Hope For Happ: Has A 15-Loss Hurler Rediscovered His '09 Form?

By Connor Nielen

Describing Astros pitcher J.A. Happ’s 2011 season as ‘disappointing’ does not even cover the half of it.

Acquired from the Phillies in the trade deadline swap of a season ago that saw the team part with its ace starter, Roy Oswalt, Happ figured to be a central member of the Houston rotation immediately and for many years to come.

Astros fans were understandably excited of the addition of the left-hander, a former 3rd-round pick, for he had just completed a 12-win season with an ERA below 3.00, including a trip to the World Series, in 2009.

He might not have possessed the necessary talent to be the one to replace Oswalt as a bona fide ‘ace’, but there was no reason for the organization to not expect Happ to be a #2 / #3-type of dependable arm who could be relied upon to give the team a chance to win each and every time he towed the rubber.

What Houston got instead was beyond ‘disappointing’. Happ started the season slowly and was unable to recover, rarely reaching the proverbial surface of mediocrity. On August 5th, in a home start against Milwaukee, Happ was shelled for 6 earned runs over 4 innings, which saw his record fall to an abysmal 4-14 for the year.

He had hit rock bottom.

Happ and his 6.26 ERA were consequently shipped to Triple-A Oklahoma City. At this point, I suggested that what might be best for the Northwestern University Wildcat alum would be to prematurely pull the plug on the season to temporarily escape pitching entirely. The man did not look well.

Perhaps I was wrong. Happ proceeded to make 3 starts for the Triple-A Red Hawks and posted very strong numbers, including a 1.11 WHIP through his 18 innings. In his third and final start he threw 7 shut-out innings, picked up the win and earned himself a shot at major-league redemption.

With his replacement Henry Sosa pitching well enough to remain in the big-league rotation, it was the demotion (though the team refuses to refer to it as one) of Jordan Lyles, that cleared a spot for Happ to rejoin the Astros.

Despite being tagged with his league-leading 15th loss in his return start at San Francisco, Happ was surprisingly sharp, allowing just one earned run (an error resulted in another) in 6 strong innings of work.

Was a short-lived minor league stint truly the cure for Happ’s ineffectiveness?

Has the hurler at long last stumbled upon a forgotten secret to success?

Will these ‘tweaks’ indeed enable the south-paw to rediscover the dominant form from his Philly tenure?

Or, was he merely matched up against a Giants team mired in an offensive drought?

A positive performance on Wednesday would go a long way in providing the ballclub and its fans a much better idea of what exactly they have to look forward to from their pitcher going forward.

Here’s hoping.

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