Toronto’s J.A. Happ has certainly had to deal with his share of adversity this season, and now he’ll return to the place where his year was turned upside down.
The Blue Jays left-hander takes the mound at Tropicana Field on Saturday night for the first time since early May, when one of the most frightening incidents of the major league season occurred there against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Happ (2-2, 5.11 ERA) suffered a skull fracture and sprained right knee when he fell to the ground after being struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings on May 7.
After missing three months, Happ makes his third start since returning from the disabled list as he tries to keep the Rays (69-51) from winning their fourth in a row.
Tampa Bay has also won four straight and six of seven over the AL East-worst Blue Jays (56-66) after Jose Lobaton hit a game-ending triple in the ninth inning for a 5-4 victory in Friday’s opener.
Rays manager Joe Maddon is one person looking forward to Happ’s return, particularly after Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Cobb pitched well in his comeback Thursday from a similar incident.
“It’s good for (Happ),” Maddon told the league’s official website. “It’s the same thing Cobber did. You have to start riding the horse again. It’s horrible. I wish him well. It’s something he has to do for himself, and it’s tough.”
Happ had to pitch with a heavy heart Monday, allowing one run and three hits over a season-high seven innings in a 5-1 loss to Oakland just days after the death of his grandfather. He also matched a season high with six strikeouts but did not factor in the decision.
Happ will attempt to build on that performance versus the Rays, though he’s 0-1 with a 10.97 ERA in three career starts against them. He was tagged for four runs and five hits in 1 1-3 innings before getting injured in May.
James Loney is 4 for 7 when facing Happ and is batting .370 during a seven-game hitting streak against the Blue Jays. Jennings will miss this meeting with a broken left middle finger and is expected to return next week.
Since batting .204 with runners in scoring position during a six-game losing streak, the Rays have gone 10 for 28 in those situations over their last three games. They pulled within one game of the East lead as the Yankees beat first-place Boston 10-3 on Friday.
Tampa Bay gives the ball to right-hander Roberto Hernandez (6-12, 4.95), who hasn’t made it out of the fifth inning in his last two starts. He matched a season high by allowing five earned runs and eight hits over four innings in a 5-0 loss at Dodger Stadium last Saturday.
“He didn’t have really good stuff,” Maddon said. “He told me the ball was not moving like it normally does for him and it was kind of flat.”
The Rays have dropped both his starts versus the Blue Jays, though Hernandez has held Toronto to four runs and 11 hits - three homers - over 14-plus innings.
Adam Lind has homered twice when facing Hernandez this season and is 5 for 13 lifetime against him. He had two hits Friday, raising his average to .175 (7 for 40) versus the Rays this year.
Teammate Brett Lawrie went 2 for 5 in the opener and is batting .421 since Aug. 1.
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