Outlook: Happ will battle for rotation spot in 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- J.A. Happ has gotten off to a very rough start this spring, but his job in the Blue Jays' rotation does not appear to be in jeopardy.

In two starts, Happ has surrendered six runs while recording a total of four outs. He's allowed six hits, five walks and owns a 8.25 WHIP as opponents are hitting .600 against him.

Happ entered camp with a guaranteed job in the starting rotation, and while his recent outings haven't done much to justify the club's stance, the Blue Jays are sticking with the original plan.

"He had a bad outing, I'm not worried about J.A.," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said a day after Happ's rough outing vs. Minnesota. "He has been battling a little bit of a stiff back. He's not going to use that as an excuse, we're not going to use that as an excuse, but it can affect you a little bit.

"It wasn't like he was scattering [balls] everywhere. He was close, but still, the name of the game is throwing strikes. If you work ahead, you have the advantage. If you fall behind, they have the advantage."

Happ's spring hit an early low point on Monday in Boston when he was unable to get out of the first inning. He allowed four runs on two hits and four walks and managed to get ahead in the count on just two of the batters he faced.

The 31-year-old Happ has experienced a lot of difficulty throwing strikes, and when he does find the zone, the opposition has been recording a lot of hard-hit balls. Still, the Blue Jays stress that it's very early in camp and there are almost four weeks remaining for Happ to work out the kinks.

"A lot of it too is mindset," Gibbons said. "The guys that are pretty secure on being on the team, just attack them. Get your work in. When you give up a few runs through contact, there's nothing wrong with that. We want them all to get in the right frame of mind, attacking the zone. We're looking for contact -- if we get ahead, we can expand the zone. That's what we're looking for.

"We like Happ. I think that one is out of the way and I expect him to have a good one the next time out."

Happ went 5-7 with a 4.56 ERA in 18 starts for Toronto last year. Gibbons and general manager Alex Anthopoulos talked at length during the offseason about how Happ's new arm angle should be a recipe for success in 2014. Happ dropped his arm angle, which the club believed would help command the ball from side-to-side as opposed to top-to-bottom.

The improved accuracy of Happ's pitches has been apparent in side sessions but has yet to transfer into game situations. But Happ does seem happy with the mechanics, it's just that the results haven't been there quite yet.

In a way, that's how the entire Blue Jays pitching staff looked against the Twins. Toronto walked eight batters and allowed 14 hits in a 12-2 loss. Finding the strike zone appeared to be Toronto's biggest issue.

"Yes and no," Gibbons said when asked if he was concerned. "I know the guys can throw strikes, we've seen them all do it. But you have to get in the zone. That's pitching 101. Take your chances, look for contact. It seems like we've been steering away from contact a little bit, and that's a recipe for disaster."

Dickey welcomes heavy spring workload

TOR@PHI: Dickey strikes out Brown to end the third

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- R.A. Dickey knows he has a heavy workload ahead of him this season, and that's one reason why his spring is off to such a busy start.

Dickey threw 65 pitches over the course of four innings vs. the Phillies on Tuesday night. It was just his second outing, but Dickey's already a full inning beyond what any other Toronto pitcher is throwing at this time of the year.

The goal is to throw 100 or more pitches at least a couple of times before the end of spring. His spring routine was thrown off a bit last last year because of the World Baseball Classic, but now it's back to business as usual.

"I may err on the side of [throwing] more [pitches] because I like that, I need the work," Dickey said. "It's nice, mentally, to go out there for a couple of clean innings after an inning where you give up a two-run home run. You have to simulate some of those things that might happen during the season.

"That part was great for me. I was able to do that. I had a good fastball today, my velocity felt good, it was definitely something to build on. It was very encouraging."

Dickey's outing against the Phillies certainly wasn't perfect, but it had some encouraging signs. The movement on his knuckleball was so drastic that it caused some issues with his command, but that's exactly the type of practice he needs to iron things out before Opening Day.

The 39-year-old allowed four hits and three walks while striking out two over his four innings of work. A line like that could be problematic in a few weeks, but right now the most important thing is building up arm strength and throwing as many innings as he comfortably can.

"One of the things you have to be able to do in the AL East is have rough innings, come back and right the ship for a few innings so that your bullpen doesn't get crushed," Dickey said. "Practicing that for me is important. I like to be a guy that can be depended upon to go deep into games even when it might be three, four runs, but you go seven or eight innings and you've given yourself a real chance to win the game.

"That's the kind of game I felt like mentally I was in today. It was a game that I didn't have my best knuckleball control-wise, but it was moving a lot and I had other things that I could do to get into the late innings."

Worth mentioning

• Right-hander Casey Janssen played catch Tuesday afternoon for the first time since being temporarily shut down because of a sore shoulder. There is still no timetable for Janssen's return to the mound in a spring game, but it appears as though he is headed in the right direction. Gibbons said Janssen "felt great" after the brief catch.

• Center fielder Colby Rasmus is still being held out of game action because of a sore neck. The injury isn't considered serious and Rasmus is expected to play later this week.