J.A. Happ preps to be a starter but future is uncertain with Jays' additions

Associated Press

DUNEDIN, Fla. - J.A. Happ chooses his words carefully as reporters circle his locker.

The gist of the conversation is that the Jays' off-season marquee pitching acquisitions have left him somewhat in limbo.

He knows it. And they know it.

Everyone seems to be in a 'we'll see what happens' mode.

"I prepared like I do every off-season, and that's to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues," Happ said when asked if he was comfortable with the circumstances.

"My main focus was getting ready. Obviously, that kind of stuff is out of my control. We'll see what ends up happening."

Pitching in triple-A Buffalo "is not something I'm thinking about right now," he said.

But with a starting rotation made up of R.A Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Ricky Romero, Happ is on the outside looking in.

"We'll see what happens," manager John Gibbons said of Happ. "He deserves a chance to start in the major leagues in some rotation. I mean, he's that good. But he's the odd man out here because we've got five really good ones.

"But over the course of a season, things work out. He could become very valuable to us. In the past when I was here, we were scrambling to find those kind of guys. God forbid something happened and we need somebody, but we've got a pretty good one right there.

"But in time it will all work its way out, whether it's bullpen or what he's doing, we'll have to see."

Added Gibbons: "It's not always good for the individual, but it's always good for the team."

Happ came over in a 10-player trade with Houston last July as the Jays looked for some pitching depth given their injury-plagued starting rotation.

Happ went 3-2 with a 4.46 ERA in six starts and 10 appearances for Toronto, striking out 46 while walking 17.

But he was shut down early by foot surgery after suffering a navicular bone fracture. Doctors think it may have started as a stress fracture, only to "split open wide" during a late-August game in New York.

It's an injury that often afflicts runners or basketball players.

After some intricate surgery to insert two screws, the six-foot-six Northwestern graduate was unable to put weight on the foot for seven weeks. He was in a walking boot for another five weeks.

While he wasn't able to run until January, he started throwing the ball on level ground in mid-November.

"It wasn't fun," he said of the off-season rehab. "But it was necessary. And I knew that. It definitely took a lot of patience.

"But I think it's paid off because I feel great."

The 30-year-old Happ, who made his major-league debut in 2007 and has 35 wins under his belt, says his pre-season routine is that of a starter. He'll cross any other bridges when he comes to them.

"I'm trying not to focus too much on that," he said of his somewhat uncertain status. "But that is kind of the reality, so it is kind of an interesting thing."

Happ is on a one-year contact worth US$3.7 million.

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