TORONTO -- With the trade rumors continuing to swirl, J.A. Happ took the mound at Rogers Centre while wearing a Blue Jays uniform for likely the final time in his career.Happ struck out nine and allowed one run over five strong innings in a 5-4 victory over the Orioles on
TORONTO -- With the trade rumors continuing to swirl, J.A. Happ took the mound at Rogers Centre while wearing a Blue Jays uniform for likely the final time in his career.
Happ struck out nine and allowed one run over five strong innings in a 5-4 victory over the Orioles on Sunday afternoon. He has one start remaining before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but since that will take place in Chicago, the series finale vs. Baltimore was Toronto's opportunity to say goodbye.
There's no guarantee Happ will be moved over the next week, but he remains one of the most sought after available starting pitchers on the market. With a $13-million contract that is set to expire at the end of the season, contending teams have been lining up to gauge Toronto's asking price, and it seems like only a matter of when, not if, the Blue Jays will make a move.
"No, I'm not letting myself go there," Happ said when asked if he thought about the possibility that was his final start in Toronto. "I'm just going to wait and see. It's a tough place to be mentally, so I'm trying to avoid those what ifs right now … It's a weird thing. I think in some aspects, it's like I want the week to go quick. In some aspects, I might look back and maybe not feel that way."
Happ has been dealing with seemingly endless speculation about his future for the last month. The Yankees, Brewers, Phillies and Cubs have been linked to Happ in recent weeks, and the Blue Jays will be looking to score a big haul in a market that is short on front-to-mid-rotation arms. Happ alongside Cole Hamels are the top trade targets, while the market is also expected to include starters such as Detroit's Mike Fiers and New York's Sonny Gray.
The 35-year-old Happ didn't do the Blue Jays too many favors earlier this month when he allowed 18 runs over a three-start stretch leading into the All-Star break. Despite his struggles, the general consensus around Major League Baseball was that Happ likely didn't hurt his value too much because he is a known commodity and most teams will know what to expect. His outing against Baltimore proved that everything should be just fine.
"To be honest, without any disrespect, I don't pay any attention to that," said Yangervis Solarte, who hit the go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth. "He's a great guy, hopefully he stays here for a long run. The most important thing is that we won. He had a great game and he pitched well.
"We try not to pay attention, not to think about one of our teammates getting traded or not. We're happy he's here and hopefully he stays here. When you get an All-Star, you don't want to lose him."
The nine strikeouts -- and a couple of lapses by the Blue Jays' bullpen -- led to an elevated pitch count and meant that Happ could not return for the sixth inning, but he was extremely effective on the mound. The native of Chicago joined Justin Verlander as the only starters this season with at least four games of nine strikeouts and no walks. The only other Blue Jays starter to accomplish that feat was Roger Clemens, who did it five times in 1997.
The ability to generate a lot of swing and miss will be one of the things about Happ that interests other teams the most. He has struck out at least eight batters in nine of his 20 starts, and he's averaging double digits in strikeouts per nine innings for the first time in his career over a full season. Happ's ERA spiked to a season-high 4.29 after his last start before the All-Star break, but his outing vs. Baltimore dropped it to 4.18.
"Whatever happens, we understand it's a business," Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk said. "We're going to enjoy having him out there for as long as we can. Whatever happens, we understand."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The two-run shots: Toronto appeared well on its way to a loss late in the game until Grichuk and Solarte hit a pair of two-run homers in the bottom of the eighth. Grichuk's 13th of the season came off right-hander Brad Brach, while Solarte's go-ahead homer was off Orioles lefty Tanner Scott. That meant O's right-hander Andrew Cashner picked up a no-decision after he allowed one run on six hits and a walk over 5 1/3 innings.
"I knew I hit it well, I didn't know it was going to go out, but I knew I hit it well," Solarte said through an interpreter after the game. "The important thing is that we won that game … We put up good at-bats in that inning. We did the little things in that inning. We're happy we got that win and hopefully we get some more."
Slow to react: Happ didn't exactly receive much help from his defense in Baltimore's one-run fifth inning. Mark Trumbo led off the frame with a slow grounder to shortstop but Toronto's Aledmys Diaz wasn't nearly aggressive enough while attempting to make the play. Instead of charging in, Diaz held up at the last minute to allow the ball to come to him. The delay proved costly because Trumbo beat the throw to first and Baltimore later went on to score a run when Jace Peterson hit an RBI single to right.
"It was trending that way, for sure," Happ said when asked if it was one of his better recent starts. "I felt good. I tried to get us out of that fifth inning and it cost me some pitches, but I felt good about it overall."
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. went 2-for-3 to become the seventh rookie in Blue Jays history with a multi-hit streak of at least five games. Former first baseman John Olerud previously had a six-game streak in 1990.
The Blue Jays will be going with a bullpen day for Monday's series opener against the Twins at 7:07 p.m. ET at Rogers Centre. The outing initially belonged to right-hander Marco Estrada, but he will make a rehab start for Double-A New Hampshire instead of being activated from the 10-day disabled list with a strained glute muscle. Toronto hands the ball to long reliever Luis Santos, who has a 7.88 ERA in eight innings out of the bullpen. Minnesota is set to counter with lefty Adalberto Mejia (0-0, 9.00).
Gregor Chisholm** has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.