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Blue Jays hang on after Happ's strong start

June 20, 2018

TORONTO -- There has not been a lot of certainty for the Blue Jays this season, but the one constant continues to be veteran left-hander J.A. Happ.Happ had yet another solid outing on Wednesday afternoon, as he limited the Braves to four runs on six hits over 8 1/3 innings

TORONTO -- There has not been a lot of certainty for the Blue Jays this season, but the one constant continues to be veteran left-hander J.A. Happ.
Happ had yet another solid outing on Wednesday afternoon, as he limited the Braves to four runs on six hits over 8 1/3 innings in a 5-4 victory at Rogers Centre. The 35-year-old became the first Toronto starter to work into the ninth this season, and he also became the first pitcher in the Majors this season to pick up four starts with at least eight strikeouts and zero walks.
With every start that he makes, Happ appears to be increasing his trade value. He's expected to be one of the top starters available prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and while the Blue Jays have yet to confirm any discussions about a possible relocation, it seems inevitable that Happ will be moved at some point in the coming weeks.

"I know he's in demand, and I can see why," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "If we were on the other end of it, I'd want him, too. That's the reality of the business. Who knows what happens, but I'm sure he's probably going to be at the top of the list out there for guys who could be acquired. Maybe, I don't know. I try not to look at those kinds of things. All I know is that he has done a lot for this organization, he really turned into one of the better pitchers in the game."
Wednesday's line for Happ would have looked even better if two of his runners hadn't been allowed to score after he left the game. But the way he has been pitching should put the Blue Jays in a prime position to take advantage of a seller's market. After his eight strikeouts Wednesday, Happ ranks 13th in the American League with 102 punchouts. He remains unbeaten over his past seven outings, and he has a 2.35 ERA over that span.
Happ only made a few mistakes in his latest outing, yielding solo home runs by Kurt Suzuki and Peter Bourjos in the second and third innings. Outside of those big flies, the Braves managed to put just one runner in scoring position against Happ through the first eight innings. Happ left the field to a standing ovation in the ninth as fans clearly recognized there might not be too many of his starts left at Rogers Centre.

This isn't exactly uncharted territory for Happ, who has been traded four times in his career. Three of those trades happened in July, so he knows how to deal with all of the uncertainty, and that experience can only help as the rumors and trade talks start to heat up next month.
"I think I'm a little bit more prepared mentally now, after having been through it a few times," Happ said. "The first time was really emotional, and you kind of get used to it and realize it's part of the business. But I certainly enjoy it here, just trying to continue to have fun."
Kendrys Morales helped provide a bulk of the offense for Toronto on Wednesday afternoon with a 2-for-3 day at the plate, which included a two-run homer in the first inning. Morales, who was celebrating his 35th birthday, also singled and walked while scoring a pair of runs. Right fielder Randal Grichuk chipped in with an RBI double, and Yangervis Solarte notched an RBI single. Atlanta right-hander Anibal Sanchez was charged with the loss after he allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over five innings.

The Blue Jays' recent run of success continued with the victory over the Braves. Toronto has won eight of its past 12 games and nine of 15 following a 4-15 stretch. The bad news for the Blue Jays is that they entered play 16 games back of the Yankees in the AL East and 12 1/2 games behind the Mariners for the second AL Wild Card spot.

The birthday boy: Morales connected on the fourth birthday home run of his career with a two-run shot in the first inning. According to Statcast™, Morales' sixth big fly of the year was projected to travel 381 feet, and it left his bat at 99.9 mph. The blast gave Toronto an early 2-0 lead. Morales now has seven multihit games this month, which matches his total from April and May combined.

"I always try and be aggressive, birthday or not. Thankfully everything went well today," Morales said through an interpreter after the game.
Closing it down: Blue Jays closer Dennis Tepera relieved Happ in the top of the ninth with one out and two runners on base. Tepera surrendered a pair of RBI singles, but with the potential tying run on second base, he was then able to get Johan Camargo to hit a weak fly ball to center. The 30-year-old has allowed just one run in 9 2/3 innings this month.

"I wanted to see [Happ] finish it, honestly," Tepera said. "But I came in, and in that situation, I want to get them out right then and there, not allow any more runs to score. I think he deserves a little bit better of a [pitching] line. But you know what? We got the win today, and that's all that matters. I'm sure he's happy about it, and he did a great job."
The Blue Jays surrendered a home run to a No. 9 hitter for the second consecutive game. On Tuesday night, it was a grand slam by Camargo, and the following day it, was a solo shot by Bourjos. Toronto entered play on Wednesday allowing No. 9 hitters to post a .471 slugging percentage, which ranks as the highest in the Major Leagues for any club since at least 1908. The closest to that mark is Detroit, which allowed a .455 slugging percentage to No. 9 hitters in 2015.

"I certainly enjoy pitching here, and to have an outing and a response from the crowd like I did today, that was nice. I signed to play here and try to help this team get to the playoffs. That's still my goal, that's what I want to do. Until somebody tells me different, I'm going to have fun doing that." -- Happ, on leaving the field to a standing ovation amid trade rumors

The Blue Jays will travel to the West Coast for the start of a four-game series against the Angels on Thursday night. Right-hander Aaron Sanchez (3-5, 4.35 ERA) will start the opener, with first pitch scheduled for 10:07 p.m. ET. Sanchez has tossed three consecutive quality starts, and he is coming off an outing that saw him match a season high with eight strikeouts. The Halos will counter with left-hander Tyler Skaggs (6-4, 2.81 ERA).

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays

for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his [podcast](