Most players will tell you they relish the off days scattered over the course of a long Major League Baseball season, in which the grind of 162 games can take its toll, both physically and mentally.
J.A. Happ, the stoic Blue Jays pitcher, enjoys his days off as much as the next guy in the clubhouse.
But not when one falls, as it did for the Blue Jays, on a Tuesday following Monday’s season opener here against the Baltimore Orioles. And especially when you have the starting assignment for Toronto’s next game against the Orioles – on Wednesday.
The delay is more intolerable with his team coming off a disheartening 3-2 loss in 11 innings in that first outing.
“I don’t love the fact that we’ve got an off day this early,” Happ said Monday evening, trying to digest both his postgame meal and the tough setback to the Orioles.
“At this point, I just want to get in there and get going.”
But Happ and his teammates will have to be patient before getting back to business against the Orioles.
The Blue Jays and the Orioles are not the only teams with early season downtime.
It’s the nature of the schedule, in which more than half of the 30 teams will have experienced a day off from play by Wednesday.
Building in a one-day break between the first and second games of the season is the way baseball tries to protect itself from the last vestiges of winter that can still wreak havoc on those teams stationed in the north.
If the weather is too poor to play, the game can be postponed to the next day and not upset ticket holders who pay a premium price to attend the first game of the year, always a celebration.
Still, that thinking raises questions when applied to teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks, both off on Monday after Sunday home openers.
The Rays played the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field, a domed facility. No chance of anything bad happening there, unless the roof caved in.
The Diamondbacks played the San Francisco Giants, with the game-time temperature in Phoenix a cozy 24C.
Regardless, Happ said he wants to get going, noting the first game of the season is always a bit of a chore, even to an 11-year veteran such as himself.
“There’s definitely more anxiety going into that first one,” he said. “You certainly want to start good, but you got to realize it’s a long haul either way. But I’ll be anxious.”
Happ surprised when he went 20-4 last season in his second go-round with the Blue Jays. His had been a career littered with potholes, spending time as both a reliever and a starter after beginning his career in Philadelphia in 2007.
He then played in Houston before moving to Toronto for his first stint with the Blue Jays in 2012, when he compiled a middling 18-20 record over 2½ seasons before being shipped to Seattle.
Halfway through the 2015 season, Happ was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where his emergence as a top-flight MLB starter was both startling and unexpected.
Making a couple of simple adjustments to his throwing mechanics, most designed to keep his momentum moving toward the plate during his delivery, Happ would go 7-2 the rest of the way for Pittsburgh, with a sparkling 1.85 ERA.
A free agent at the end of 2015, Happ’s renaissance earned him a three-year, $36-million contract offer from Tony LaCava, Toronto’s acting GM at the time, before the arrival of Ross Atkins.
That move is now viewed as a bargain after the left-hander logged a career high 195 innings pitched en route to becoming just the sixth pitcher in franchise history to win 20 games in a season.
Happ had not won more than 11 times in a single season before that.
He helped anchor a rotation that was baseball’s best, leading the American League in earned run average (3.64), opponent batting average (.236) and quality starts (100).
And all the key contributors – Happ along with Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano and Marco Estrada – have returned to the fold this year.
Estrada set a pretty good early tone Monday, allowing just two runs off five hits over six innings of work.
He was long gone by the time Mark Trumbo crushed an off-speed pitch from reliever Jason Grilli over the wall in left for the walk-off victory.
Happ said having all the starters back for a second season can only help Toronto’s cause as the club looks to make a run for a third consecutive playoff appearance.
“I think we’ve got a year under our belts and we’re more comfortable with each other and we’re certainly pulling for each other,” Happ said. “Marco started us off great.
“The thing is, we’ve got to try to do it again. Whatever we did last year, which was good, we got to start all over and try to repeat that. So that’s kind of where our head are at, trying to get off on the right foot here.”Report Typo/Error
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