Reinvented hurler Happ relishes postseason return

Reinvented hurler Happ relishes postseason return

ARLINGTON -- When evaluating his choices last offseason as a free agent, a big part of J.A. Happ's decision was looking for a team that was built for the postseason.

These are the kind of starts Happ, who will pitch for the Blue Jays in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Rangers on Friday (1 p.m. ET on TBS, as well as Sportsnet (English) and TVA (French) in Canada), dreamed of making. The lefty, who signed a three-year, $36 million deal with Toronto on Nov. 27, 2015, went to the World Series with the Phillies in each of his first two years. And the 33-year-old, who will look to give the Blue Jays a 2-0 ALDS lead after their 10-1 win in Game 1 on Thursday, is excited to finally get back.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 TOR 10, TEX 1 video
Gm 2 Oct. 7 TOR 5 TEX 3 video
Gm 3 Oct. 9 TOR 7, TEX 6 (10) video

"Just to be in the playoffs, you get that taste. And you want to continue to go back," said Happ, who will be making his first postseason appearance since 2009.

"And that's kind of what you search for over your career. So that's why I said it was one of the most important things in free agency, was to try to go to a team where I felt had a possibility to get back into the postseason. And [I'm] really excited to feel that again."

Happ is coming off a fantastic regular season, worthy of AL Cy Young Award consideration. He went 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA, coming up huge for a Blue Jays team that earned the No. 1 AL Wild Card berth and powered past the Orioles in Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game.

Happ, who pitched 195 innings over 32 starts, has reinvented himself since his last stint with Toronto in 2014.

Happ on his pitching mentality

"He was always considered kind of a power pitcher: a lot of strikeouts, throw a lot of pitches; five innings, 100-plus pitches was nothing to him," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "That's just the way he worked.

"He's more of a finesse guy now. He's a control guy. And he's got some power behind it, too. And he used to elevate the ball. Really, I mean, that was his pitch. Now he does that when he wants to. He keeps the ball down. He can pitch with his fastball with the best of them. That's his primary go-to pitch, and [he] still gets good hitters out with it."

Happ on season, team's effort

Happ will square off against a potent Rangers lineup that has made some midseason additions, though the lefty -- much like Thursday's Game 1 starter Marco Estrada -- preferred to focus more on his task than the opposition.

"I know he won 20 games and is a really good pitcher," Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We faced him this year and he beat us. We have our hands full with their rotation, but we have to find a way to win."

Happ pitched seven innings and held the Rangers to one run on six hits in his only outing against them this year. In his career, he's 3-2 with a 3.07 ERA in five outings against Texas, including going 1-1 with a 5.79 ERA in two games in Arlington.

Happ on facing the Rangers

"In a way, he's kind of -- in my opinion -- he's kind of a late bloomer, because he's a different style now," Gibbons said. "And it's really working for him. And now he can go seven, eight innings, what he used to do in 4 1/3 and five. So that really helps us."

Brittany Ghiroli has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.