TORONTO – J.A. Happ has been the lone Toronto Blue Jays starter who has been consistently strong this season.
With his team continuing to languish under the .500 mark, each solid performance is raising the chances he’ll soon find himself wearing another uniform.
Happ became the first Blue Jays starter to work into the ninth inning this season, throwing 8 1/3 effective innings in a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday afternoon.
The veteran left-hander became the first player in the major leagues this season to record four starts with eight strikeouts and no walks, hiking his trade value even more.
“I know he’s in demand and I can see why,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “If we were on the other end of it, I’d want him too.”
Kendrys Morales hit a two-run homer and Ryan Tepera survived a nervous ninth for his fifth save. Toronto (34-39) salvaged a split of the two-game mini-series.
Happ gave up a couple early solo homers before settling down, retiring 13 in a row at one point en route to his team-leading ninth win.
Consecutive one-out singles brought Gibbons out in the ninth and the crowd of 45,563 gave Happ a nice ovation as he walked to the dugout.
“I wanted (the complete game) but that’s baseball, it kind of shows you how hard it is,” Happ said. “They were able to flare a couple balls in and then (get a) couple ground balls through the infield.
“That’s how hard it can be at times. But overall it was a good day. We got the win and we’ll move on.”
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Happ (9-3), who’s earning US$13 million this season, is in the final year of his contract. He left the game with a three-run lead and was charged with four earned runs and six hits.
“I certainly enjoy pitching here,” he said. “Having an outing and a response from the crowd like I did today, that was nice. I signed to play here and try to help this team get to the playoffs and that’s still my goal.
“That’s what I want to do. Until somebody tells me different, I’m going to have fun doing that.”
Tepera gave up a pair of hard-luck RBI singles before getting Johan Camargo to fly out to end it.
The Blue Jays have won eight of their last 12 games. Toronto also improved its interleague record to 7-3 this season and 197-196 all-time against National League teams.
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Happ threw a season-high 113 pitches, 79 of them for strikes.
“He’s always tough,” said Braves designated hitter Nick Markakis. “He’s got good life on his fastball. He’s always been a thorn in the side.”
Atlanta fell to 43-30 with the loss, just its second defeat in eight games.
The ball was flying out of Rogers Centre in the early going with the roof open on a warm, sunny afternoon.
After Justin Smoak singled off Atlanta starter Anibal Sanchez, Morales snaked a ball around the foul screen in right field for his sixth homer of the year.
Kurt Suzuki halved Toronto’s lead in the second inning with a first-pitch shot off Happ that landed in the Blue Jays’ bullpen. It was his eighth homer of the season.
Peter Bourjos tied the game an inning later with his first homer of the year.
The Blue Jays pulled in front to stay with a two-run fourth inning. Randal Grichuk drove in Morales with a double and Aledmys Diaz brought home Russell Martin on a sacrifice fly.
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Sanchez (3-1) lasted five innings on the day, giving up five hits, four earned runs and four walks. He struck out seven batters.
Toronto tacked on a run in the seventh inning as Devon Travis scored on a Yangervis Solarte single. It stood up as the difference as the Blue Jays made it eight victories in their last nine home games.
The game took two hours 30 minutes to play.