offense for the righty.

The Yankees’ idea was simply to produce favorable matchups intended to put their players in the best possible position to succeed (it’s another question whether they did that for Happ by pitching him for the first time since Sept. 25, but Happ wouldn’t use the layoff as an excuse). That’s why they didn’t go with just Garcia or just Happ in a traditional starting role -- they felt that the opener arrangement would set matchups that made everyone more likely to do well.

Happ was supposed to carve up the Rays lefties and help get the game to the late innings and high-leverage relievers like Chad Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. Instead, lefties were 5-for-8 against Happ. He didn’t execute.

Now, why didn’t the team just start proven postseason performer Masahiro Tanaka with a 1-0 series lead instead of saving him for Game Three?

“Really just spreading out our guys who we feel can give us the most innings, with (Gerrit) Cole and obviously Tanaka in the middle, knowing you might use a lot of bullpen in those games in between,” Boone said. “And wanting to keep Deivi in between Cole and Tanaka.”

During the game, we texted and spoke with several baseball people, including one of the top managers in the game. The overall feeling was that the Yankees were being a bit too clever with the opener, when they could just have handed the start to Garcia, Happ or Tanaka.

“You don’t have to get cute,” said one major league coach. “You’re the Yankees.”

Others doubted that Boone was on board with the decision, which was made by the organization. Boone is not one to criticize his bosses, so we might never know the answer to that one.

At the end of a tough night for the Yankees, we do know this: Their strategy, while based in logic, flopped. And now it’s a series again.