Astros aren't giving up on Happ

The Astros must really believe in J.A. Happ. In spite of his unraveling decline, the team has continued to run the left-hander out to the mound, start after start after start, in hopes he'd revert to his pre-2011 form.

It has taken 18 team losses on 22 of Happ's starts to make the Astros scrap that plan. On Saturday Houston reluctantly optioned the hurler to Class AAA Oklahoma City.

"I asked him, 'What do you think you need to do to get back and pitch the way you're capable of here at the major league level?'" manager Brad Mills said. "And he said, 'Confidence. I need to get confidence in myself and how I throw.' I couldn't agree more."

Happ is 4-14 through 22 starts, and his 6.26 ERA is the worst among regular major league starters. In an 8-1 loss to Milwaukee on Friday, Happ became the first pitcher in franchise history to allow five or more runs in eight consecutive starts.

"When things are going good, you're not thinking about anything," Happ said. "When you're not going good, you're over-thinking, and it seems like you're real far away. I know that's not the case. It's maybe just getting through a 1-2-3 inning, just getting some confidence, feeling it. As soon as you get that confidence, that's when you get on a roll."

Astros general manager Ed Wade acquired Happ, 28, in the July 2010 trade that sent Roy Oswalt to the Phillies. Heading into this season, Happ was 19-9 with a 3.27 ERA in the majors. The Astros are 4-18 in Happ's starts this season. He has the highest walk rate (4.8 per nine innings) of any of the NL ERA qualifiers.

"It's not an easy decision," Wade said. "We wanted to figure out the best way to get him back on track. And I think it truly is a case of back on track. This is not placing your hope and faith on a guy who has only done it at a level below where we are right now."

Wade and Mills said they are still sorting through the candidates to step in when Happ's turn in the rotation comes up again Wednesday. The on-the-current-roster option is right-hander Aneury Rodriguez, who is 0-4 with a 5.80 ERA in eight starts and 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 22 relief appearances.

Other candidates are Oklahoma City right-handers Henry Sosa, 26, and Lucas Harrell, 26, and left-hander Andy Van Hekken, 32. Sosa, acquired in the trade that sent Jeff Keppinger to the Giants, hit as high as 97 mph in the radar gun in his Oklahoma City debut Friday -- a seven-inning, scoreless outing. Harrell, a waiver pickup from the White Sox, is 9-4 with a 3.13 ERA at Class AAA this season. Van Hekken, whose one major league victory came in 2002, is 6-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 27 games (13 starts) with Oklahoma City.

"I'm obviously disappointed," Happ said. "You never expect to get sent down. Hopefully I can clear my head a little bit, get this thing kind of figured out sooner than later.

"It's way too late to start feeling sorry for myself. I'll go down there and to be honest, do what I've been doing. That might sound strange, but I've been doing everything I can do, working as hard as I can."

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