J.A. Happ writes righthanded. He bowls and plays tennis with his right hand, kicks with his right foot. He plays golf, dribbles and shoots a basketball lefthanded. Either by happenstance or having the requisite gray matter to have acquired some higher learning at Northwestern, Happ throws lefthanded and has promising job prospects because of it.

"I don't know why," Happ said. "It's a weird thing. I would think I would at least kick with my left."

If it's that tough to figure out Happ from the inside, then outsiders have almost no chance. Happ has a sedate presence on the pitcher's mound — and most places really — that is contagious enough to regularly render hitters lethargic. He deadened the bats of the Detroit Tigers in his first outing of the Grapefruit League, working two scoreless innings in the Astros' 6-3 victory Wednesday.

"I try to stay collected out there, but I don't want people to mistake that for lack of intensity," Happ said. "The people who know me know I'm as competitive as they come. There's a lot of fire going on internally if it's not showing externally."

Happ, 28, is the key player general manager Ed Wade got in return for sending franchise icon Roy Oswalt to the Philadelphia Phillies last summer. Astros pitching coach Brad Arnsberg has no reservation touting Happ, who went 5-4 with a 3.75 earned run average in 13 starts after the trade, as "the whole package."

"He's almost got a little bit of a sleeper to him," Arnsberg said. "He's so monotone and nice and polite, but when he's on the mound, he's a different guy. I see him in bullpen activity just want to snap, and I like that, because he cares so much and wants to be so good and demands so much out of himself."

Happ has a 19-9 record (.679) and 3.27 earned run average to show for his first 289 innings in the major leagues. He has done it with a fastball-slider-changeup repertoire that neither turns heads nor short-circuits radar guns. His fastball regularly clocks in at just under 90 mph, but there is more to it and his other pitches than immediately meets the eye.