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Blue Jays’ Happ has 20-20 vision

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2017-02-17 Richard Griffin - Baseball Columnist
J.A. Happ stretches during a warm-up this week. © Rick Madonik J.A. Happ stretches during a warm-up this week.

DUNEDIN, FLA.—Even if J.A. Happ should fail to win 20 games this season, after doing just that in his breakout 2016 campaign, he would not be extremely disappointed.

There are other standards that would make his 2017 a success.

“You certainly feel good (about 20 wins) and nobody can ever take that away,” Happ said. “And you’ve certainly given your team a good chance to win the games if you get to that plateau, but there are so many other things that are involved in that, that it’s hard to control. For me it’s going to be about going out and continue to give our team a chance. Just be dependable. That’s kind of my main goal.”

How difficult are back-to-back 20-win seasons? Consider that over the past 40 major league seasons, there have been just 15 players accomplish the feat — eight in the National League and seven in the AL. In the last 20 years, it has only been done a total of four times, by the Blue Jays’ Rogers Clemens (1997-98), the D’backs duo of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson (2001-02) and the Astros’ Roy Oswalt (2004-05).

Happ realizes that it was a fortunate 2016 season for him, ranking second in the majors with 6.9 runs in support of his starts. But he has confidence in his stuff moving forward. Many pitchers worry about staying ahead of the scouting curve, trying to mix up pitch sequences to combat advanced video scouting. Happ sees the need to adjust, but also knows that his best stuff is what it takes to get people out.

“That’s always the thing, that cat-and-mouse game, especially now in the game more than ever, there’s the study and the analytics part of it,” Happ said. “Guys are getting more information than ever. So, it’s kind of up to us to not fall into the same sequences where you can be predictable. At the same time you want to go with what you’re good at and get beat with your best stuff. So, there’s a fine line there.”

Happ admitted he has never been part of a major-league rotation that has had so many 1A’s and 2’s in the rotation, giving the Jays confidence that they can compete every day over the course of 162 games — if they can stay healthy.

“Early when I first came up in Philadelphia, there was a few really good staffs there, but always highlighted by a for-sure No. 1, whatever you want to call it,” Happ explained. “I always like to say that it doesn’t really matter what the number is. You’re depended on to be the ace that particular day that you pitch. It’s something good. I think the biggest thing for us is if we could somehow recreate that health we had last year, it would be a great thing.”

Happ knows he can’t promise another 20-win season, but he seems confidently poised to chip in with six-plus solid frames, knowledge that he will keep his team in every game and give them a chance to win 33 times in 2017.

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