Wilner on Jays: Happ continues terrific spring

J.A. Happ has looked the part of a starting pitcher during the spring.

DUNEDIN — J.A. Happ took another strong step in what has been a terrific spring but unfortunately for the left-hander, a big-league job might not be there for the taking.

Happ threw six innings of two-hit shutout ball against a Boston Red Sox team that featured not a single player from their projected Opening Day lineup. He looked terrific nonetheless, and has now allowed just four runs on 19 hits and three walks, while striking out 13 in 19 spring innings.

Will it help in his bid to come north with the Toronto Blue Jays?

Well, the lefty was never really bidding for that, resigned to the fact that was slated to be the club’s sixth starter (though not happy about it).

Now, however, it seems as though the tone from the decision-makers with regards to Ricky Romero is beginning to change.

Up until Romero’s terrible outing in a minor-league game Thursday afternoon, the word from manager John Gibbons was always “Ricky’s our guy”.

After Happ’s performance Friday, Gibbons was asked how he would explain to the fans why Romero remains his fifth starter.

“I don’t know if I can explain that right now,” Gibbons answered, “I can definitely understand the argument. (Happ) has pitched very good, Ricky’s struggled. We’ll see how it all plays out.”

When asked if there could be a change in the major-league rotation, Gibbons said “No, everything’s set now. We haven’t discussed any of that.”

Romero is scheduled to start on Mar. 26 when the Blue Jays host the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he’s scheduled to throw six innings.

It remains a possibility that Romero could begin the season the disabled list, the reasoning being that he continues to recover from off-season elbow surgery, while he irons out his control issues down here in Dunedin for a few weeks.

Outside the Happ-Romero storyline, it was a very encouraging outing by Casey Janssen.

The Blue Jays closer made his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game and needed only 11 pitches to get through his perfect seventh. He struck out a pair to go with a groundout and was very pleased with the results, although he said his arm felt better in his minor-league outing on Wednesday.

Janssen attributed that to the fact that he’d only had one day off between the two stints, as opposed to the two days’ rest he had earlier in the week. The real indicator will be how Janssen feels Saturday morning. As of now, he’s not scheduled to appear in another Grapefruit League game anytime soon.

Neither is Brett Lawrie.

The injured third baseman is progressing well in his rehab from a ribcage strain, though. He took 20 dry swings at the tee Friday and has been fielding grounders for a couple of days.

The Blue Jays hope Lawrie will be healthy enough to start the season, but just in case he isn’t, he’s likely not to appear in any Grapefruit League games the rest of the way.

If Lawrie does have to open the season on the disabled list, he can be placed on it retroactive to Mar. 22, and therefore will be eligible to come off as early as Apr. 6 — which means he would potentially only have to miss four games.

Five miles up the road, R.A. Dickey pitched eight innings in a minor-league game, taking his knuckleball out for a good spin.

He struggled through a 24-pitch first inning, but then needed only 78 pitches to get through the next seven — an average of about 11 pitches per frame. Dickey declared the day a great success in all aspects. He had to push through a long inning, he got up and down seven or eight times, he sat through a long inning while his offence scored a bunch of runs, and he even picked a runner off.

He also gave rave reviews to Henry Blanco, who did the catching.

Dickey considers the knuckleball he threw Friday to be about a seven on a scale of one-to-10. He added, though, “I can win with a seven.”

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