TORONTO – J.A. Happ and Ryan Borucki were engaged in conversation recently when the veteran left-hander asked the rookie left-hander how he threw his fastball. “He was like, ‘Sometimes it does this, sometimes I do that and it does this.’ I was like, ‘Wow, if only the game was that easy, like yeah, I don’t care, sometimes it will cut, sometimes it will sink,’ and he just laughed at me,” Happ recalls with a wry grin. “He’s got that fearless mindset. He throws strikes. He doesn’t walk guys. His stuff is really good. He’s got a chance to pitch for a long time.”
Borucki, just recalled from triple-A Buffalo to make his fifth big-league start, offered another reason to believe in that assessment Tuesday night, allowing only two unearned runs over six strong innings in a 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins. The 24-year-old retired the first 10 batters he faced, cleverly worked out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the fourth, induced an inning-ending double play to pick up his defence in the fifth, but was undone by a Teoscar Hernandez error in left field to open the sixth that led to a pair of unearned runs and shortened his outing.
With Jose Berrios holding the Blue Jays to four hits and a walk over seven shutout innings, that left Borucki still searching for his first big-league victory, once again the victim of hard luck, having now pitched well enough in four of his five outings to deserve a better fate.
“He’s shown me a lot, I think he’s shown everybody that,” says manager John Gibbons. “He’s got great poise. He’s got great command. He knows what he’s doing.”
With plenty of recent experience in being hurt by shoddy defence, Happ is sure to offer his young teammate some encouraging words on how to handle the frustration.
The two first developed a bond in 2013 when they met while rehabbing injuries in Dunedin, Fla., Happ coming back from a right knee sprain, Borucki recovering from Tommy John surgery.
As a pair of tall left-handers from just outside Chicago, they had a natural connection.
“You always gravitate toward the guys you have a lot in common with and we obviously have mutual things we can talk about other than baseball,” says Borucki. “Us Chicago guys have to stick together a little bit.”
Once Happ came off the disabled list in ‘13, he kept tabs on Borucki’s progress and during the past two spring trainings, he paid close attention to the youngster’s performance.
Since Borucki’s June 26 debut at Houston, Happ has also made a point of befriending him, paying forward the mentorship Jamie Moyer offered him as a rookie with the Philadelphia Phillies back in 2009.
“I’m trying,” Happ says, smiling. “I don’t know if he’ll hold me in the same regard I hold Jamie Moyer, but hopefully someday, he’ll appreciate it a little bit.
“Jamie is a guy I always look back on. We had a great staff, a great group of guys — Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay later on – but Jamie took a lot of time to teach me a little bit and try to get in my head to see how I was thinking. That was impressive to me.”
Borucki feels the same way about Happ’s welcoming advice, believing it’s played an integral role in helping him find comfort at the big-league level.
His plan when he got called up was to quietly watch and learn from his fellow starters and because of their commonalities he planned to particularly lock in on Happ, whom he described as a true professional.
“He’s definitely been a mentor to me,” says Borucki. “He’s really taken the time to talk to me during games, during batting practice – every time he has a chance to teach me something he does. In ’13 I got to know him a little bit, he left and then he came back. Last spring training, this spring training he’s really talked to me a lot and we’ve built a relationship where it’s really helped.”
The guidance Happ is offering to Borucki may be his final parting gift to the Blue Jays, as logic suggests they trade him prior to his next start this weekend against the Chicago White Sox.
The Yankees’ reported agreement to acquire Zach Britton from the Orioles for three prospects fronted by double-A right-hander Dillon Tate hints at the type of return the Blue Jays could expect for Happ, and they likely have a solid grasp at this point of what’s available to them.
Once he’s gone, Borucki will become all the more important for a team looking to reset its core, a left-hander the Blue Jays hope can one day become like the left-hander soon to depart.