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Happ keeps K streak going; Toronto hits 3 HRs

Lefty K's 9 in second straight performance, matching Clemens' feat
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Whenever a team is faced with an extended losing streak and an overworked bullpen, the so-called ace of the staff sometimes needs to take matters into his own hands. J.A. Happ has become that guy for the Blue Jays.

Happ arguably could be considered one of the most underrated pitchers in the game today. There was a time when he used to struggle getting through five innings, but since rejoining the Blue Jays in 2016, he has been everything the club could have hoped for and more. The latest example came during Sunday afternoon's 7-2 victory over the Rangers at Rogers Centre.

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TORONTO -- Whenever a team is faced with an extended losing streak and an overworked bullpen, the so-called ace of the staff sometimes needs to take matters into his own hands. J.A. Happ has become that guy for the Blue Jays.

Happ arguably could be considered one of the most underrated pitchers in the game today. There was a time when he used to struggle getting through five innings, but since rejoining the Blue Jays in 2016, he has been everything the club could have hoped for and more. The latest example came during Sunday afternoon's 7-2 victory over the Rangers at Rogers Centre.

View Full Game Coverage

Toronto entered the day having lost four consecutive games, and earlier Sunday morning manager John Gibbons spoke openly about the challenges he faced with a fatigued bullpen. The hope was that Happ would deliver one of his trademark performances to give everyone a much-needed break and that's almost exactly what ended up happening.

"We desperately needed that, we really did," Gibbons said. "We've been looking for guys to go late into the game. We've had a couple along the way, but we haven't been consistent. He's done it now a couple of times … He shut them down and the bats came to life pretty good. We definitely needed that, I'll tell you that."

Happ limited the Rangers to a pair of runs on five hits over seven strong innings while throwing 67 of his 99 pitches for strikes. He struck out nine and has at least eight strikeouts in each of his last five starts. That number puts him in illustrious company, as he took over sole possession of fourth place for the longest stretch in franchise history with at least eight strikeouts. A.J. Burnett (2007) and Roger Clemens (1997) each had a seven-start stretch with at least that many, while Clemens also had another six-game stretch in 1997.

The number of strikeouts continue to be a surprise. Prior to this season, Happ had never averaged double-digit strikeout totals per nine innings. This year he is averaging 12.50 strikeouts per nine innings, which is just below Houston's Gerrit Cole (12.60) and Seattle's James Paxton (12.51) for most in the American League. Happ does it primarily with the fastball, which he used 74 times in the finale, and generated seven swinging strikes and 22 called strikes.

"I can't really be too specific on it," Happ said. "I'm just trying to change speeds when I need to and try not to let them see the same pitch too many times in a row. Just trying to change it up on them. I think being aggressive and getting strike one is usually a good thing for me."

Teoscar Hernandez, Kevin Pillar and Yangervis Solarte homered for the Blue Jays while Randal Grichuk chipped in with a couple of RBIs. Toronto did most of its damage off lefty Martin Perez, who allowed four runs on five hits and four walks while striking out two. The win allowed the Blue Jays to avoid their first series sweep of the season.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Teoscar's tear continues: Hernandez's bat has been on fire since he joined the Blue Jays, and his production continued in the series finale against Texas. After walking in his first at-bat, Hernandez crushed an 0-1 fastball from Perez in the third inning and sent it over the wall in right for his fourth home run of the year. According to Statcast™, the solo shot was projected to travel 387 feet and left his bat at 105.8 mph. Hernandez has reached base in 13 games out of the 14 he has played this season, and has 12 extra-base hits with 11 RBIs and seven walks over that same time period.

Video: TEX@TOR: Hernandez flashes opposite-field power on HR

"I'm relaxed, I'm just going out there having some fun and trying to do my best," Hernandez said. "This year they have been pitching me outside. Every day is a chance to get better, learn new things. I just go with a plan, stay with it, and try to hit the ball the other way."

Pillar of strength: Pillar is off to a strong start for the second consecutive year, and while there have been plenty of hits along the way, there also has been a surge of power lately. Toronto's center fielder had a two-homer game on Saturday and he followed that performance with a solo shot to lead off the fourth on Sunday. Each of Pillar's last seven hits have all gone for extra bases -- three doubles, one triple and three homers -- and he's batting .313 on the season.

Video: TEX@TOR: Pillar gets second chance, cranks home run

"I'm just continuing to have good at-bats and stay in the strike zone," Pillar said. "I've just gotten a bit more comfortable hitting with two strikes and that's a big difference. When the heart starts beating fast with two strikes, you tend to try to do too much and start expanding. I'm really focused on getting good pitches to hit and if they don't show up, I don't swing."

SOUND SMART
Happ has gone back-to-back starts with at least nine strikeouts and zero walks. The only other pitcher in Blue Jays' history to accomplish that was Roger Clemens (May 5-10, 1997).

Hernandez has 12 homers through his first 40 games as a Blue Jay, which is tied for the second most in franchise history. Tony Batista had 13 and Troy Glaus had 12.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Randal Grichuk has struggled at the plate mightily this season -- he did manage two RBIs during Sunday's win -- but he has been very solid in the outfield with his glovework. In the top of the first inning, Grichuk magically snagged a no-look catch, doubling off a runner at second and preserving a run for Happ in the process.

UP NEXT
The Blue Jays will open a three-game series against the Twins when right-hander Aaron Sanchez (1-2, 3.69) takes the mound on Monday night with first pitch scheduled for 8:10 ET. Sanchez has four quality starts in five appearances this season and he has induced eight ground-ball double plays, which is the most in the AL. Minnesota will counter with right-hander Lance Lynn (0-2, 7.71).

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, J.A. Happ