Tuesday night’s outing was never going to go down as one on the finest of J.A. Happ’s career.
Both Happ and manager John Gibbons had indicated prior to the start that he’d be limited to around 75 pitches, and there’s only so much you can do when you’re light on ammunition. The southpaw was also building up his strength after pitching just twice in Florida prior to his MLB return.
With those things in mind, it would be fair to say that his performance in the Toronto Blue Jays 6-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds met expectations – something that was far from a given early on.
“It was a battle,” Happ said when asked to evaluate his performance. “I expected that my first time getting back out there.”
The veteran starter got off to a bumpy start in the first inning. After getting Billy Hamilton to fly out to right, Zack Cozart took a 94 mph fastball down and drove in to straight-away centre for the game’s opening run.
The next pitch he threw was another fastball down that Joey Votto hit even harder – a no doubter well into the WestJet Flight Deck. After allowing massive 400+ foot drives on two consecutive pitches, Happ’s triumphant return wasn’t looking particularly triumphant. To make matters worse, it took him 22 pitches to escape the first frame – far from the type of efficiency the Blue Jays were hoping for.
In the second, Happ managed an 11-pitch 1-2-3 effort that seemed to put him back on track, but things got interesting again a frame later. After getting Hamilton again, the southpaw walked Cozart, allowed Adam Duval to single then put Eugenio Suarez on with a series of fastballs that barely sniffed the plate. His fourth offering missed by so much MLB’s pitch tracker cut it off:
The walk led to a meeting on the mound with pitching coach Pete Walker – which worked in a sense that Happ then got the next out to get out of the jam. The asterisk there is that he proceeded to allow a scorching 108.6 mph grounder off the bat of Scott…