Only health stands between Happ and rotation

Gibbons says left-hander has spot in starting five as long as back holds up

Only health stands between Happ and rotation

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays' starting rotation has been in a state of constant flux this spring, but manager John Gibbons attempted to provide more clarity by giving left-hander J.A. Happ a vote of confidence on Sunday morning.

Happ, who was dealing with a sore back earlier in camp, now appears to be heading in the right direction. He pitched three innings during a Minor League outing on Friday and is scheduled to take the mound again on Wednesday in a home start vs. Philadelphia.

There had been question about whether Happ would need to pitch well in his remaining outings before receiving a job on the team, but Gibbons tried to put an end to that narrative.

"I'm a big Happ fan," said Gibbons, who added that Happ has a spot in the rotation. "I think he's going to have a heck of a year for us. All indications the other day, his back's fine, he threw very well and that was a big question. Now, if his back flares up, it might be a different story."

Happ arrived in Florida with a supposed guaranteed job, but that appeared to change three weeks into camp, when general manager Alex Anthopoulos said "there could be two" spots available in Toronto's rotation.

Anthopoulos' comments came after Happ had a pair of rough outings to begin the Grapefruit League season. The GM pointed to Happ's sore back and recent performance as the main cause for uncertainty and stated, "We're going to take the best team north."

That opened the door for a slew of candidates to jump into the mix. Drew Hutchison seems all but officially assured of a spot in the rotation, while Marcus Stroman, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond and possibly even Ricky Romero were under consideration for the final spot in addition to Happ.

Even though Happ only has one Minor League appearance under his belt since that those original statements were made, the club's public stance appears to be changing once again. Neither Stroman, Rogers or Redmond have really taken hold of a spot, so the job belongs to Happ -- as Gibbons clearly stated -- as long as his back holds up for the remainder of spring.

Then it would seem the mystery of the Blue Jays' rotation has been solved.

"He has been pitching great, arguably the best of anybody in camp," Gibbons said of Hutchison, who has 16 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings. "But until we choose to announce what we're going to do, that won't be until the end of spring."

The only question that, at least in theory, remains unanswered is the order in which the Blue Jays will decide to use their pitchers. R.A. Dickey is confirmed as the Opening Day starter while the belief is that left-hander Mark Buehrle will start the third game of the regular season. An initial line of thinking was that Brandon Morrow would be slotted between the two veterans, but he is a little behind the rest of the starters in camp.

Morrow threw just 47 pitches during his last outing and has been struggling with fastball command. Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker more or less confirmed Sunday afternoon that Morrow will begin the year as the club's fifth starter.

"Right now, we're kind of looking at him at the end of the rotation," Walker said. "Not indicative of how he's doing or how he's feeling. It's just seems like the spot we want him right now."

"We're looking at the way guys are throwing and Brandon, right now, we want to make sure he's healthy, we want to make sure he gets through the season healthy. We need him to be a big part of this rotation, and right now, it's just where he fits in."

Morrow is scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game vs. the Yankees on Tuesday. It will mark his fourth spring appearance, and after last year's forearm injury, the Blue Jays are taking a cautious approach to his routine.

"Tuesday will be a good outing for him," Walker said. "He's going to get some good work on Tuesday, and he'll still have two outings after that. He's continuing to work on his stuff right now. He did miss a lot of time last year, and we're just making sure he's ready when he leaves Spring Training."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.