DUNEDIN, Florida - Insisting the Blue Jays' plans to have Ricky Romero break camp as part of the starting rotation remain intact, manager John Gibbons offered a frank explanation to questioning fans – there is no explanation.
"I don't know if I can explain that right now," said Gibbons after Friday's 1-0 win over the Red Sox. "I can definitely understand the argument. (J.A. Happ's) pitched very good, Ricky's struggled so we'll see how it all plays out."
There isn't much more Happ can do to usurp Romero following his latest performance, a six-inning gem against a Boston lineup mostly made up of minor leaguers.
He was efficient – Boston's only base runner in the first 3.2 innings was a wind-aided pop up-turned-double with two outs in the first – throwing 85 pitches, 51 for strikes while allowing two hits and two walks. Happ struck out three Red Sox hitters.
"I think, after last time, trying to bring the two previous (starts) in to one and I felt like I was able to do that," said Happ. "I tried to use everything and I felt good about throwing strikes."
"He was popping it and his command (was good,") said Gibbons. "For a big guy, sometimes they get a little out of whack with their mechanics. He had everything working, moving the ball in and out good, and I thought he was much better today than his last time out even though the results were basically the same."
Happ lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to 1.89 after six appearances, five starts. The numbers stand in contrast to Romero's bloated 7.27 spring ERA. Contrast, also, Happ's start on Friday and Romero's minor league appearance the day before when the former ace was wild in three-plus innings of work.
Still, it's a numbers game. Happ has an option remaining and can be sent to Triple-A without passing through waivers. Romero, too, has options but makes the opening day roster unless the Blue Jays decide to put him on the disabled list. Romero's surgically-repaired elbow or the tendinitis in his knees, which is an occasional bother, leave general manager Alex Anthopoulos with outlets which would allow both organization and pitcher to save face.
Happ has admitted frustration; of late appearing resigned to his likely fate. He finds himself longing to be at the ballpark during off hours. It's easier on the brain.
"The great thing is my teammates are great," said Happ. "It's something that's unsaid but you feel like you have great teammates to joke around with and play baseball and come in here and have a good time. That's certainly helped. It's kind of being away from the field, to be honest, when I have some alone time to start thinking about stuff ... but it's been fine."
Romero is going through a period of adjustment on the mound. He's moved to the middle of the rubber from the first base side, trying to better locate his plant foot to square up with the hitter. He throws across his body and always will but it's become more pronounced and presents concerns for Romero's long-term health. Not to mention his ineffectiveness.
J.P. Arencibia, Romero's friend, caught Romero's start on Thursday.
"You go through adjustments," said Arencibia. "I've been there, everyone's been there. All it is, is just getting back comfortable ... There's a lot of time left and the guy's been one of the best pitchers in the AL for a few years already so it's about him going out there and finding whatever rhythm it is to help him succeed."
He also offered a defense of his beleaguered teammate.
"I understand the questions because there's not much else to talk about in spring training," said Arencibia. "I mean, that's an issue that you guys are going to want to talk about. I completely understand it. You can't talk about R.A. (Dickey) throwing knuckleballs because no one hits him."
The debate rages on. If the Blue Jays take their best roster north, as Gibbons has said they will, Happ is the fifth starter. Romero, though, works with earned currency – his three seasons with 13-plus wins from 2009-2011 – and the currency he will earn. Romero is owed at least $23.1-million over the next three seasons.
It's the business of baseball and at the moment, the business isn't coming up Happ.
"Call it 'chip on your shoulder' or whatever but I certainly have motivation to go out there," said Happ. "You never really lack that but a little bit more, I suppose, never really hurts."
- The Blue Jays assigned seven more players to minor league camp.
They are: 1B/DH Luis Jimenez; INFs Mike McCoy, Ryan Schimpf and Jim Negrych; INF/OF Eugenio Velez; RHPs Ramon Ortiz and Claudio Vargas;
There are 38 players remaining in major league camp.
- The Blue Jays host the Atlanta Braves, Saturday at 1:05pm, at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
Brandon Morrow (0-2, 7.45) starts for Toronto; lefty Sean Gilmartin will pitch for Atlanta.