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Happ playing key role in postseason chase

DENVER -- With time winding down to the Trade Deadline, J.A. Happ had heard nothing and expected to stay with the Mariners.

Hence, Happ was surprised to be dealt to the Pirates on July 31 for Minor League pitcher Adrian Sampson. The left-hander had gone 4-6 with a 4.64 ERA in 21 games (20 starts) for Seattle. His turnaround with Pittsburgh has been startling.

In nine starts with the Pirates, Happ is 6-2 with a 2.28 ERA. He has been better than that lately, going 6-1 with a 1.73 ERA in his past seven games. The latest was Tuesday night at Coors Field, where Happ pitched 5 1/3 gritty innings in a 6-3 win over the Rockies to reduced the Pirates' magic number to clinch a postseason berth to one. He allowed seven hits and three runs with one walk and eight strikeouts.

"He managed the game very, very well," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Didn't let it get away from him. At the end of the night, he walks out of there with one walk and eight strikeouts. And he had to battle. Not his sharpest stuff, but he made pitches when he needed to. He maintained game presence, game poise, retired 12 hitters with three pitches or less, only two three-ball counts."

Happ gave up a homer to Wilin Rosario in the second inning and two runs in the third on singles by Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado, but the Pirates scored in each of the first four innings, packing their six runs into that span and scoring them all with two outs.

"I felt OK," Happ said. "I felt like I've had better fastball command in previous games. Definitely gave it what I had tonight. It was a battle out there. I left a few pitches over the plate. Overall, I felt like I kept us in there."

Happ gave up two singles to start the fourth and put runners on first and third, but he got Dustin Garneau to fly out and struck out Brandon Barnes and pinch-hitter Kyle Parker. Happ ended the fifth by getting Arenado to ground into a double play.

After issuing a one-out walk in the sixth, Happ's night ended having thrown 82 pitches. Hurdle brought in Jared Hughes to face DJ LeMahieu, who grounded into a double play.

"The 82 was a lot of work out of the stretch. I've got some experience here," said Hurdle, who formerly managed the Rockies and was their hitting coach. "You want to get your starters out of here with their sanity. I felt he battled, got us to a good part of the game. LeMahieu is a really good player and he's a very good hitter. He's hit into 14 double plays off right-handed pitchers. We've got a double-play guy [in Hughes]. Give him the shot at LeMahieu."

Happ, 32, began his career with the Phillies and pitched for them in the postseason in 2008 and '09. Those were his only trips to October, but he'll soon be returning, thanks to the trade he wasn't expecting.

"You come in and kind of realize what this team's doing and what they're capable of," Happ said. "It's been a lot of fun. It feels good to contribute."

Jack Etkin is a contributor to
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, J.A. Happ