DUNEDIN - It was a good day for the Blue Jays pitching staff in every which way.
Over at the minor-league complex, R.A. Dickey was hidden from the Boston Red Sox, whom the Jays played at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
Dickey was all smiles upon his return to the clubhouse having thrown 102 pitches over eight innings.
“It was a great day for me,” Dickey opened up. “Great in the sense that I threw eight innings and felt fantastic. I got better as the day went on and felt strong in the later innings. It was a good day for me.
“I feel like I struggled kind of early with the feel for my knuckleball. I was able to get through that and capture a good one over the next six innings. I think I gave up two hits over the last six innings so it felt pretty good.”
J.A. Happ, meanwhile, started against Boston and as they say, the plot thickens.
The deeper the hole that Ricky Romero digs the brighter Happ seems to shine.
Happ had the most impressive start of the spring of any Jays starter but it came against a Boston lineup bereft of any of their regulars. In any event, the lefty twirled six scoreless innings and allowed just two hits, the first a high pop that drifted away from shortstop Jose Reyes. He walked two and struck out three.
He was terrific and after an outing such as his the norm is for the pitcher to be positively beaming.
Happ, though, is the No. 6 starter on the Jays depth chart. Romero is No. 5.
Romero has been terrible and looks lost. Happ has been solid and is frustrated.
“I don't call it a chip on my shoulder but I certainly have motivation to go out there,” he said of his situation and his mindset every time he goes out. “You never really lack that but a little bit more never hurts.”
There really is not much more than the left-hander can do. After the outing, his sixth appearance and fifth start, his ERA dropped to 1.89.
“You always feel like it could be better but I definitely feel better about the way it's gone,” he said of his spring. “I established that I could come in and throw strikes and used everything. If they wanted to see something my guess is that would be it. That's about it.”
The rest is up to Romero and the Jays.
Getting back to Dickey, the plan was to have him throw an extended start in his penultimate start in his final tuneups to Opening Day.
“I like, just from the mental side of it, knowing what it feels like to get up seven or eight times at least once before the season breaks,” he said. “I felt good, my pitch count was pretty good. On a regular day I would have thrown a complete game, so it was good.”
For the second time since his return, Dickey had Henry Blanco as his catcher, which all but confirms that the 41-year-old veteran has won the backup spot to J.P. Arencibia.
“He was fantastic today, I don’t think he missed a ball,” Dickey said. “He was great.”
Dickey and Happ weren't the lone pitching stars Friday as Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos both threw an inning against the Red Sox.
“It's a big day. The key is that they feel good but now it's time to start to tighten some things up,” manager John Gibbons said of his two closer candidates. “They're not just out there throwing, they’ve got to start pitching now. But they're healthy.”
It was the first appearance by Janssen in a big-league spring game.
“He was locating the ball and I thought he was popping it pretty good,” Gibbons added.
Ideally, Gibbons would like to see both Santos and Janssen throw on back-to-back days to see how their arms rebound but given both are coming off shoulder problems, that isn't likely.
“We may not,” Gibbons said of having them throw on consecutive days. “I don't think he (Janssen) may necessarily have to. We can guard and protect him during the season.
“Ideally, during a normal spring training when everything's right, you'd do it, but I don't think you have to do it.”
Janssen threw just 11 pitches in his inning that included two strikeouts and a grounder to second.
Santos walked the first batter but came back with three strikeouts, all of them on his wipeout slider.
Satisfaction all the way around.