After a second consecutive solid outing in his minor-league rehab, J.A. Happ declared himself ready to return to the Blue Jays.
Happ, the Toronto left-hander who has been on the disabled list since March 30 with lower back tightness, allowed one run on four hits in 4 2/3 innings for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons on Thursday night.
He struck out six and walked two against the Pawtucket Red Sox and threw 63 of his 90 pitches for strikes. Buffalo was held to six hits, two by Munenori Kawasaki, and Anthony Gose scored twice in a 7-4 loss.
"The whole goal is to get up to the amount of pitches I need and feel healthy doing it," Happ said. "Tonight, that's where I was at. I'm ready to take it to the next step and try to get big league hitters out."
'It's good to get some confidence back and know that I'm physically able to handle the workload.' - Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ
Happ struck out five batters in a five-inning outing with single-A Dunedin on Saturday against Clearwater and allowed two runs on three hits.
Back-to-back productive starts are a welcome development for Happ, who posted a 20.57 earned-run average in four starts in spring training.
"It was frustrating to not get results and not feel good and battle through that," said Happ. "It's good to get some confidence back and know that I'm physically able to handle the workload. It's now two starts where the pitch count's kind of full, so I feel good about it now."
While Happ feels he's ready for the majors, it remains to be seen what his role will be in Toronto.
Happ lost out on earning the Blue Jays' fifth-starter slot, which went to Dustin McGowan. Despite starting 18 major league games last year, Happ's 2013 season was marred by a skull fracture and sprained knee suffered in his seventh start. The injuries forced him to miss three months of action.
This year, Happ has stated his desire to be part of the rotation, and he expressed that sentiment again.
"I haven't prepared to be in the bullpen. I've prepared to be a starter all off-season," Happ said. "The plan was to get right and get healthy. Hopefully things take care of themselves."
Happ is also pleased about the conditioning regimen that helped him remain on track for a series of activity.
"We're trying to find the right recipe between starts, getting enough work in and doing the right exercises," Happ said. "We're on a good routine, something I'll have to stay on the rest of the year."
Against Pawtucket, Happ picked up two strikeouts in the first, second and fourth innings. In the third, he allowed a hit and a walk with one out and escaped damage by getting Ryan Lavarnway to ground into a double play.
"He was pretty good, much better than I saw in spring training," Buffalo manager Gary Allenson said. "One of the raps on him is he throws too many pitches per inning. He got ahead for the most part, and he got a few guys to chase the high fastball with two strikes. I'd like to see him bounce a breaking ball now and then. You might get guys to chase something in the dirt."
Happ yielded a leadoff homer in the fourth to Brandon Snyder, then followed up with back-to-back strikeouts.
"I didn't want to lose aggressiveness after that," Happ said. "It wasn't a bad pitch. He put a good swing on it. I wasn't mad at myself about the pitch. I was trying to force contact and force them to be defensive."
In the fifth, Happ had two runners on with one out and induced a bloop pop-out to Alex Hassan, but then was replaced by Marcus Walden, who got the final out to keep the game deadlocked at 1-1.
Pawtucket struck for five runs in the seventh, all with two out, saddling Walden (0-1) with the loss.