Making it Happ-en: J.A. proving his worth to Bucs

Making it Happ-en: J.A. proving his worth to Bucs

PITTSBURGH -- On "Star Wars Night" at PNC Park, the force was strong with Pirates starter J.A. Happ.

Happ guided the ship with a methodical, but stellar six scoreless innings against the National League's highest-scoring offense, propelling Pittsburgh to a 4-1 win over the D-backs on Wednesday in the series-finale.

The southpaw yielded just two hits, tied for the fewest knocks allowed by a Pirates starter this season. Fellow left-hander Jeff Locke and right-handed veteran A.J. Burnett gave up two hits each on July 4 and May 1, respectively.

For Happ, it's the fewest hits he has given up in a start of at least two innings since Sept. 12, 2014. He limited the Blue Jays to just one hit while still with Seattle on July 25, but lasted only 1 2/3 innings after surrendering three earned runs and four walks.

It was Happ's third start for the Pirates since being acquired from the Mariners on July 31. He was hit hard for four earned runs on nine hits in his Pirates debut, followed by a seven-inning, one-run effort on Friday.

A lot was made of Happ's first start with Pittsburgh, especially considering his struggles prior to that. In his four outings before joining the Pirates, he had a 7.31 ERA (13 earned runs in 16 innings), and the Mariners lost all four games.

But manager Clint Hurdle offered the other side of the coin.

"If you watched this guy pitch in the first half, this shouldn't surprise you," Hurdle said of Happ's 2.98 ERA through his first seven starts of the season.

Happ maneuvered in and out of the strike zone, getting ahead of hitters early and battling with them late. The lefty earned a first strike against seven of the first nine batters he retired (although he started off with a ball to five of the next nine).

"Maybe it was we were throwing some off-speed and just missing, or maybe trying to be a little too fine. But I felt like when I was doing that, I was aggressive within the zone to even the count back up," Happ said.

Happ's teammate noticed his resiliency, too.

"He was just phenomenal," Pirates infielder Sean Rodriguez said. "Seeing it on the other end so many times, I'm just glad to be on his side for it this time. He's throwing the ball where he wanted it."

Happ wasn't completely satisfied with his outing; he said his fastball didn't feel great.

But with two effective outings under his belt after a less-than-ideal start to his Pirates tenure, Happ is happy.

"We'll continue to try to build off of that, continue to get on a regular routine here," he said. "Looking forward to keep going. It's fun to come to come to the park."

John McGonigal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.