Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ throws at spring training in Dunedin, Fla., on Wednesday, February 21, 2018. Happ will be the Toronto Blue Jays’ opening day starter this season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Blue Jays name veteran left-hander Happ opening day starter against Yankees

DUNEDIN, Fla. — There was a time in J.A. Happ’s career when he wouldn’t have been considered to start an opening day game.

And even if he was, he wouldn’t have remembered.

“The 2011 and 2012 years are something that I try to suppress a little bit,” the Toronto left-hander said with a laugh when a reporter asked if he had started an opening day with the Houston Astros during those seasons.

“It would be great if those years never happened but you live and learn. I might not be here if it wasn’t for that.”

Happ isn’t the same pitcher he was in 2011 and 2012. The Blue Jays’ decision Tuesday to name him their opening day starter is a testament to that.

Happ will pitch against the New York Yankees, the team heavily favoured to win the AL East, next Thursday at Rogers Centre.

“It feels good, I haven’t always had that (confidence from organizations),” Happ said. “After being here the last few years and having great experiences for the most part, It’s nice to feel that confidence that they have in me and the trust level.”

Added manager John Gibbons: “There’s just something about opening day, you know? The focus and everything like that, and you have to be good to get those nods.”

Right-hander Aaron Sanchez, whose 2017 season was hampered by a finger blister, will start the second game against the Yankees on Friday night. Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman will close out the four-game series and newcomer Jaime Garcia will open the next series against the Chicago White Sox on April 2.

Stroman, who finished eighth in Cy Young voting after going 13-9 with a 3.09 earned-run average last season, was the favourite to start the opener when camp began last month. A right shoulder injury changed that, limiting Stroman to just one start — two innings against Canada’s junior national team last week — so far this spring. He’s scheduled to pitch Wednesday against the Phillies.

Happ, a 20-game winner in 2016, was 10-11 with a 3.53 ERA last season.

The 35-year-old was 7-9 with a 4.83 ERA in 2012 before being traded from Houston to Toronto midway through that season. He finished 10-11 and continued to struggle on the mound over the next two years before switching up his approach.

“I watched a lot of other left-handers and I felt I was not far from getting to that level,” Happ said of the beginning of his changes to both his mechanics and his mindset.

“I just felt like a few adjustments and I could be there. The repertoire was there. It was a work in progress, being more consistent, and the mental side of the game means so much.

“I think just the combination of those, as I grew and felt some confidence from the organization and got a little renewed energy from being in different places and had some success, those things kind of helped me grow into the pitcher I am and trusting that is enough to just go out there and try to repeat that.”

Happ was traded from the Blue Jays to Seattle in the 2014 off-season for Canadian outfielder Michael Saunders. He swapped teams again mid-season in 2015, going from the Mariners to the Pirates, before signing with Toronto as a free agent the following year.

Happ’s transition into one of the game’s top lefties began with the Jays — and countless conversations with pitching coach Pete Walker in 2014.

“I felt really good about how that season ended, and at the time I was disappointed when I got traded, or at least I didn’t expect I would get traded. … I got a little renewed energy being in a playoff hunt (with Pittsburgh) and started having a little bit of success and positivity and that was a good thing for me,” Happ said.

Gibbons said he’s been a fan of Happ’s “from Day 1.”

“Really he’s reinvented himself,” he said. “He’s become a different pitcher, more ground balls, and I think it really helped his breaking ball and his location.”

“He’s always been reliable,” Gibbons added. “He’s a work horse. He’s one of the good guys.”

Just Posted

Horses left in trailer found in the ditch near Bentley returned to owners, no charges laid

Two horses found in an abandoned trailer near Bentley have been returned… Continue reading

RCMP close intersection where Humboldt Broncos bus, transport truck collided

REGINA — Police have closed the intersection where the team bus for… Continue reading

Supreme Court upholds law in cross-border beer case, averting trade shakeup

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed the constitutionality of… Continue reading

Trudeau attends Commonwealth meeting looking for less plastic, more LGBTQ rights

LONDON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will add his voice today to… Continue reading

Nova Scotia premier defends work ethic of Jamaicans after comments by Tory

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s premier has responded to controversial comments a Progressive… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer’s newest public art unveiled

Red Deer’s latest “ghost” sculpture is a love letter to the game… Continue reading

Howard commencement to feature “Black Panther” Boseman

WASHINGTON — The “Black Panther” is returning to his alma mater to… Continue reading

Armed police will patrol rail stations at royal wedding

LONDON — British officials say armed and undercover police officers will patrol… Continue reading

Power largely restored across Puerto Rico after blackout

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s power company said Thursday that… Continue reading

Dashing to make a flight? Order food to your gate through a delivery app

TORONTO — P.J. Mastracchio is used to dashing through airports only to… Continue reading

Alabama mayor: ‘Poop train’ finally empty; sludge gone

ATLANTA — The last train car full of New York City sewage… Continue reading

Mom to be charged in slaying of girl, 2, in Quebec City neighbourhood

QUEBEC — A Quebec City mother has been arrested in the slaying… Continue reading

Did a Canadian shoot down the Red Baron? A century later, the debate hasn’t quit

Capt. Roy Brown had ordered the young airman not to engage the… Continue reading

Mall plotters believed they were reincarnations of Columbine shooters: report

HALIFAX — They weren’t just inspired by the Columbine shooters — two… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month