OAKLAND -- The Blue Jays purposely sped up J.A. Happ's return to the big leagues because there was such a glaring need in the starting rotation. The plan made sense, but it came with some risks, and Toronto has seen those play out in his first two starts.
Happ struggled with his command for the second consecutive outing and allowed five runs over 5 1/3 innings in a 5-3 loss to Oakland on Monday night. The decisive blows came on a pair of home runs by Ryon Healy, but the bigger issue was walking three batters, two of which came around to score.
The spotty command was expected. Even though there was an obvious downside, the club's line of thinking was that Happ might show some signs of rust but would be better than the alternatives. That theory still makes sense, but it doesn't make things any less frustrating for the man on the mound trying to figure it all out.
"They got five runs on two hard-hit balls, so that's not good run prevention from me," Happ said. "I feel like that's going to change. I feel like I'll be more sharp as we go forward. Frustrating night. A couple of big mistakes cost us and that was it. ... Two walks before two big hits. Two runs wouldn't have been as bad. You can live with that but the walks beforehand, really frustrating."
Happ's fastball command appeared to be much better than in his first start off the DL, which came in a 6-4 loss to the Reds on May 30. The problem was that he did not have a feel for his secondary pitches, and the inability to consistently locate his curveball, slider and changeup proved costly.
According to Statcast™, Happ threw his slider six times against Oakland and got four balls, one swinging strike and induced one grounder. He went to the changeup 20 times but he got just three swinging strikes and two called strikes. There were also nine curveballs with three swinging strikes and two called strikes.
"Overall, I felt like the life on my stuff was good," Happ said. "There were just a couple of things in particular that I need to tighten up. I have to do that as soon as possible ... I don't think I want to broadcast it to the league. They can figure it out themselves. It's probably not that hard to figure out, but I don't need to give them any freebies."
Happ was particularly hard on himself after the game, but Blue Jays manager John Gibbons gave him a much more positive review. He pointed to the fact that Happ allowed just four hits and all five of the runs were driven in by one player.
"His command was definitely better than the last time, I thought," Gibbons said. "The ball was coming out pretty good too. He got close to 100 pitches. His offspeed stuff is where he's still working on that but he has always been primarily a fastball guy anyways. One guy did all the damage, he didn't give up many hits, just that one guy."