Jays' Happ seeks to break through versus Mariners (Jun 11, 2017)

BY AP • June 11, 2017

SEATTLE -- Last September, Toronto's J.A. Happ earned his milestone 20th victory of the season at Safeco Field.

When he takes the same mound Sunday against the Seattle Mariners in the finale of a three-game series, he'll be looking for his first victory of 2017.

The left-hander is 0-4 with a 5.33 ERA this season, matching the number of losses he had in 2016.

"He had a huge year for us last year," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But he's had sore elbow and missed time."

Happ was sidelined from April 16 through May 30 with the injury. He made only one rehab start for Class A Dunedin of the Florida State League, pitching three innings, before being activated.

"We pushed him back out there pretty quick because of necessity," said Gibbons, whose team has also been without right-hander Aaron Sanchez (15-2 last season).

The Blue Jays got a victory in Happ's first game back, although he didn't last long enough to factor into the decision by going four innings.

In his last start June 5 at Oakland. Happ allowed five runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings to take the loss in a 5-3 defeat.

"I don't feel he's that far off," Gibbons said. "When you sit that long as a pitcher, you've got to get your feel back, too."

Happ has been hampered by home runs this season, allowing two in four of his five starts.

"I'm still working on some things, but I feel good," Happ said. "I would love to come back as sharp as I was before I left, but ... I'm trying to expedite (the process) by putting in good work in the bullpen (between starts). It's all about reps."

Happ admits it has been frustrating personally and for the team, which reached the American League Championship Series each of the past two seasons but currently is in the AL East cellar.

"We had some high expectations with a lot of guys back," he said. "(Injuries) are part of the game, unfortunately."

Happ is 3-1 with a 4.50 ERA in five career starts against Seattle, but will face a tough task Sunday against Mariners left-hander James Paxton (5-0, 1.69).

Paxton, a native of Ladner, British Columbia, who is nicknamed "Big Maple" and has a tattoo of a maple leaf on his right forearm, also will be making his third start since returning from the disabled list (left forearm strain), but his results have been the opposite of Happ's. Paxton is 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA in those two starts.

"It's great to have him back," Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. "When you've got a guy like Paxton out on the mound there's an added level of confidence."

Paxton, who was a supplemental first-round draft pick by Toronto in 2009 but didn't sign, is 2-1 in his career against the Blue Jays with a 6.32 ERA. He's beaten them each of the past two seasons after losing his first start in Toronto.

"Paxton's been great. The first time he pitched in Toronto I don't think he made it out of the first inning, but since then he's dominated us," Gibbons said. "He's got one of the best arms in baseball."



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