New Mariners starting pitcher J.A. Happ hits the ground running

Feb 27, 2015, 4:01 PM | Updated: 4:06 pm
Of J.A. Happ's five pitches, his change-up will get the most attention at Mariners spring training. (AP)
(AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – New Mariner J.A. Happ threw to hitters for the first time Friday afternoon under the watch of pitching coach Rick Waits. While Happ is new he is hardly unfamiliar to Waits, who began work with him shortly after he signed.

“It was good,” said Happ, who had several phone conversations with Waits about what he wanted to accomplish this spring. “It was about getting on the same page. Then I was down here in January and he was able to come down and watch a few bullpens and we got to talk quite a bit more. That was definitely nice.”

Waits spends his offseason in Patagonia, Ariz., just south of Tucson, and makes a few trips a month to Peoria to work with pitchers in the fall and winter. The get-to-know-you-as-a-person-and-pitcher phase was taken care of early, allowing Happ to now concentrate on his work in camp. Today he threw all of his pitches – two-seam and four-seam fastballs, curve, cutter and change – to a group of young hitters. According to Waits the changeup will get plenty of attention this spring.

“The changeup will be a focus, getting that back,” he said. “He has been in and out with it. The changeup is crucial for him as a lefty, but he has been working hard on it and will continue to do so this spring, getting that feel back. There will be a lot of changeups.”

Consistency with the pitch is the name of the game and Happ admits it has been a struggle at times.

“I tend to change grips sometimes and I tend to search for it,” said Happ, who is now throwing the changeup with a circle grip as opposed to the split grip he used most of last season. “I am just looking for consistency more than anything. I haven’t been as consistent the last few years with the circle as I know that it can be. The other part is the mentality trusting that it will be there, just throwing it and not trying to pinpoint it. It’s a work in progress.”

Happ received some good feedback on the pitch today from Mike Zunino, who caught him.

“We’ve had some good conversations,” Happ said of the relationship with his new catcher. “He’s so open and willing to everything, which is great. He’s a hard worker. I have heard good things from other guys about the in-game stuff and he really takes pride in that from what I hear. I thought he was great back there today, and I told him as much.”

So far so good for Happ, who has most of the new team transitions behind him.

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