TORONTO — JA Happ threw his 59th pitch of the afternoon Sunday, a 91-m.p.h. two-seamer that induced the third out of the fourth inning, and immediately knew something wasn’t right.
“I felt kind of a pull, a tug in my elbow,” Happ said. “And then I went back out there for the fifth and it just got progressively worse.”
Happ threw nine more pitches in that fifth — getting through two batters — before he decided enough was enough. After a first-pitch fastball to Adam Jones, Happ came out of his delivery, motioned his catcher to the mound, and called it a day.
The team is describing Happ’s ailment as left elbow soreness, and the 34-year-old will have an MRI Monday to determine if it’s anything worse than that.
“We’re going to find out what’s going on in there and then make a decision from there,” Happ said. “But it was enough that I was starting to lose effectiveness, which was disappointing because I felt like the game was going well. I was kind of establishing myself again. Bouncing back from that game before a little bit. So, it’s a little concerning and definitely frustrating.”
Happ’s right — he was cruising through a shutout start to that point, holding the Baltimore Orioles to only four hits through 4.1 innings while striking out three. His fastball-heavy attack was effectively neutralizing Baltimore’s bats, and he was throwing just a hair under 70 per cent of his pitches for strikes.
But then the issue in his elbow developed, as Happ put it, “out of nowhere.” He didn’t let anyone know about the discomfort he was experiencing between the fourth and fifth innings, trying to get through the outing by taking extra time between pitches to let the soreness subside. But it was a hopeless pursuit.
“It’s disappointing,” Happ said. “Same old story — you put the work in during the off-season, and you expect to be able to come out and be strong.”
Happ was making his third start of the season after a very successful 2016 in which he pitched to a 3.18 ERA over 32 starts and finished sixth in American League Cy Young voting. Happ also set a career high in innings pitched with 195, eclipsing his previous high of 172. He spent much of his off-season strengthening his left shoulder in response to the stresses it withstood under that innings toll.
Working closely with the Blue Jays’ high performance department, Happ felt he was in a good position physically to follow up 2016’s high volume workload with another year of deep outings every five days. Now, he’ll have to wait for Monday’s MRI to find out how realistic that goal remains.
“There’s potential for good news here,” Happ said. “And hopefully that’s what we get.”