Over the last two seasons, J.A. Happ’s career has been about battling back.
Last season it was recovering from a skull fracture and sprained knee after he took a line drive to the head at Tampa Bay on May 7.
This season he was poised to make the Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day roster only to start the year on the disabled list with lower back tightness after struggling through his spring training games.
It was frustrating. But Happ worked his rehabilitation to feel better physically while his performances are beginning to mirror his confidence.
He made his second Major League rehabilitation start Thursday night, getting a no-decision for the Buffalo Bisons at Coca-Cola Field.
About 200 people braved the 40-degree temperatures and ferocious wind to see Happ pitch a solid 4∏ innings. He threw 90 pitches – 63 of those for strikes. He gave up four hits, including one home run, with a pair of walks and six strikeouts.
The bullpen faltered in relief as the Pawtucket Red Sox went on for a 7-4 win over the Herd.
But Happ looked aggressive and sharpm which is good news for the Blue Jays.
“There was a huge amount of frustration,” Happ said. “You work all offseason, put all the work in and then all of a sudden something kinda creeps up on you and kinda clamps down in a huge two-week span in order to get ready for the season. Definitely frustrating in that aspect, but I feel really good about the way it’s progressed since then and just try to stay on top of it.”
Happ pitched well in his first rehabilitation start, a win with Single-A Dunedin on April 5. He gave up two runs on three hits in five innings in that outing.
Combine that with Thursday’s outing in Buffalo and there are good feelings around Happ, again. That’s important not just for coming off the back injury but to erase the poor showing he had in spring training.
Happ made four starts in spring training for the Blue Jays where he gave up 16 runs on 21 hits in just seven innings of work. That’s a 20.57 earned run average.
“It’s certainly frustrating to not get results and not feel good,” Happ said. “You try to battle through that so it’s been good to get some confidence and know that physically I’ve been able to handle the workload and get back and throw my bullpens and now two starts where the pitch count is kinda full. I feel good about it now for sure.”
The first and second innings were bookended with strikeouts. In the third he gave up a single and walk with one out but got the next batter to ground into a double play to end the inning.
The only run he surrendered came in the fourth when Brandon Snyder drove a 2-2 pitch to deep center field for a home run. But he struck out the next two batters and got right back into his groove.
“That was a good piece of hitting. It was changeup and he kinda went out and got it,” Happ said of the homer. “I wouldn’t even say it was a bad pitch. He just put a really good swing on it and went out and got it. You want to come back and stay aggressive … just try to focus in. I wasn’t really mad at myself about the pitch. I just wanted to stay aggressive, try to force the issue, force contact and force them to be defensive.”
The game was a 1-1 affair until the seventh inning when the PawSox rocked the Bisons bullpen for five runs.
The Herd got three runs back in the bottom of the eighth, but their rally fell short.
The homestand continues tonight (6:05 p.m.) with righty Kyle Drabek (0-0, 5.40 ERA) scheduled to start for the Herd.
Righty Jeremy Kehry (0-0, 3.60 ERA) will start for Pawtucket.