Blue Jays notebook: Happ takes encouraging first step in recovery

Corey Dickerson, Evan Longoria, and Logan Morrison homered in the eighth inning to rally past the Blue Jays and get the Rays a 7-4 win.

TORONTO – J.A. Happ had a “very encouraging” throwing session Saturday, his first time playing catch in more than a week.

Happ’s April 20 session didn’t go as well as the Blue Jays had hoped, so they limited the left-hander to rest and strength work until Saturday, when he made 30-40 throws from up to 75 feet at Rogers Centre under the supervision of pitching coach Pete Walker.

“He didn’t necessarily step on it, but he felt very good,” Walker said. “Very encouraged by the way he was throwing the ball.”

Happ will continue playing catch, likely as soon as Sunday, and gradually increase the intensity and duration of those throwing sessions as long as the elbow inflammation that initially sidelined him continues to improve.

If all goes well, he would then pitch off a mound. In the meantime, his latest throwing session makes for an encouraging first step.

“Today was a real good day,” Walker said. “Hopefully tomorrow we continue that trend and hopefully get him going.”

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PITCH COUNT FOR SANCHEZ

Aaron Sanchez will be on a pitch count when he returns to action against the Rays after missing time because of a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand. While the Blue Jays aren’t going to disclose the specifics of their plan, they want to ease the right-hander back into action.

“We don’t expect him to throw 110 pitches,” Walker said. “That’s for sure.”

The Blue Jays expect Sanchez to be able to throw his curveball without any issues after a Friday bullpen session in which he threw without restrictions. Throwing the curve had previously led to blister problems for Sanchez, so the Blue Jays recommended a procedure that saw Dr. Glenn Goldstein cut the fingernail of his middle finger in half.

Following Sanchez’s start Sunday the Blue Jays will turn to Marco Estrada, Mat Latos and Marcus Stroman against the New York Yankees.

BASEBALL ACTIVITIES

While there’s no set timeline for Josh Donaldson or Troy Tulowitzki to return to the Blue Jays’ lineup, both took batting practice on the field at Rogers Centre Saturday before playing catch along the third base line. The two infielders are expected to head to Florida following the Blue Jays’ series finale against the Rays for work at the Blue Jays’ Dunedin facility.

GRILLI SEARCHING FOR SLIDER

Jason Grilli‘s been struggling of late, with three home runs allowed and an unsightly 7.27 ERA. The Blue Jays say they’re confident that the 40-year-old right-hander will rebound—especially if he can sharpen up his slider.

He’s averaging 93.2 mph with his fastball, up from 92.4 mph last year, but his slider hasn’t been as effective in the view of Walker and manager John Gibbons. The pitch has induced swings and misses half as often this year—7.6 per cent of the time, down from 15.2 per cent in 2016.

Walker said Grilli has had trouble repeating his delivery at times, contributing to some early struggles.

“His stuff, for me, isn’t really down. He’s been 93-94 (mph). I think he touched 95. I think his fastball’s still there,” Walker said. “His breaking ball, he doesn’t have quite the feel for his slider right now that he’s had (in the past), so that’s a little bit of a battle, but we still have all of the confidence in the world in him.”

The Blue Jays believe that Grilli, like many relievers, has better stuff when he’s rested.

“No doubt,” Gibbons said. “They’re all usually that way, and he’s been around a while.”

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STROMAN ‘UNBELIEVABLE’

Stroman had a dominant April, with a 2.97 ERA and more innings than anyone but Chris Sale and Dallas Keuchel. Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays like what they see from the right-hander.

“He’s been unbelievable,” Walker said. “He’s moving the ball around with that good action on his sinker. His breaking stuff is, for me, better than it was last year.”

In particular, Walker said Stroman’s slider has become more effective. His change-up, on the other hand, hasn’t been used nearly as much, though it’s still there if needed. After all, Stroman likes to keep hitters guessing.

“He’s keeping them off-balance with his quick pitching and his adjustments in his delivery,” Walker said. “He’s becoming a master at it.”

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