Pirates notebook: Delivery adjustment helps left-hander Happ

Travis Sawchik
| Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, 7:27 p.m.

NEW YORK — Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage watched J.A. Happ's first start with the Pirates on Aug. 4 “intently.” He watched him throw three bullpens. He kept seeing the same flaw.

“I went back and said ‘This is something I have to talk to him about,' ” Searage said.

From Francisco Liriano, to Edinson Volquez, to Happ, there is a consistent theme when Searage has searched for delivery fixes in attempts to rehabilitate a struggling pitcher.


Like Liriano and Volquez who flourished in Pittsburgh, Searage saw Happ using inefficient movement in his delivery. Instead of striding directly to home plate, Happ, like Liriano and Volquez, had too much rotational movement in his motion which dropped his arm slot and made the ball easier to track for opposing hitters. It also negatively impacted his control.

With A.J. Burnett's September value uncertain, the Pirates hope Happ's rebound start Friday night at Citi Field, after having his previous start skipped, is a signal that he, too, can have a renaissance in Pittsburgh.

Happ had better direction to the plate vs. the Mets, helping him raise his arm slot, improve command — fewer east-west misses — in addition to a velocity increase as Happ's fastball touched 94 mph. His fastball is averaging 91.7 mph this season.

“What happens is they are over-competitive and in a hurry to pitch,” Searage said. “Allow your body to set up so you can have quality pitches come out of your hand. Execution of pitches is going to come from the delivery, and you have to give yourself a better chance to get that release point.”

Happ allowed just one run and one walk and struck out seven in 5 13 innings against the Mets in his second start with the Pirates since being acquired from the Seattle Mariners.

“You're anxious to make your pitch … and sometimes you lean as you lift instead of lift, gather and go,” Happ said.

Burnett throws

Burnett threw from 120 feet before Saturday's game at Citi Field, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Burnett (strained flexor tendon) is “progressing well.”

“If all goes well we'll have him throw (Sunday) and then we are probably going to come up with with another plan,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle reached out to several former pitchers who pitched in their late 30s to better understand how to monitor Burnett.

“We need honesty, and that's always going to be that shadow,” Hurdle said. “Men want to compete, or they felt it before and they pushed through it.”

Marte out again

Starling Marte (left hand) again was out of the starting lineup Saturday, though he did enter Friday night's game as a pinch runner. Marte has not started since Wednesday.

“Until he can show me an unrestricted swing, I think we're going to continue playing it like we're playing it,” Hurdle said.

Jung Ho Kang batted second for just the third time this season. Aramis Ramirez remained in the cleanup spot and Michael Morse got the start at first base with the Mets starting left-hander Jonathon Niese.

Mercer, Harrison update

Jordy Mercer was 1 for 3 in a rehab assignment in Triple-A on Saturday, and Josh Harrison was 0 for 4.

“We've got some things still scheduled out,” Hurdle said. “They still have to do some things.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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