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May 22-25 minor league report: Happ begins rehab, Maese strikes out 12

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A familiar face took to the mound for game one of Dunedin's doubleheader last night. J.A. Happ finally appears to be on the road back after leaving his April 16th start with an arm issue. Happ was scheduled to pitch 4 innings or 60 pitches (whichever came first) and ended up going 3+ innings and throwing 56 pitches. The results weren't great, as he allowed 7 hits with 3 strikeouts, but that really doesn't matter. The one thing I would note is his fastball velocity was significantly lower than he usually pitches, sitting 89-91 MPH on the Dunedin stadium gun.

Jordan Romano followed Happ and went 4 innings, allowing 1 run on 6 hits and 2 walks with 5 strikeouts. As has been the case recently, it was a bit of a battle with a lot of deep counts that resulted in 75 pitches over those four innings. He missed bats (72% contact) but gave up quite a bit of hard contact especially early before settling in later.

The other outing to really highlight was Justin Maese on Wednesday night, who threw a complete game in a rain shortened 7 inning game. More than anything, it was a weirdly atypical outing. Maese induces a lot of contact, thriving on weak ground balls. Not so this start, with just 6 of 16 balls in play on the ground, and a fair bit of very hard contact, with two home runs and another two doubles among the seven hits he allowed that catalyzed the 4 runs he allowed.

But despite that, he was otherwise overpowering. He struck out a career high 12 batters, including 9 of the last 12 batters faced (with two out in the 4th, he only had three). Maese piled up 26 (!!!) swinging strikes on 61 swings, which is just a 57% contact rate. He got them on his fastball, his slider, but also more than a few on his changeup against a lefty heavy lineup which is a point of focus. If he's making strides with that, that's a really exciting development.

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Jon Harris put together one of better outings on the season Tuesday, allowing 1 run (a solo HR) on 7 hits, with three strikeouts against one walk. His fastball velocity was better than recently, 93-94 and touching up to 95. Harris still didn't miss many bats though, five swinging strikes on 42 swings for 88% contact.

Conner Greene really battled his command and control over a 6 inning outing Wednesday. His fastball had the premium velocity, sitting in the mid/upper 90s and touching 98/99. But he struggled to locate, both in terms of not finding the zone but also within the zone which resulted in 8 hits allowed including a home run.

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All the way back on Monday, T.J. Zeuch had a very mixed start. Over 5 innings, allowing 8 runs (4 ER) on 9 hits and 2 walks with 5 strikeouts. An awful line, but he really pitched better than that. He faced the the minimum in the 1st, 4th and 5th innings, with six routine grounders, two strikeouts and just a free pass allowed. Moreover, he turned over the lineup three times and was very good the last time through.

It was the 2nd and 3rd innings were he took damage. To be sure, he allowed some hard contact including a home run and double. But a pair of routine grounders to third were lost in the sun by a rehabbing Josh Donaldson which opened the floodgates. There was another infield single, as well as four soft liners that were squared up but not hard particularly hard. All in all, not the best outing but not a disaster either, and 10 swinging strikes (75% contact rate).

Ryan Borucki worked an efficient 6 inning outing on 77 pitches, allowing two runs on 6 hits and HBP against 5 strikeouts. The only blemish on his line came on a two run home run with two outs in the 6th, though Borucki allowed a little more hard contact than usual. Still, over 50% of balls in play were in the ground with a couple popups to boot with 11 whiffs generated mostly on sliders and changeups as he worked in the low/mid 90s on the fastball.

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Patrick Murphy followed up his best start of the year with a quality start, 6 innings in which he allowed 3 runs. All scored on two home runs, which were among six hits. Five of those were extra bases, so he got touched up, but there was nothing else hard hit. Most encouragingly, he only issued one walk against three strikeouts and was around the strike zone more than usual while working around 93 MPH and touching up to 96.

Denis Diaz put together a second straight good start allowing just one run on 2 hits over 6 innings, with 3 walks and a HBP against 6 strikeouts. As usual, the issue was throwing enough strikes. He just barely threaded that needle, aided by three double plays. Diaz really suppressed contact, allowing just a couple well struck balls. His fastball was 90-93, touching 95 on the stadium gun, and his slider was very effective helping him to 12 swinging strikes on 37 swings (68% contact).