In Toronto, Happ recalls time with Blue Jays

In Toronto, Happ recalls time with Blue Jays

TORONTO -- J.A. Happ is about as mild-mannered and polite of a person that you can find in the Major Leagues, but for whatever reason, when it came to his time in Toronto, he always seemed to be surrounded by controversy.

From Day 1, the relationship between Happ and Toronto appeared strained. During the ensuing years, little was done to repair that partnership as Happ's role was constantly in a state of flux and each spring brought a new level of uncertainty.

In hindsight, the way Happ's time with the Blue Jays played out was quite bizarre. The veteran lefty made his return to Toronto on Friday for the first time since getting traded to Seattle and still struggles to explain why there was so much drama.

"I don't know why I got painted in whatever picture was out there, through everything," Happ said. "It certainly wasn't always a smooth ride, but I do appreciate the opportunity that I eventually did get and I felt like, in my conversations with [general manager Alex Anthopoulos], I started becoming the pitcher I was telling him I could be once I started getting that regular opportunity."

The opportunity Happ eventually received was a long time coming. When Happ joined the Blue Jays midway through the 2012 season, he was acquired to be a starting pitcher, yet was initially added to the bullpen as a long reliever.

Happ did join the rotation later that year, but he arrived the following spring without a guaranteed job. He appeared headed for the Minor Leagues and it wasn't until Ricky Romero's career began to fall apart during Spring Training that Happ was granted the final spot on the staff.

Last year, Happ found himself in a different -- yet still familiar -- situation. He supposedly had a guaranteed job in the spring, but after struggling through the Grapefruit League season, the club decided to go in a different direction.

Happ's first start of the year didn't come until May 5, but once presented with the opportunity, he performed as expected. The native of Illinois went 11-11 with a 4.22 ERA and became a reliable option every fifth day. That was enough to guarantee his $6.7 million option for 2015, but didn't stop Anthopoulos from looking elsewhere during the offseason.

"The only way to take that from my point, at the time they must have felt like they had better options," Happ said when asked about the constant role changes. "So, obviously, that doesn't make the sixth guy feel real good about his spot. It was a challenge at times, but I just tried to take advantage of the opportunity when you get it, but I was definitely trying to fight for my cause."

The Blue Jays likely are missing Happ this year more than anyone could have expected. The club has the worst starter's ERA in the American League while Happ is on a nice little run with the Mariners that has seen him post a 3.61 ERA in eight starts.

Despite the constant drama, Happ expected to be back with the Blue Jays this season. The trade with Seattle caught him off guard and when asked whether a fresh start was exactly what his career needed, Happ wasn't sure.

"I don't know," Happ said before a long pause. "I certainly like it in Seattle, but I also was really excited to come back to Toronto and excited about the year. It's a good team and I think they're going to do good things. I was expecting to be a part of that for sure."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.