TORONTO -- Saturday's matchup between the Blue Jays and Yankees was billed as a potential pitchers' duel and, more importantly for Toronto, a possible audition for one of the club's biggest trade chips. It did not go as planned.
Veteran lefty J.A. Happ was hit hard, early and often in an 8-5 loss to the Yankees at Rogers Centre. Happ battled control problems throughout his outing as he finished allowing six earned runs on four hits and six walks -- one off his career high -- while retiring just eight batters.
The struggles marked Happ's second consecutive disappointing start. He was roughed up for a season-high-tying seven runs in his last outing vs. the Tigers, and the lefty has now allowed 13 runs on 14 hits and seven walks over his last 8 1/3 innings. Against New York, the high number of walks proved costly, as did a pair of home runs to Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge leading off the game.
"I was ready to pitch, I was excited to pitch," Happ said after his shortest start since Sept. 4, 2016. "I felt good. I think you try to flush this one as best you can. It's going to be a tough couple of days in between, but hopefully I'll bounce back. I don't think these last two [starts] are really indicative of how I've pitched the last several years. You try to flip the script as best you can and just move forward."
The timing of Happ's midseason struggles could not be much worse for the Blue Jays, who clearly intend to be sellers before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. An injury to star third baseman Josh Donaldson left Happ as Toronto's top trade chip, and now the question will be whether his recent downward trajectory will impact what the Blue Jays can get in return.
The travelling New York media is paying close attention to all of this because the Yankees have been rumored to be one of the favorites to acquire Happ in the coming weeks. After Sonny Gray's issues continued on Friday night, the New York Daily News went with a headline of "Happless" on the cover of its sports section to indicate the need for the Yankees to make a big move.
The audition wasn't pretty. Happ allowed a home run to Gardner on the first pitch of the game, and Judge followed four pitches later with a blast of his own. Before the first inning was over, Happ used 34 pitches over the course of eight batters, allowing four runs. He returned for the second inning but allowed two more runs in the third as he was chased from the game.
"I don't know, potentially subconsciously," Happ said, when asked if the trade rumors have impacted his recent performance. "I know these last two have not really been me, or what I feel like I'm known for, certainly not what I'm capable of. Having said that, I don't think I feel any type of way about going out there or whatever. I've been ready to pitch. It hasn't gone my way, and I have to find a way to stop that as quickly as possible."
Now the Blue Jays will have to hope that teams look at Happ's entire body of work -- and his lengthy track record of success -- instead of focusing on the more recent results. This is a pitcher who has seen his ERA jump from 3.48 to 4.44 in a matter of three weeks, but Happ is also tied for fifth in the American League with 10 wins and is 11th with 115 strikeouts. Nobody is debating the quality of the pitcher, but people will be debating the pricetag.
"Those may be bargaining tools … but they have seen his track record for long enough," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said before the game when asked if a good or bad start from Happ would impact his value. "He has had a good year. The last game, a couple of things happened, a couple of screwy things happened, but everybody knows him. But that's my opinion, I don't know how other teams, front offices, view that. Everybody has a good day, and every now and then everybody has a bad day, too."
By the time the book was closed on Happ, his team was trailing, 7-2, and the Blue Jays never really threatened after that. Kevin Pillar, Randal Grichuk and Aledmys Diaz homered, but those were the lone bright spots for a team that dropped to 4-4 over its last eight games. New York right-hander Luis Severino picked up the win, his Major League-leading 14th, after allowing three runs over five innings.
"I'm trying to compete," said Happ, who has allowed at least six earned runs in back-to-back starts for the first time in his career. "I'm trying to win and it hurts me as I'm standing here talking to you, the results today. It doesn't matter that it's the Yankees, or whoever it is. I expect better and I think better will happen. I think I'm known for better."
The Blue Jays issued a season-high 10 walks, which was their highest total since June 30, 2017, vs. Boston (11 innings).
CRUZ EXITS WITH INJURY
Blue Jays reliever Rhiner Cruz was forced to leave Saturday's game in the top of the ninth inning because of right groin tightness. Cruz was making his second appearance of the season, but after pitching in the eighth, he experienced some discomfort in the following frame.
"The initial report, when I went out there, he just had some tightness in his groin," said Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who took over managerial duties after Gibbons was ejected in the top of the third inning. "I'll wait to hear more once the medical staff evaluates him a little bit longer here. I think it was just tightness in his groin and we're not going to take any chances there for sure."
Rookie left-hander Ryan Borucki (0-1, 2.77 ERA) will take the mound when the Blue Jays close out their three-game series against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre, with first pitch scheduled for 1:07 p.m. ET. Borucki has allowed just two runs in each of his first two big league starts, striking out 11 over 13 innings. New York will counter with right-hander Domingo German (2-4, 5.37 ERA).