Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ was in his third Major League season in 2009 when his former team, the Philadelphia Phillies, reached the World Series.
Happ made one start that post-season in the division series against the Colorado Rockies, giving up three runs in three innings. That was his first and last playoff start, until he goes Friday against the Texas Rangers in the ALDS.
Happ was one of only two 20-game winners in the AL this season, along with Boston’s Rick Porcello, as he finished the year 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA.
His opponent, Yu Darvish, made his last post-season start in the 2012 wild-card game, when his the right-hander from Japan took the loss as the Baltimore Orioles defeated his Texas Rangers 5-1.
After missing the 2015 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Darvish will make his ALDS debut Friday against Happ and the Blue Jays.
“It’s a great thing for me. Last year … I wanted to pitch, but I couldn’t,” Darvish said Thursday through his interpreter. “This year, I’m physically healthy and I’m ready. I can pitch in the game. So I’m happy about that.”
Darvish (7-5, 3.41 ERA) started this season on the disabled list while still rehabbing from the elbow surgery he had during spring training in March 2015. After his season debut May 28 this year, he made three starts before missing another five weeks because of shoulder discomfort.
Darvish pitching well lately
A regular in the rotation since mid-July, Darvish goes into the post-season after winning his last two starts. He allowed one earned run over 13 innings in wins over Oakland and Tampa Bay.
“I’ve been working on my command and stuff,” he said. “I was thinking too much about commanding my stuff. And then when I was able to fix those mental adjustments, and just a few minor mechanics changes on those days that I was able to work on, and I’m in a [good] place right now.”
Rangers manager Jeff Banister said Darvish is at his best when he’s excited. The pitcher has exhibited that emotion at several different times this season.
“An extremely accomplished pitcher. I feel comfortable with where he’s at mentally, physically,” Banister said.
Darvish hasn’t pitched against the Blue Jays since before his surgery. He is 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA in seven career starts against them, with 61 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings.
The 30-year-old Darvish spent seven seasons in Japan before signing a six-year deal with the Rangers that goes through next season. He was an All-Star each of his first three seasons (2012-14), a span when he had 680 strikeouts before getting shut down late in the 2014 season.
In that 5-1 loss to Baltimore in the 2012 AL wild-card game, Darvish struck out seven and allowed three runs (two earned) in 6 2/3 innings.
Asked how he is different as a pitcher since then, Darvish replied: “Both physically and mentally stronger.”