Blue Jays spring takeaways: Happ gets off to solid start

Shi Davidi joins Barry Davis to talk about replacements for Aaron Loup, the debut of Troy Tulowitzki and Marco Estrada’s bullpen.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Blue Jays used the longball and some clutch late defence to stay unbeaten in the Grapefruit season.  Russell Martin, Justin Smoak and Dalton Pompey all went deep in the bottom of the fourth off Andrew Triggs to give the Jays a lead they never relinquished.

The Orioles had the tying run on base in each of the final three innings, but inning-ending double plays in the seventh and eighth kept the Jays on top, setting up a Chad Jenkins strikeout of Steve Tolleson to end it.

Here’s what stood out to me about Friday’s 4-3 win over Baltimore:

STRONG INITIAL OUTING – J.A. Happ looked great in his first spring start, giving up naught but two weak hits and not issuing a walk over his two innings of work.

After a couple of deep fly outs to start the game, Happ gave up a high chopper to Mark Trumbo that went off the glove of a leaping Troy Tulowitzki at short for a base hit.  A grounder to second ended the inning and Happ got two more ground balls in the second, one resulting in a double play after Dariel Alvarez reached on a bloop hit that fell into no-man’s land in short right field.

It was a neat and tidy effort for the lefty, who is coming off a phenomenal final two months of last season which saw him go 7-2, 1.85 in helping the Pittsburgh Pirates to 98 wins. The Blue Jays don’t need Happ to be that good, though they’d certainly take it, but his first sortie of the spring was encouraging, especially since we’ve seen him struggle through a March or two in the past.

POMPEY’S CIRCUMSTANCE – Dalton Pompey is likely ticketed for triple-A Buffalo this season. Manager John Gibbons has said that he won’t be making the big-league team unless he’s the starting left fielder, and that job is currently Michael Saunders’ to lose.

The 23-year-old Mississaugan had a spectacular at-bat in the fourth inning, spoiling out pitch after out pitch from Triggs, fouling off a bucketload of full-count offerings before getting a hanging curveball and blasting it off the roof of the Blue Jays’ clubhouse in right field for his first home run of the spring.

Pompey refused to give in, getting just enough of some nasty pitches to stay alive in the at-bat, and was ready to crush a hanging breaking ball while staying geared up for the heat that was to be expected in a full count.  It was an extremely impressive at-bat, showcasing Pompey’s advanced nature as a hitter.  He probably won’t make the team, but he’s certainly showing that he’s ready if the call should come.

SHAKY STOREN – The Blue Jays dealt Ben Revere to the Washington Nationals this winter in exchange for righty Drew Storen, who has 95 major-league saves to his credit, 29 of which came in 31 opportunities last season, before the Nats made their ill-advised trade for Jonathan Papelbon.

Storen got his first outing of the spring under his belt on Friday and it wasn’t a good one.  He almost got Charlie Brown’d by the first batter he faced – Ryan Flaherty crushed a line drive right back through the box – then walked banjo-hitter Paul Janish to turn the lineup over.  After a flyout, Jonathan Schoop singled to centre to cash Flaherty for the Orioles’ second run.  Storen then got a double-play ball off the bat of Mark Trumbo to end the threat – one of four double plays the Baltimores hit into in the game.

Storen is likely to close for the Blue Jays this season, and you have to imagine that he was pretty amped up in making his first appearance for his new ballclub.  He’d have liked to have been better, but there’s a lot of spring left for him to recover.

ISN’T IT IRONIC – Every year since they became affiliated with the Blue Jays, the Buffalo Bisons have hosted a Hot Stove Luncheon in January for their fans to kick off the ticket-selling season, and every year the Blue Jays have sent a representative or two to the event.

In 2015, the Blue Jays sent Chad Jenkins and Steve Tolleson to the party. On Friday, Jenkins was called upon to relieve Patrick McCoy with two on and two out in the ninth inning, and Tolleson at the plate.

Tolleson, who signed a minor-league deal with the Orioles this winter, has always hit left-handers well, and the Jays weren’t about to let their former mate face a southpaw with the tying run in scoring position and two out in the ninth, fake game or otherwise.

Jenkins struck out Tolleson on three pitches to end the game, earning his first save of the spring and sending 4,810 fans at the FAES home happy.

The Blue Jays will try to stay unbeaten as they take on the Phillies in Dunedin on Saturday, already their third game against their Florida neighbours.

Drew Hutchison will start against Phils’ first-rounder Aaron Nola, and the game will be live on Sportsnet television with Buck Martinez and Joe Siddall as well as along the Sportsnet Radio Network, where Jerry Howarth and I will have the call for you starting with the pre-game show at 12:30pm Eastern.

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