J.A. Happ offered more questions than answers Wednesday in another rocky outing for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The six-foot-five left-hander, pencilled in as one of Toronto's starters, lasted just 2 2/3 innings in an 11-6 Grapefruit League win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Happ threw 71 pitches, including 34 strikes in an appearance short on control on a day when pitching coach Pete Walker said the goal was "to get him in the strike zone."
"It's a big start for him," Walker added.
It did not go according to plan, however, on a sunny 21-degree day before 5,255 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
"Fortunately it's not the end of the world here," Happ said. "But they're going to count soon."
On the plus side, Jays slugger Jose Bautista hit a pair of two-run homers — his fourth and fifth home runs of the spring. And Melky Cabrera, who now has 19 hits in 45 spring at-bats, drove in two runs with two hits.
And one day after being thumped 18-4 by the Detroit Tigers, the Jays (8-10) rallied from a 3-0 deficit for the win over the Phillies (5-13).
With R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow accounting for three-fifths of the starting rotation, the Jays have spent the spring looking for two more to join them.
While Drew Hutchison has been by far the best of the rest, the Jays have so far resisted appointing him part of the rotation. Instead they have ostensibly given one of the remaining starting jobs to Happ, who has yet to provide much reason for earning it, and said the search continues to fill the final hole.
Happ carried an ERA of 40.50 into Wednesday's game, having given up six runs on six hits with five walks in 1 1/3 innings over two previous spring appearances. A back problem has delayed his progress in spring training.
He looked for positives in Wednesday's outing, saying the back felt fine and there were some possible minor technical fixes available.
"I don't feel like I'm far [from where I should be]," he told reporters. "You guys are going to take that outing for what it was and it doesn't look pretty. But pitch-wise, I'm up to 70. Next time, it will be 85-90. If I still feel strong, that will be a good thing. So I'm close."
There seemed to be some mixed messages on Happ's role before manager John Gibbons declared him part of the probable rotation. Happ dodged a question on whether he felt he had to prove something to make the rotation or whether his pedigree had already earned it.
"That's really not up for me to really answer that because that changes to whoever the bosses are," he said. "So it doesn't really matter what I think for that.
"I expect to go out and be better, I know that. And hopefully these next two [outings] will be."
Rotation still up in the air
The Jays' starting pitching plans are certainly not set in stone.
"We have an idea of what we're going to do, but things could change," Walker said prior to Wednesday's game.
Happ went 5-7 with a 4.56 ERA in 18 starts for Toronto last year in a season derailed by injury. He suffered a skull fracture and sprained right knee when he fell to the ground after getting hit with a liner by Desmond Jennings on May 7. He returned to action Aug. 7.
Happ did not help his cause Wednesday when he gave up three runs on three hits, walking four and striking out two. He lived dangerously early, putting the leadoff batters on base the first two innings and often going behind in the count.
He paid for it in the second, loading the bases on a single and two walks. With two outs, he was 0-2 on Ben Revere but the Phillies leadoff hitter worked the count to 3-2 and then emptied the bases with a double to the left-field fence.
Happ got the first two outs in the third but then yielded a walk and a single before giving way to Sergio Santos.
Toronto went ahead 4-3 in the third on an RBI double by Jose Reyes, sacrifice fly by Cabrera and two-run homer by Bautista. The Jays sent 10 men to the plate, leaving the bases loaded.
The Phillies pulled even with two outs in the fourth when No. 9 hitter Cody Asche hit a solo shot to centre off Santos.
Cabrera added an RBI single and Adam Lind a two-run double in the fourth for a 7-4 lead. Bautista's second homer made it 9-4 in the sixth. A Ryan Goins triple increased the lead to 10-4 in the seventh.
Philadelphia pulled two back in the seventh against reliever Aaron Loup. The Jays added a run in the eighth on a Dan Johnson RBI single.
Phillies starter Roberto Hernandez had his own troubles on the day, before exiting with one out in the fourth. He gave up seven earned runs on 11 hits with one walk and two strikeouts.
The 33-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic, who was 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA last season for Tampa Bay, cruised through the first two innings and then crumbled in the third and fourth.
Previously known as Fausto Carmona, Hernandez came to the Phillies in December on a $4.5 million US, one-year contract. He made headlines in January 2012 when he was arrested on charges of falsifying his identity that were later dropped. Major League Baseball suspended him for three weeks.