Pirates fall to Happ, Blue Jays 7-1
TORONTO — The Pirates had seen this before from left-hander J.A. Happ, only back then he was pitching for them.
As Happ stymied the Pirates for six innings Sunday, the Toronto Blue Jays rocked Chad Kuhl and eased to a 7-1 victory.
Kuhl (5-8) faced nine batters in the first inning and needed 40 pitches to get through it. In the process, he gave up five runs on three hits and a couple of walks.
"Below-average command, across the board," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Three pitches got in hot zones for their hitters."
Josh Donaldson blasted a 452-foot, two-run homer that might have made it to Nova Scotia if it hadn't clanged off the facing of the second deck at Rogers Centre.
Ryan Goins roped a changeup for a two-run double, then swiped home as part of a double steal to make it 5-1.
"I was up in the zone and couldn't really get into a rhythm," Kuhl said.
That was plenty of support for Happ (6-8), who gave up one run on four hits over six innings.
Happ went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 start with the Pirates down the stretch of the 2015 season. The following winter, he signed a three-year, $36 million deal with the Blue Jays.
The Pirates wanted to keep Happ but were not aggressive enough with their approach. Management balked at making a three-year offer for Happ, who will turn 35 in October.
"He's a well-thought-of guy here," Hurdle said. "He poured into us. We poured into him (in 2015)."
Hurdle said Happ isn't pitching any differently than when he was with the Pirates.
"He's going to throw his fastball," Hurdle said. "He's going to throw away more than in. And he's going to throw that breaking ball, that slider, mix in an occasional curveball and challenge people."
It did not take long for the Pirates to get something cooking against Happ. In the first inning, consecutive singles by Josh Harrison, Andrew McCutchen and David Freese made it 1-0.
After Freese's RBI single, Happ retired 16 of the next 18 batters. That included a stretch in the middle innings when he struck out six of eight.
"This guy throws 91-97 mph. He hides the ball. He knows how to pitch. He's a veteran," catcher Francisco Cervelli said. "It's the same thing as when I was catching him. He did well."
In the sixth inning, Happ issued a pair of two-out walks then fell behind 3-2 against Jordy Mercer. As Hurdle predicted, Happ fired a four-seam fastball away, and whiffed Mercer.
"He locates well and doesn't give in," Mercer said. "He can play both sides (of the plate), but today he stayed away. He got a little help, too, so he was able to stay out there."
Wade LeBlanc replaced Kuhl to start the sixth and served up solo homers to Darwin Barney and Justin Smoak.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.