Happ shows solid progress in rehab start
If his rehab start in Buffalo on Thursday night was any indication, J.A. Happ is close to if not ready to make his return to the Major Leagues very soon.
Making his second rehabilitation start since opening the 2014 season on the disabled list, Happ pounded the strike zone and delivered an encouraging outing in the Bisons' 7-4 loss to Pawtucket at Coca-Cola Field.
When all was said and done, the southpaw allowed just a single run -that on Brandon Snyder's home run to lead off the fourth inning- and struck out six batters in 4.2 innings of work.
"I was definitely trying to get ahead and stay ahead [of batters]," said Happ. "I felt good. I felt strong."
Happ was able to get Pawtucket batters to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He struck out three of the first five batters he faced and threw 63 of his 90 pitches for strikes. Happ's fastball was clicking, as he struck out a pair of Red Sox batters in the first second and fourth innings.
"I think the whole goal was to get up to the amount of pitches I need and to feel healthy doing it and I feel like that's where I was at tonight," Happ said. "For me, I feel like I am ready to take it to the next step and try to go and get big league hitters out."
In 4.2 innings pitched, Happ allowed five hits and walked two, but never seemed in danger of giving up a big rally.
"He was pretty good. It was much better than I saw in spring training," manager Gary Allenson said. "He was more aggressive in the strike zone."
This was Happ's second start of the rehabilitation assignment after going on the Toronto Blue Jays' disabled list at the end of spring training with soreness in his lower back. Happ made his first start with Single-A Dunedin, striking out five batters and allowing two runs in five innings to beat Clearwater on April 5.
Where his next start will be is still to be determined.
"We are trying to find the right kind of recipe in between starts," Happ said. "As far as getting enough work in and doing the right exercises, I think were on a good routine. It's probably something I'm going to have to stay on the rest of the year."
Snyder's home run, the lone tally against Happ, came on a change up high and over the plate that was belted over the center field wall to tie the game at one.
"He did a good job. That was a good piece of hitting," Happ said about Snyder's home run. "He came out and got it. I wouldn't even call it a bad pitch."
Even though Happ gave up the big hit, he came back strong by striking out his next two batters. Happ struck out Bryce Brentz on three pitches and was able to sit down Garin Cecchini by swinging at more pitches high and inside.
"I didn't want to lose aggressiveness," Happ said. "I tried to force contact and force them to be aggressive back."
Marcus Walden replaced Happ in the fourth inning after throwing his 90th pitch and earning his sixth strikeout.
Although Happ has played well in his past two starts, he said that he would like more of a starting role instead of a bullpen role when he eventually gets called up to the big leagues.
"I haven't prepared to be in the bullpen. I've prepared to be a starter," Happ said. "I think the plan was to get healthy and hopefully things can take care of themselves. I definitely feel ready to go to the next level."