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Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ throws during the first inning against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday in Toronto. AP photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette
J.A. Happ just wanted a chance.
Coming off a season-ending foot injury in 2012, the St. Bede Academy graduate and a pitcher on the Toronto Blue Jays spent his offseason rehabbing in Chicago and watched as the Blue Jays completed two major offseason trades, which combined to net the Jays three starting pitchers.
With the influx of the new starting pitching to go with the starters Toronto already had, many figured Happ would start the season at Triple-A Buffalo instead of in the major leagues despite his $3.7 million salary.
“It was definitely hard and it seemed like everybody had made up their mind as far as the media was concerned, but I certainly didn’t believe that in my heart,” Happ said after the Blue Jays’ 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday in Toronto and before his start Wednesday against the White Sox.
“I guess motivation is the word. I was working my butt off to get my foot healthy and to get my body feeling right. I was just excited to get into Spring Training. Everybody had it written down where (I was going to Triple-A), but I believed in myself.”
Four months later, things have worked out alright for the Illinois Valley’s MLB star. After Wednesday’s start in which Happ allowed five earned runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings pitched, the Peru native is currently 2-1 this season with a 5.06 ERA.
“The people close to me and the people I trust, their main thing was, ‘Just keep your head up. Everything has a way of working itself out,’ and that’s kind of what I held close,” Happ said. “I tried to believe all spring and keep a positive attitude.” It just wasn’t always easy.
After the Blue Jays traded for Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Miami Marlins and then acquired reigning NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets, Happ appeared to be the odd man out of Toronto’s starting rotation.
“I got a phone call saying, ‘We’re not sure exactly where you’re going to fit in. We’re hoping to see you healthy in the spring, and we’ll kind of take it from there,’” Happ said. “I understand it from their side, trying to get a Cy Young winner. From my standpoint, it was tough news because I was hoping to be a big part of their rotation, and at the time it was looking like that may not happen.”
However, a rock-solid spring changed people’s minds.
During spring training, Happ posted a 1.90 ERA in seven Grapefruit League outings, including six starts.
He pitched well enough that he was named the team’s No. 5 starter ahead of Ricky Romero, the Blue Jays’ 2012 Opening Day starter.
“I held out hope the whole time,” Happ said. “They kept saying they were going to take the 25 best guys and I felt like I was one of them, so I had hope that I’d be on the team. I didn’t know what position it would be, whether it was a starter or a reliever or if they were going to option me to Triple-A. I didn’t really know until the last few days of spring.”
Not only did he make the team, Happ received a $5.2 million, one-year extension for 2014 that bought out his final year of arbitration. The deal also included a $6.7 million club option for 2015 or a $200 thousand buyout.
If the club option is declined, the 30-year-old Happ will be eligible for free agency following the 2014 season at age 32.
“It was a strange situation because it was put as ‘We still don’t know what we’re going to do, but we like you and this is just the way we’d like to do it,’” Happ said of his extension. “I certainly hoped that if they were willing to do that that I would find a way to make the team, but I wasn’t guaranteed anything. It was nice, and from my point of view it was a show of confidence from the organization, which is always nice to have.”
Happ and the Blue Jays are 6-9 and in fourth place in the AL East following Wednesday’s 7-0 loss to the White Sox.
Toronto is scheduled to play in Chicago June 10-12 for a three-game series against the White Sox.
If area fans are lucky, Happ’s turn in the rotation will come up during the trip. If it doesn’t, however, he’s still gained notoriety, so much so that a fake Twitter account has been set up in his likeness as “Hipster J.A. Happ.”
“I have heard of it. I don’t have Twitter, but people have showed me it,” said Happ, who wanted people to know it’s not really him. “From what I’ve seen, I hope it’s a harmless thing. It looks pretty funny and I can definitely take a joke. The guy is pretty funny so I have to give him that.”
The question remains: How much hipster does Happ have in himself?
“I don’t think I have any,” Happ joked. “That’s been the strange thing is it’s just odd because it’s completely random and made up. I don’t know why he would pick me to do that. It’s definitely ironic.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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