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Likely to start Opening Day, Happ stifles Bucs

Blue Jays lefty tosses six strong innings of one-run ball vs. Pirates
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays are still not quite prepared to announce their Opening Day starter, but all signs point to lefty J.A. Happ receiving the honor.

Toronto manager John Gibbons has been dropping plenty of hints in recent days and said an announcement is imminent. There was an expectation that might happen Sunday afternoon after Happ tossed six strong innings in a 5-2 victory over the Pirates, but instead the news will wait for at least one more day.

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays are still not quite prepared to announce their Opening Day starter, but all signs point to lefty J.A. Happ receiving the honor.

Toronto manager John Gibbons has been dropping plenty of hints in recent days and said an announcement is imminent. There was an expectation that might happen Sunday afternoon after Happ tossed six strong innings in a 5-2 victory over the Pirates, but instead the news will wait for at least one more day.

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Gibbons' latest tease came earlier Sunday morning when he was specifically asked whether Happ would be his Opening Day starter. Gibbons technically didn't confirm anything, but it doesn't take much interpretation to read between the lines.

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"I don't know, but you've got four guys to choose from," Gibbons said. "Do the math."

The math Gibbons referred to appears to be Toronto's current pitching schedule and the number of days remaining until Opening Day. Based on that information alone, Happ becomes the obvious choice. The 35-year-old's schedule lines up almost perfectly with the first game of the season. All he has to do is take one extra day of rest at some point before the March 29 game against the Yankees and he becomes the guy.

Aaron Sanchez doesn't require any extra time at all. He will take the mound on Monday against the Braves, likely would pitch again on Saturday and then would be able to start Opening Day on regular rest. The math works, but it also seems extremely unlikely to happen at this point. It would require Happ pitching Game 2 on two extra days of rest and ignores the fact that Toronto is intent on taking a cautious approach with Sanchez after he missed almost all of last season with blister issues.

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Crafty veteran Marco Estrada is the other possibility for Opening Day. Estrada is expected to start Tuesday against the Phillies, and his routine would have to be thrown completely out of whack in order to be available for the March 29 start. Instead, he appears likely to start the third game of the Yankees series on March 31.

"I haven't heard anything officially either way," Happ said. "We're going to wait and see. I don't know. I'm guessing pretty soon we're going to hear something. Hopefully, I hear it before you guys."

The final two spots in Toronto's rotation will belong to Marcus Stroman and Jaime Garcia. Stroman confirmed on Saturday that he would be starting the fourth game of Toronto's season, which is the finale of a four-game set vs. New York. That would leave Garcia to start the series opener against the White Sox on April 2.

Stroman initially was expected to get the ball on Opening Day for the second time in his career, but that plan changed early in camp when he was diagnosed with inflammation in his right shoulder. He is expected to be ready for the fourth game of the year, but delaying his first outing provided enough time to schedule another spring start as he gets built up.

"Obviously, I want to be that guy, to have the ball on Opening Day. It just didn't work out," Stroman said. "It wasn't necessarily something that I didn't deserve, it was more being cautious, take a few more days, not putting that date out there so I can rush there, allowing me to do what I need to do. I'll be out there in the fourth game of the series and I'll be ready to rock."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, J.A. Happ