KISSIMMEE, Florida – It was Caesar who was warned to "beware the ides of March" in the famous Shakespeare play.
The Blue Jays don't have a Caesar but they do have someone who's getting used to an annual March controversy. He's J.A. Happ, who was back after two days away from the ballclub without the certainty of a spot in the rotation.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos told the media on Thursday there are now two available starting jobs. Previously, there had been one. But Happ has struggled in two spring appearances as he works through what the Blue Jays say is a sore back.
Happ has heard Anthopoulos' comments but believes he will be among the group of five starters come opening day.
"Yes," Happ told TSN.ca. "Uh huh. Still feel that way."
Amid rumours the Blue Jays are players for Ervin Santana, the last marquee free agent starter available, the emergence of a healthy Drew Hutchison and the consideration being given to Marcus Stroman, the potential is there for Happ to be squeezed out of the picture.
"As far as the Santana thing, I've got no control over that," said Happ. "The Alex (comments,) I'm not sure. That wasn't the impression I have had. I guess I don't have a comment for it."
Happ hadn't been seen at camp since before Anthopoulos' comment. He returned on Sunday in time to see off teammates who were about to make the two-hour bus trek to play the Astros in Kissimmee.
The diagnosis is back inflammation, causing Happ general back soreness.
"It's really nothing," said Happ, who didn't wish to describe the nature of the treatment he's been receiving. "We're just trying to take care of it. We needed to get a few days rest. We took care of a few things and I just kind of needed to be off my feet for a few days in order to recover from that. We'll go from there. We'll take it a day at a time. In my mind I'm feeling better and feel like progressing and jump right back into an outing here soon."
In two spring appearances, Happ has a 40.50 ERA, having allowed six earned runs in just 1 1/3 innings. He's walked five hitters, but isn't willing to use his back pain as an excuse.
"It's one of those things and I've always said it, if you go out there there's no excuse," he said. "You find a way to pitch. It was by no means me having to find a way. I felt good enough. It may have contributed to it but hopefully it doesn't matter. I think, moving forward, I anticipate it not being an issue so that will feel good."
DICKEY LOOKING STRONG
R.A. Dickey pitched five scoreless innings in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Astros.
The outing dropped his spring ERA to 2.45 over three starts. His knuckleball is dancing, the velocities are significantly varied and most of all, Dickey feels healthy.
He's more comfortable heading into his second year with the Blue Jays.
"You look forward to a routine," said Dickey. "When that routine is interrupted sometimes it can mess things up, especially when you're older and that's something I'm learning.
"Getting to come into the clubhouse every day," he said. "Not having to depart and be away from my teammates; getting to really do relationships with those guys; getting to prepare in-between starts the way that I like to; take ground balls on the half-field in-between starts. All that is part of getting ready."
There were high expectations for the 2013 Blue Jays. Those expectations weren't met. Asked what he would say about the 2014 version of his club, Dickey offered a wry, deadpanned response.
"I think we're terrible," joked Dickey. "I don't want anybody to take us seriously and I think that because of last year we're probably going to get walked over every game."
DICKEY'S REMAINING SPRING SCHEDULE
Dickey has three spring starts left before opening day after his 82-pitch, five-inning performance on Sunday.
He intends to throw about 100 pitches in each of his next two starts and then shorten his final appearance in preparation for opening day, March 31 in Tampa Bay.
The Blue Jays reduced their major league camp roster by four after Sunday's game. Catcher A.J. Jimenez, outfielder Kenny Wilson and pitchers Deck McGuire and Rob Rasmussen, all of whom are on the 40-man roster, were sent to minor league camp.