J.A. Happ made a convincing case to be a regular member of the Toronto Blue Jays' rotation on Friday.
Happ had his best outing of the season, striking out eight over six innings, and Toronto's bullpen held on for a 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers.
"Coming in today, I wanted to throw everything with conviction, that was my goal against a lineup like this," said Happ. "I wanted to give them my best stuff.
"[Catcher Jeff Mathis] did a great job back there of calling the game and we went with my strengths and what was working at the time."
Happ (2-1) gave up only two hits and a run in his third start since joining the Blue Jays (56-63). He'd been coming out of the bullpen since being traded to Toronto by the Houston Astros on July 20.
Happ retired the first nine hitters he faced, striking out seven including six consecutive strikeouts in the second and third innings. The six Ks in a row matched a club record held by Ted Lilly (vs. the Boston Red Sox in 2004) and Mark Rzepczynski (vs. the New York Yankees in 2010).
"That's as good a three innings as you're going to see anywhere," said Blue Jays manager John Farrell. "He got a number of pitches up in the zone for some swing and a miss, had a very good fastball tonight, he mixed in his change-up and breaking ball in good spots."
'He got a number of pitches up in the zone for some swing and a miss, had a very good fastball tonight, he mixed in his change-up and breaking ball in good spots.'—Blue Jays manager John Farrell on starter J.A. Happ
Farrell turned to Toronto's bullpen after six innings, and got mixed results. Steve Delabar replaced Happ to start the seventh and struggled, loading the bases on a walk, a single and another walk. Adrian Beltre then scored when Blue Jays third baseman Omar Vizquel couldn't handle Mike Olt's hit up the line.
Vizquel was charged with an error and Brandon Lyon was brought in to replace Delabar. Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler grounded into a fielder's choice at second to end the seventh with Toronto still ahead 3-2.
Farrell stuck with Lyon to start the eighth, then brought in Aaron Loup to strike out Texas slugger Josh Hamilton. Loup was replaced by Brad Lincoln, who gave up a single to Beltre but then induced a groundout to end the inning.
Closer Casey Janssen retired three in a row in the ninth to earn his 16th save of the season.
"It was great, it was a total effort down there [in the bullpen]," said Janssen. "J.A. started it off right and we talk about passing the baton and everyone came in and got their guys and then moved on to the next guy.
"It was nice and hopefully we keep rolling."
Farrell was pleased with how he managed the Jays pitchers throughout the game.
"The fact is that after six innings, bumping up against 100 pitches, and given the number of pitches per inning, I didn't feel like [Happ] was ready to go 115, 118 quite yet, but he did an outstanding job," said Farrell. "The bullpen came in and did their job as well."
Happ was asked after the game if it could be said he preferred starting over relieving.
"That's easily fair to say," Happ quickly replied.
Demands of a starting pitcher
The six-foot-six left-hander feels that after three starts his body has re-adjusted to the demands of being a starting pitcher.
"I feel much better," said Happ. "It's nice to get back into a routine and arm-wise it is a little different being in the bullpen for a little while, adjusting to that. I'm definitely in a better place physically, as a starter."
Yu Darvish (12-8) was dominant for Texas (68-50), fanning 10 over seven innings of work. He gave up three hits and three earned runs while walking one.
Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion led the Blue Jays offence with a two-run homer in the first. Encarnacion returned to the lineup after missing Thursday's 7-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox. He had soreness in his left shoulder and forearm after making a diving play in left field Wednesday night.
No Texas player reached base until second baseman Ian Kinsler walked to lead off the fourth and Happ didn't give up a hit until Rangers first baseman Michael Young singled to shallow centre field in the fifth.
Young started a rally, however, as David Murphy singled to right and both runners advanced on Geovany Soto's sacrifice bunt. Young then scored on Craig Gentry's groundout to second.
Texas' threat ended when Olt flied out to deep left and Toronto maintained its narrow 2-1 lead.
"Other than the two singles that they bunched together, [Happ] was in complete command," said Farrell.
Speedy Jays outfielder Anthony Gose had a broken-bat triple — the first triple of his major-league career — in the bottom of the fifth. Gentry tracked the ball closely in centre field but missed the diving catch.
"I don't know that I've seen a triple on a broken bat before, but it's some kind of electrifying speed with Gose on the basepaths," said Farrell.
Gose was brought home by a Rajai Davis single to give Toronto a 3-1 lead. Davis stole second and then third, but the Blue Jays couldn't bring him home as Kelly Johnson struck out swinging to end the inning.
Encarnacion got the Blue Jays on the board in the first, driving in Johnson with a two-run blast along the left-field line.