TORONTO — J.A. Happ changed his mindset Thursday night after giving up seven earned runs in his previous appearance.
The Toronto left-hander decided to pitch “a little angry” against Chicago and it led to his best start of the season.
Happ, who had a season-high eight strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings, combined with two relievers on a four-hit shutout as the Blue Jays blanked the White Sox 7-0 to kick off a four-game series.
“He had that good life on his fastball and you could see them swinging through some pitches,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “That’s when you know he’s on.”
It was a strong bounceback performance by Happ after he lasted just four innings in an 8-0 loss to Cincinnati last week. He originally planned to forget about that start, but it was on his mind as he took the mound on a glorious summer evening at Rogers Centre.
“I did pitch a little upset, a little angry tonight at myself,” Happ said. “So that helped just trying to be in the zone, trying not to let those kind of games happen (again).”
Happ walked a pair and threw 79 of his 124 pitches for strikes. Dustin McGowan and Chad Jenkins completed the shutout as Toronto (45-36) moved two games ahead of the idle Baltimore Orioles in the American League East.
It capped an impressive first half of the season for the Blue Jays, who lead the American League with 35 victories from their starters.
“We’ve played some good baseball and really we deserve to be where we’re at, to tell you the truth,” Gibbons said.
Jose Reyes had four hits and Adam Lind drove in three runs as Toronto outhit Chicago 12-4. The stumbling White Sox (36-44) have lost seven of their last eight games and dropped 10 of 11 on the road.
“That game just smelled right from the start,” said Chicago manager Robin Ventura.
“We didn’t play very well, didn’t hit very well, didn’t play defence very well and it showed.”
The Blue Jays gave Happ an early lead after Reyes and Cabrera reached on back-to-back infield singles in the first inning off Scott Carroll (2-4). Lind drove a ball into the right-field corner that easily scored Reyes from second base.
The throw from former Blue Jays outfielder Moises Sierra was between home plate and third base, allowing Cabrera to score on the error.
Reyes tripled in the second inning to bring home Juan Francisco, who reached on a walk. Reyes drove the ball off the top of the wall in right-centre field and it bounced high in the air and back onto the field.
The play was reviewed to see if it should have been a home run but the call was upheld.
Toronto started to pull away in the fourth inning as Lind drove in Reyes and Anthony Gose with a single. Lind finished with three hits to bump his average up to .342.
“Against right-handed pitchers, I mean who’s been better in baseball, really?” Gibbons said. “I don’t think anybody has. Lind really fits that three-hole mode. He’s got great discipline, he’s kind of a pure hitter.”
Dioner Navarro put a charge into the crowd of 23,248 in the fifth when he hit a drive to the warning track in left-centre field. Left-fielder Dayan Viciedo flubbed the catch attempt and centre-fielder Leury Garcia’s throw to second base was wide.
Navarro ran to third when the ball rolled into foul territory and actually got the wave home — a stunning decision by third-base coach Luis Rivera given that the Toronto catcher is probably the slowest player on the team. Abreu threw the ball home in plenty of time for Adrian Nieto to apply the tag.
Gibbons joked that Navarro might not be able to play for two weeks now after that long run around the bases.
“I’ll kill Luis if he sends me again, but I’m ready to play tomorrow,” Navarro said with a laugh.
Carroll gave up nine hits, five earned runs and two walks over five innings. He had four strikeouts.