Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ works during first inning American League MLB baseball action against the New York Yankees, in Toronto on Saturday, July 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill

‘Dream come true’: Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ receives 1st all-star nod

TORONTO — Growing up J.A. Happ was an avid collector of baseball cards, but he especially had affinity for those of an all-star variety.

Now the 35-year-old left-hander will have an all-star card of his own as he was named the lone Blue Jays representative for next week’s midsummer classic.

“Really, there’s no other way to describe it than it’s a dream come true,” Happ said following the Blue Jays 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Yankees on Sunday. “It’s kind of a surreal moment today when I found out.

“I was certainly hoping there was a chance, but it’s just a dream come true.”

The distraction of the all-star game selection, the first of Happ’s career, couldn’t come at a better time. Amidst trade rumours ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Blue Jays starter has struggled in his last two trips to the mound.

On Saturday, Happ was tagged for six earned runs on four hits in just 2 2/3 innings of work — his shortest start since September 2016. He needed 84 pitches to record the first eight outs of the game. In his previous outing, Happ allowed seven runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings in a 9-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

Happ is now 2-2 with a 7.94 ERA and six home runs allowed over his last four starts. He was 4-0 with a 1.92 ERA in the six starts before that.

“It lessens the sting of yesterday a little bit,” said Happ, who found out about his selection earlier in the day when manager John Gibbons made the announcement in front of the team.

“I have gotten better about handling tough outings, but the last couple have hurt, so this is nice. It helps to kind of turn the page and look forward to my next outing and then the all-star game.”

The Peru, Ill., native is 10-5 this season with a 4.44 ERA heading into his next start against the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox prior to the all-star break.

Despite his recent struggles, Gibbons believes Happ can still approach the career-high 20-win mark he set two seasons ago.

“He’s got a couple tough starts, he seems a little frustrated with that and disappointed with that, but that had to make him feel good today,” Gibbons said. “He’s earned that. He doesn’t get anything given to him. I think he’ll be a great representation of the organization.

“Bottom line: he’s a very good pitcher in this league, in a tough division.”

In his 12th big league season, Happ credits his ability to evolve for his longevity.

“I feel like I’ve been a lot more consistent, and probably more confident,” said Happ. “I think those things kind of go hand-in-hand. You try to feed off both of those.

“The hardest thing about the big league is being consistent ‘cause everybody has the talent and ability up here. It’s about doing it for the long haul and doing it consistently — that’s kind of how you separate yourself and I’ve been proud to be able to do that for the most part.”

With the trip to Washington, D.C. for the July 16-17 all-star game festivities on the horizon, Happ is looking forward to watching the league’s top talent from a front-row seat.

“I want to take it in best I can,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun to kind of sit on the field, watching the home run derby and then just be a part of the game. And if I get a chance to pitch — great. If I don’t, be a part of that game and see the best players on the planet play.”

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