Happ takes big step toward regular season

Happ takes big step toward regular season

Happ takes big step toward regular season
JUPITER, Fla. -- It's two weeks away from Opening Day, and J.A. Happ is right on schedule.

Happ took a giant step toward the regular season on Friday by tossing five strong innings, allowing one unearned run, in the Astros' 9-2 win over the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium.

The left-hander, who likely will be the No. 3 starter, threw 89 pitches and was in command on a day he benefited from plenty of run support. A five-run second inning gave him a quick six-run lead to work with.

2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info

How close is Happ to being regular-season ready?

"Close," Happ said after improving to 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in Grapefruit League action. "I got to 89 pitches today. Next time I might go a little more, and get to around 100. I feel I'm right on pace."

Before the game, manager Brad Mills tabbed Brett Myers as the Opening Day starter, at Philadelphia on April 1.

"Congratulations to him. The year he had last year warrants it," Happ said of Myers. "The consistency. His mentality out there. He's a good guy to open for us. We're glad we have him every fifth day."

No decision has been announced as to who will follow Myers in the order. Wandy Rodriguez will most likely go in the second game, and Happ appears lined up for third in the rotation. But that could change if the Astros decide to split Rodriguez and Happ, both of whom are lefties.

The way Happ was able to adjust during his five innings impressed his manager.

"What I thought he did so well was being able to make some adjustments," Mills said. "He started losing his command a little bit, but he came right back and made some pitches."

Happ, who broke in with the Phillies, was part of the Roy Oswalt trade with Philadelphia. He would like to pitch in the season's first series, not so much because it would mean he sees his former club but to get his season going.

"I just want to pitch," Happ said. "It's not a situation where I'm trying to get back at anybody. I want to get out there. I want guys to count on me. I'm just excited for when the season starts."

Happ will use his final two Grapefruit League starts to polish up some things. On Friday, for instance, he was working on his two-seam fastball (sinker).

"I was really trying to get a feel for my two-seam fastball today, and see how guys are going to react to it," he said. "It was a good time for me to throw that."

The other plus was that he worked five innings.

"Getting up and down five times was a good thing, too," Happ said. "I was close to 90 pitches. I'm pretty much where I want to be. I think we're right on pace."

Having issued four walks was about the only thing that upset him. But even so, he put them in perspective.

"I think I've just been too hard on myself," he said. "[Walks are] going to happen. I still have a couple more outings. We'll get those down and try to tighten it up a little bit."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.