Happ disappointed by lack of starting role
Pushed out of rotation by offseason moves, southpaw wants to pitch in big leagues
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- J.A. Happ is enjoying a strong start to the spring, but that has done little to ease the level of frustration he has about his role in Toronto.
Happ entered Spring Training knowing he wouldn't have an opportunity to compete for a starting job. The rotation was set in stone over the offseason and resulted in the six-year veteran being left in limbo.
There's still an opportunity to compete for a job in the bullpen, but even that is somewhat up for debate. A more likely scenario would see Happ begin the year at Triple-A Buffalo and wait for an opportunity at the big league level. Both options have him less than enthused.
"It's very frustrating," Happ said after throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon in a 3-0 loss. "I told myself a couple of things before I came into camp: that I would try to stay as positive as I could and just kind of let things play out.
"So, I'm trying to do that. I know there are other people in the stands as well, so I'm trying to just keep my routine and we'll see what happens."
Happ might be upset but, unfortunately for him, there aren't a lot of options at his disposal. The Blue Jays control his fate and would be extremely reluctant to make any type of move that would negatively impact their pitching depth.
Toronto still doesn't know what it will get out of left-hander Ricky Romero, while Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow both have experienced various injuries in the past couple of years. It's incredibly rare for a team to make it through an entire season with five starters, and it's another reason Happ is so valuable.
The ability to have a proven veteran starter in a backup role is a luxury that most teams can't afford. Happ's certainly understanding of the club's overall stance, but it's still something he appears to be struggling to deal with.
"I hope to obviously continue [pitching well] but it's not like they don't know what I'm capable of at the same time," said Happ, who has a career 4.19 ERA in 590 innings. "I don't feel like a huge amount of pressure in every outing.
"Obviously, I want to do well and continue to be sharp. I think that's what everybody is trying to do. I don't think I'm a complete unknown as far as every outing kind of hanging in the balance of the results."
Happ said he expects to meet with the Blue Jays in the next 10 days or so to go over his situation once again. When asked what he hoped would come out of that encounter he said: "I don't know, let's just see what happens."
To date, there have been no public demands for a trade, but when asked which role he would prefer, relieving in Toronto or starting in Buffalo he paused for a few seconds before delivering his message.
"I'm a Major League starting pitcher," Happ said. "I guess I'll leave it at that for right now. We'll have to let it play out."
Happ was the main centerpiece of last year's midseason trade with the Astros. Toronto parted with a series of mid-level prospects to acquire the left-hander and reliever Brandon Lyon in what amounted to a 10- player deal.
At the time, it seemed apparent that Happ was going to become a piece at the back end of the Blue Jays' rotation. That changed unexpectedly this offseason following the acquisitions of Johnson, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle.
In a matter of several weeks, Happ went from being the club's No. 3 starter to potentially being out of a job in the big leagues. Toronto manager John Gibbons is certainly sympathetic but feels that Happ will just need to wait for an opportunity.
"I definitely feel for him," Gibbons said. "But, I mean, he knows what he's facing. It's been laid out pretty good, he's read about it. Before it's all said and done, he's going to help us in a lot of ways."