Outlook: Happ will battle for rotation spot in 2014

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ is back on the mound after a brief absence because of a sore back.

Happ threw a side session on Tuesday afternoon and reported no ill effects the following day. It was his first time pitching since he started a game vs. the Twins on March 3.

There is no immediate timetable for Happ to get back into a spring game, but it's expected to happen in the relatively near future.

"I'm not sure yet, but it won't be long," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He was built up pretty good, he was pretty strong other than his back. I'm not sure yet, but I'm sure it will be in the next few days."

Happ started the spring with what appeared to be a guaranteed job in the starting rotation. He struggled during his first two outings, and Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos recently suggested that his starting job could be in jeopardy.

The Blue Jays technically have two spots in the rotation that are up for grabs this spring. Right-hander Drew Hutchison is the clear favorite for one of the two spots, while Happ will compete against Marcus Stroman, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond and possibly even Ricky Romero for the other spot.

Happ made 18 starts for the Blue Jays last season and posted a 4.56 ERA. He went 5-7 while striking out 77 and walking 45 during his 92 2/3 innings.

Dickey thinks Blue Jays are fine without Santana

"It was just going to be a bonus if he came," R.A. Dickey said.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The players inside Toronto's clubhouse are moving on after the Blue Jays were unable to sign free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana.

There was a large group of players who came out in recent days openly campaigning for the Blue Jays to acquire Santana. For some time, it appeared as though the two sides would get a deal done, but instead Santana opted to sign a one-year deal with the Braves on Wednesday.

That creates the possibility of disappointment taking over within the clubhouse, but starter R.A. Dickey doesn't think that will be the case because the club was already prepared to move forward with the status quo.

"It was always kind of a bonus for me," Dickey said of the possible addition. "I felt like, and so did our team, the people we have in the clubhouse, that we have what we need to do what we need to do. It was just going to be a bonus if he came. So, I'm not emoting one way or the other.

"It was just something that was going to give us some more depth and get some guys maybe some more time to get over some of the stuff that had been ailing them. But as far as feeling deflated, I wouldn't describe it as that for me personally."

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Wednesday morning that the reason he was given for Santana's decision to sign with Atlanta was because he had a "strong" desire to pitch in the National League. Dickey can sympathize with that following his three seasons with the Mets in the NL East, which is generally considered to be more of a pitcher-friendly division.

Dickey took an opposite approach to that of Santana when he joined the Blue Jays prior to the 2013 season. Dickey was traded to Toronto, but the only way the Blue Jays were going to pull the trigger on the deal was if he signed a contract extension. That was something Dickey decided to do because the allure of pitching in the American League East provided an interesting challenge.

It's worth nothing, though, that Dickey received long-term security with that move, while Santana will need to maintain his overall value after signing a contract for just one year. Dickey admitted their two situations were different.

"I can only speak for my own experience, and my own experience is that I wanted to challenge myself when I came to the AL East after being in the NL East for a while," Dickey said. "The AL East was my preference at that time. It's not that way with him and that's his prerogative.

"Can I see his preference? I certainly understand it. You get to face a pitcher every night, you don't have the DH and then the games are quicker and all that stuff, park's a little bit bigger. So, it makes sense logically for him on a one-year deal in particular."

Stroman able to limit the damage during start

Sanchez, Stroman are Blue Jays' future rotation

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Marcus Stroman had another slight setback in his quest for the final spot in Toronto's rotation when he allowed three runs during his start in Wednesday's 5-4 loss to the Rays.

Stroman retired six of the first seven batters he faced before getting into a jam during the third inning. He allowed a leadoff double to Jayson Nix and then proceeded to load the bases with nobody out.

Two runs would score on a single by Desmond Jennings and a double play off the bat of Matt Joyce. It could have been a lot of worse, but Stroman found a way to limit the damage, which can be considered a positive sign in his development.

"Any time you can get in a jam like that, not necessarily that you want to get in a jam like that, but being able to pitch out of that and do as much damage control as possible is something you look forward to," Stroman said. "I felt like I did a decent job there, it's just working on stuff so you can work out of those jams."

Stroman started to throw his changeup a lot more during Wednesday's outing, and that will be a big key to any type of success he has this season. He'll also need to work on keeping the ball down in the zone as evidenced by a poor pitch he threw to Jeremy Moore in the fourth inning that was sent over the wall in straightaway center.

It's very likely that Stroman would be best served with a little more seasoning in the Minor Leagues before making his debut, but he still remains in the mix for one of the club's final two spots in the rotation.

"Not exactly where I want to be, but I definitely made a lot better pitches than I made in my last outing," Stroman said. "My stuff felt better for the most part. I felt I did an OK job of pitching out of a jam in the second, but for the most part I think it was definitely strides from last time, and I'm excited to get into my 'pen again like last time and really finalize things and get them where I need to be."