The New York Yankees saw an early exit in this year's postseason when they lost to the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays in five games in the American League Division Series. In hindsight, New York's decision to go with an opener for Game 2 may have cost them a 2-0 series lead. But Yankees general manager Brian Cashman defended the club's decision when he met with reporters on Wednesday.
"I thought that this was sound strategy that ultimately by performance, just didn't work out," Cashman told reporters via Zoom on Wednesday.
The Yankees started rookie righty Deivi Garcia in Game 2 but did not stick with him long. They used him as an opener -- Garcia gave up a solo homer to Randy Arozarena in a 27-pitch first inning -- before the club turned the ball over to veteran lefty J.A. Happ as the bulk innings reliever. Happ allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings. The Yankees ultimately lost Game 2, 7-5, and missed their chance to jump out to a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. They lost the series in five games.
"Ultimately, we didn't ask Deivi Garcia to do something he wasn't used to, he was asked to start," Cashman said. "We didn't ask J.A. Happ to do something he wasn't used to doing. I know he's a starter but he's had 15 career postseason appearances in his entire career. You know how many starts he's had? He's had four starts in the postseason, so his whole postseason career is coming out of the pen typically."
Yankees manager Aaron Boone also addressed the opener strategy Wednesday with reporters, explaining that the intention was to exploit Happ's numbers versus left-handed batters.
After this year's loss to the Rays, Happ told reporters after the game that he would have wanted to be the starter. And, when pressed on whether he felt he was put in a position to succeed, Happ said it is "not a question for me to answer."
Here's what Happ said after the Game 2 loss:
"All things equal, yes (I would have preferred to start). Having said that -- and this is important -- I want to repeat: When I'm in there, you've got 100 percent of me. So I gave it what I had. I wasn't worried about when I was coming in. I was trying to execute, I was trying to focus, I was trying to pitch."
When asked about Happ's usage in Game 2, Cashman reiterated that everyone was on board with the plan:
"(Happ) was given advance notice. Of course he would have liked to have started. It was a number of days of conversation -- that I wasn't a part of -- it was between our manager, our pitching coach and anybody else that happened to be on the field staff.
"... All I know is we tried to put J.A. Happ in the best position he possibly could be in to navigate that swiss army knife lineup so that [Rays manager] Kevin Cash would take some right-handers out of that lineup. ... It didn't work, but it is something that we have deployed in the past and we'll continue to deploy."
The end to the 2020 season is yet another disappointing one for the Yankees. It's the fourth straight postseason disappointment since New York's new core emerged in 2017. After recent years of the club operating without a true No. 1 starter, Cashman and co. finally got their white whale in Gerrit Cole this past winter. But it wasn't enough to get the club over the hump.
Following the playoff exit, Yankees owner and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner confirmed that Aaron Boone would return as manager for the 2021 season. New York will have plenty of questions to address this offseason.