J.A. Happ probably would have opened the season as the most well-compensated pitcher in Triple-A if Ricky Romero hadn’t struggled so mightily this spring. Inserted into the Blue Jays’ rotation instead, Happ struck out six in 5 1/3 innings and combined with three relievers on a two-hit shutout of the Red Sox on Saturday.
The Blue Jays got homers from J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus to account for all of their runs in the 5-0 game.
Rather than retain Happ as a reliever, the Blue Jays were expected to keep him stretched out by letting him lead Triple-A Buffalo’s rotation initially this season. That only changed at the very end of the spring, when they opted to demote Romero instead. Before that, Happ was frustrated enough with his situation that he considered asking for a trade. It’s safe to say he’s a lot happier now; not only did he get the rotation spot, but he received a two-year, $8.9 million contract at the end of March.
It was a miserable day for the Red Sox. Starter John Lackey, making his return from Tommy John surgery, left clutching his arm in the fifth and was diagnosed with a biceps strain that figures to keep him out for some time. His likely replacement in the rotation, Alfredo Aceves, came in and soon afterwards gave up a three-run bomb to Colby Rasmus.
The Red Sox also went 26 outs between hits. Jacoby Ellsbury started the top of the first with a double, but he was left stranded. The next hit came when Dustin Pedroia collected an infield single with two outs in the ninth. Mike Napoli followed that with a drive to the wall in center, only to be robbed by Rasmus.
On Monday, Major League Baseball announced some changes aimed at improving the game’s pace of play, something that has been a pet cause for commissioner Rob Manfred. Among the changes was a limit on mound visits whether from managers and coaches, the catcher, or other defenders. Each team will have six non-pitching change mound visits per game and one additional visit each inning in extra innings. Craig wrote more in depth on the changes here if you happened to miss it.
Angels catcher Martin Maldonado says he is going to do what’s necessary to stay on the same page with his pitchers. Via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, Maldonado said, “If the game is on the line, I’m going to go out there. If we’re at six [visits], and it’s going to be the seventh, I’m going to go out there, even if I have to pay a fine. I’m there for the pitchers.”
Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said as much on Tuesday. Per Josh Frydman of WGN News, Contreras said, “What about if you have a tight game and you have to go out there? They can’t say anything about that, that’s my team and we just care about wins. If they’re going to fine me about number seven mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”
Exhibition games haven’t even started yet, but two notable backstops — the lesser-known Maldonado won a Gold Glove last year — are clearly not happy with the rule change. As Craig alluded to in his article yesterday, arguments between catchers and umpires (and, subsequently, managers and umpires) are probably going to become more frequent, which would likely end up nullifying any pace of play improvements.
Update (4:43 PM ET): In response to this, Manfred said that if a catcher or coach made a seventh mound visit, there would have to be a pitching change (via Fletcher). However, chief baseball officer Joe Torre said (via SB Nation’s Eric Stephen) that the seventh visit cannot trigger a pitching change. The umpire would simply have to prevent the seventh mound visit.