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Happ checks in excited to prove himself

Newly acquired lefty meets with pitching coach Searage

CINCINNATI -- J.A. Happ checked in early Saturday, not only to join the Pirates starting rotation, but also to shake it up.

The lefty, acquired late Friday from Seattle, will fill in for A.J. Burnett, who is on the disabled list for right elbow inflammation. That slot would have him pitch on Tuesday in PNC Park against the Cubs, between fellow southpaws Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke. Manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage aren't crazy about having three straight lefties face the Cubs.

"We'll adjust that when we get home. Yeah, it'll change," Searage said. "We have an opportunity to do that, with two off-days coming up."

The Bucs will be off on Thursday and again a week from Monday. Happ could still take his regular turn with the agenda of one of the other southpaws altered.

Soon after arriving, Happ took a number in the Ray Searage reclamation clinic. The left-hander was more amped by the meeting than the pitching coach.

Searage has been there, with many previous patients. But it was new for Happ.

"I've absolutely heard that, for sure," Happ said of Searage's reputation for fixing pitchers. "I'm excited to work with him. I threw a bullpen earlier today, and we've already talked a lot."

"He throws some good stuff," Searage said of his first impressions of the 32-year-old. "We can do a couple of minor tweaks here and there -- we'll work on that later. Right now, just want him to get his feet settled and understand what our core values are, how we go about our business. We'll slowly indoctrinate him into our system."

Searage has specialized in fresh-start revivals: Edinson Volquez, Mark Melancon, Liriano and Burnett. Happ poses the different challenge of an in-season fixer-upper. In his first 11 starts of the season with the Mariners, he was 3-1 with a 3.31 ERA, working into the seventh inning in six of them; thereafter, he was 1-5 with a 6.65 ERA, and he couldn't get beyond the fourth inning in four of nine starts.

"Being behind in the count, and a failure to execute pitches at certain times," said Searage, drawing from talking to Happ and seeing him on video. "Add them together, that's not a good mixture."

"The hardest thing about the game is being consistent," Happ acknowledged. "I've had a few tough outings the last couple of weeks, and for me, a fresh start will be a good thing. I have a lot of confidence in myself, I know what I'm capable of, and I feel healthy -- so I'm anxious to get out there and prove that."

Hurdle is anxious for that, too.

"He's looking for a new opportunity," the manager said. "This is an opportunity for him to be the best J.A. Happ he's ever been. Like I tell everyone who walks in here, 'It's a fresh start. Don't drag anything from the last four months in here.'"

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast.
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, J.A. Happ