PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — J.A. Happ’s first start as the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2013 fifth starter won’t be packaged up and shipped to the Smithsonian any time soon, but he overcame his ineffectiveness by coming up big at the right times, and wound up with a solid final spring day at the office.
Happ was scheduled to throw six innings, but reached his allotted pitch count with two out in the fifth, having allowed eight baserunners (four hits and four walks) over his 4.2 innings of work. He only gave up one run, though, and that was because he did an excellent job of pitching out of trouble.
This is, of course, is not a repeatable or sustainable skill, and of course, the more a pitcher gets into trouble the less likely he is to continue to be able to get out of it. But Happ did hold the Rays hitless with runners in scoring position on Wednesday afternoon (0-for-6) — and all four of his strikeouts came with a man on third.
Happ kept the Blue Jays in the game — an excellent fifth starter’s start — and Esmil Rogers and Aaron Loup picked him up until the offence blew the doors off in the top of the eighth. Colby Rasmus capped the bat-around frame with a mammoth grand slam after some shoddy Rays defence (thank you very much, Kelly Johnson) kept the inning alive.
Rogers, who worked a hitless inning and a third, and Loup, who issued his first walk of the spring in his shutout seventh, had made the team many moons ago. Jeremy Jeffress, who followed them out of the bullpen, wasn't told that he was coming north with the big club until the morning of the game, and celebrated the news with his best outing in almost three weeks. He allowed naught but a weakly-hit infield single and struck out a pair in the shutout frame.
Jeffress, along with Rogers, Loup, Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver, Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil, will form an eight-man bullpen, the existence of which is generally an abomination. It's not unreasonable for the Blue Jays to start this way, though, because it's only for a short time (until Brett Lawrie is ready to come off the disabled list, maybe as soon as the end of next week) and because it increases the odds that the Jays will be able to keep both Cecil and Jeffress in the fold.
It's all about asset management. If the Blue Jays had opened with seven in the 'pen, one of Cecil and Jeffress would have had to have been exposed to waivers, because each of them is out of options. There's not a question in my mind that the Houston Astros, first on the list, would have been happy to claim either one of them -- especially since they've spent the winter gathering up as many one-time top prospects as they've been able to pack onto a roster.
Trying to pass Cecil or Jeffress through waivers when Lawrie is ready to go will be an easier chore, since any team that wants to put in a claim would have to move someone off its already-established major-league roster in order to do so. And of course, someone else could get hurt between now and then, too.
During the game, another spot opened on the Blue Jays' 40-man roster when Guillermo Moscoso, who was lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree in each of his two outings since being claimed from the Royals, was claimed again on waivers -- the Cubs pilfered him.
After the game, the Blue Jays announced that Happ had agreed to a two-year contract with an option for 2015. The lefty will receive the same $3.7-million salary that he was set to earn this season anyway, and has sold his final year of arbitration eligibility for $5.2 million. The Blue Jays hold a club option for what would have been his first free-agent season at $6.7 million, with a $200,000 buyout.
Happ, who is the beneficiary of Ricky Romero's surprise demotion to Dunedin, has his financial future secured whether or not he spends most of the season in the major leagues and will speak to the media about his new deal on Thursday morning, before the Blue Jays play their Grapefruit League finale, in Clearwater against the Phillies.
Edwin Encarnacion is expected to make his first appearance since injuring his index finger in his final at-bat of the World Baseball Classic. Brandon Morrow will start the game, most likely against the one and only Harry Leroy Halladay. Dirk Hayhurst and I, in our final broadcast of the spring, will have the call for you starting at 1:00 p.m. ET on www.sportsnet590.ca.