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Happ gets first start in opener of Jays' key series vs. Rays

The SportsXchange

The Toronto Blue Jays go from facing the resurgent Oakland Athletics to playing a team that just could be regaining momentum, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Toronto and Tampa Bay, two American League East rivals, are aiming for a wild-card spot. Both teams have had injury problems.

The Blue Jays had Monday off to rest injured players like Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus after rallying to gaining a four-game split at Oakland by winning the final two games of the series.

The three-game series at Tropicana Field opens Tuesday with left-hander J.A, Happ making his first start for the Blue Jays. He has been pitching from the bullpen since he was acquired in the July 20 with the Houston Astros.

His chance came when left-hander Brett Cecil was returned to the minors after last Friday's start. Happ was originally scheduled to start this Thursday, but with Carlos Villanueva going home for a personal matter, the spot came open for Tuesday. Villanueva is scheduled to go Wednesday.

It's hard to understand the fuss about getting Happ a start. He was an unremarkable 7-9 with a 4.83 ERA in 18 starts with the Astros this season. He is 32-33 with a 4.17 ERA in his career. However, Blue Jays manager John Farrell said he wanted to assess Happ as a starter, not as a reliever, and Happ said he is happier starting, so there you go.

"He's an established major league starter," Farrell said. "We acquired him to do that. He remained patient while we had to go through and sort some things out. And his opportunity's here now."

If he does well, it could mean that Cecil's return to the majors as a reliever to exploit his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. That might become Cecil's role anyway.

Happ will go against Rays right-hander James Shields, who pitched a three-hit shutout against the Athletics on July 31.

The Blue Jays are last in the American League East and the Rays are third, but they were in second before losing two in a row to Baltimore last weekend to drop to 5-5 in their past 10 games.

The Rays need some spark in their offense, and it is possible that third baseman Evan Longoria could make his return to the lineup after a long stint on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. He has played in the minors on a rehabilitation assignment.

Playing at The Trop is no treat for the Blue Jays. This is their second trip there this season, having lost two of three there in May. The Blue Jays have won six of their past 20 games in St. Petersburg. The Rays also lead the season series 6-2.

The Blue Jays hope to have both Rasmus (groin) and Lawrie (rib cage) back in the lineup Tuesday. They will be without Jose Bautista (wrist), Adam Lind (back) and J.P. Arencibia (hand) as it is. Those injuries came on top of injuries to three members of the rotation: Brandon Morrow (oblique), Kyle Drabek (elbow) and Drew Hutchison (elbow).

The Rays have had plenty of injuries as well. Longoria has been on the disabled list since May 1, and right-hander Jeff Niemann has been out since mid-May after suffering a fractured right leg after being hit by a batted ball in Toronto.

Luke Scott is on the disabled list, and Rays players such as B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings, Kyle Farnsworth and Jeremy Hellickson have also have spent time on the DL.

But it seems that whatever team the Rays are able to send out against Toronto at Tropicana Field, they usually win. The Blue Jays would like to change that starting Tuesday.
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