PITTSBURGH — The Pirates defeated Arizona 4-1 behind another strong outing from J.A. Happ, locking up another series win — their 21st series win of the year.
For the second consecutive start, Happ was efficient and effective, scattering four baserunners (two hits and two walks) across six innings, while inducing mostly weak contact and striking out three.
“I felt pretty good the whole game – I didn’t have my best fastball tonight,” Happ said afterwards. “I think we were able to move it around, use some off-speed and try to keep them off-balanced. I felt pretty good from the get-go and gained some confidence as we went along.”
Happ only allowed one runner to reach second base the entire evening, when in the second inning he allowed two straight walks to start the frame. Happ escaped that jam with ease, inducing a groundball double-play followed by a weak ground out to first base.
From then on, he limited the Diamondbacks to just two base hits. Overall, Happ pitched six scoreless innings using only 83 pitches.
“He works quick,” Cervelli said after the game. “He works in, out, up, down – he gets people out so fast.”
Since the Pirates’ skipped Happ’s start last week, he has thrown 11.1 total innings, giving up only one earned run to go along with a 10:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last week, I wrote about the minor mechanical adjustments Happ was working through, and tonight, Clint Hurdle credited Happ’s consistent delivery and adjustments to his recent success.
“The delivery is in a really solid place. He’s repeating his delivery,” Hurdle said. “The ball out of the hand has angle now, downhill angle. Fastball command, I think based on repeating the delivery has improved. He’s actually getting the ball glove side very, very well and efficiently. He’s moving his fastball around. He’s kept the hitters off-balanced with the breaking ball, with the changeup. He’s just pitching with a lot more confidence.”
Happ is throwing the ball as well as he did in the first-half while in Seattle, when he had a 3.58 FIP. If he can continue to repeat his delivery and maintain his recent success, the Pirates can feel a lot better about their rotational depth.
** Sean Rodriguez led the way offensively tonight, smacking three hits and driving in the second run of the game in the second inning. He has six hits in his last 16 at-bats, and has a .281 average in the month of August. His recent performance is a modest improvement, but an improvement nevertheless, and it’s encouraging to see him making stronger contact after his dreadful July, when he batted .113.
“We saw some things over the weekend, he works extremely hard,” Hurdle said of Rodriguez. “He probably found more offense last year, but he’s working hard to get better. He believes there is more in him, we believe there is more in him.”
Rodriguez has provided good value on the defensive side, but to date has contributed minimally offensively. Based on how often Hurdle turns to Rodriguez, it would be helpful if his offensive production could maintain at least the adequate level that it has been so far in August.
** The Pirates begin a key four-game set tomorrow against the San Francisco Giants, and are currently seven games ahead of them in the Wild Card standings.
The Pirates could be catching the Giants at the right time, with their second baseman Joe Panik currently on the disabled list with a back injury, and right fielder Hunter Pence joining him on the DL yesterday after straining his oblique. They could make their lead over the Giants insurmountable if they can win or split the four-game set. Charlie Morton will oppose Jake Peavy in game one tomorrow night.