Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ will return on Saturday to the same mound he was violently removed from more than three months ago.
On May 7, Happ made his seventh start of the season at Tropicana Field against the Rays, and after giving up four runs in the first 1 1/3 innings, he was struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of Desmond Jennings, who is now on the disabled list. Happ dropped to the ground immediately, and it was later determined he suffered a head contusion and a small fracture behind his left ear.
Although the 30-year-old veteran somehow avoided a concussion, he ended up missing three months of action with a sprained right knee, which he twisted on the way to the ground after being hit.
Happ finally made his long awaited comeback on August 7, when he allowed six earned runs in four innings. He was much better in his second start back, surrendering just one run on three hits and two walks in seven innings against the A's on Monday.
But when Happ hits the hill on Saturday, he'll have more on his mind than what happened the last time he pitched at Tropicana Field. Following his strong start against Oakland, Happ went on the bereavement list as his family dealt with the passing of his grandfather.
On Thursday, Rays manager Joe Maddon watched right-hander Alex Cobb return after also being hit in the head by a line drive in St. Petersburg in June, and he said he was looking forward to seeing Happ make a similar comeback.
"It's good for [Happ]. It's the same thing Cobber did yesterday. You have start riding the horse again," Maddon said. "It's horrible. I wish him well. It's something he has to do for himself, and it's tough."
Reinstated from the bereavement list on Friday, Happ replaced shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, who went on the paternity list.
As a team, the Blue Jays haven't enjoyed much success recently against the Rays, especially at the Trop. Including Friday's loss, Toronto has dropped 13 of the last 16 road meetings against Tampa Bay. And on Saturday, the Blue Jays will face a pitcher who much prefers to pitch at home.
Roberto Hernandez will make his 13th home start in his first season with the Rays on Saturday. In the previous 12, he's gone 5-4 with a 4.08 ERA, while going 1-8 with a 6.11 ERA in 10 road starts.
Most recently, Hernandez gave up five runs in four innings to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, but Maddon said the 32-year-old right-hander's success does not hinge on where he pitches.
"It's execution of pitches," Maddon said of Hernandez, whose 12 losses are tied for the fourth most in the Majors this season. "I hate to get that basic, but it is. There are some really good things going on in his overall numbers. We have our ideas regarding what he needs to do on a more consistent basis, and we've talked to him and the catchers about it. It's about coming out and doing it. When he's been really good, [catcher Jose Molina] will come back to the bench and say, 'Man, that ball is really moving. It's where I want it to be.' The other times, it's right down the middle, and it's flat.
"If the execution is on and he has control of his emotions, he's going to be good."
Blue Jays: Gose picks up hit, RBIs in return
After Anthony Gose rejoined the Blue Jays on Thursday, he made it very clear what he needs to do to turn around what he described as a so far frustrating season.
"Hit the ball," said Gose, who was called up from Triple-A Buffalo before starting Friday's game in center field and ninth in the lineup. "Specifically, hit the baseball. … Same thing I'm always trying to work on. Hitting the ball. Same story every year. Hit the ball. When I hit the ball, good things happen. When I don't, [I'm] just a Minor League player."
Gose made good things happen on Friday in his first big league game since June 5, going 1-for-4 with two RBIs in Toronto's 5-4 loss.
In 106 games with Buffalo this season, Gose batted .239 with three homers and 27 RBIs, while also scoring 64 runs and stealing 22 stolen bases in 35 attempts. Before being sent down, he hit .304 in 26 plate appearances, but there was talk he developed a bad attitude after his demotion. However, he said that was more of a result of his struggles at the plate, especially his 121 strikeouts.
Toronto manager John Gibbons said Gose will probably split time with fellow center fielder Rajai Davis and earn most of his starts against right-handed pitchers. Gose said he has nothing to prove upon his return to the Majors, as he just hopes to help the team and improve his production.
"I'm just going to go out there and play," he said. "The last few weeks, I've hit the ball, I've had better at-bats, put the ball in play consistently -- more consistent, with better contact. Just hopefully I can keep it going here. Hopefully."
Rays: Jennings could return Monday
Jennings, who hit the line drive that struck Happ in the head back in May, is battling injury issues of his own. He took a big step forward on Thursday, though, hitting in a cage for the first time since fracturing his left middling finger on August 3.
With his recent progress, Maddon thinks it's possible Jennings could be back for the team's series opener in Baltimore on Monday, when he's eligible to come off the disabled list.
"[Head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield] believes if he's not right on schedule, it isn't far off," Maddon said.
A decision hasn't been made regarding a potential rehab game on Sunday for Jennings, but Maddon did say Jennings likely won't be at 100 percent when he does return.
"The biggest problem with a thing like that is mis-hitting a ball or swinging and missing can cause the most pain, or even on the defensive side," Maddon said. "Those are things you can guard against somewhat, but you may have to suck up a little buzz in the hand now and then. Desmond is a tough guy."
• With a win, the Rays will have taken 19 of the last 20 home series against the Blue Jays. Toronto hasn't won a road series against Tampa Bay since 2007.
• Saturday marks the fifth of 10 straight games for Toronto vs. American League East opponents. The Blue Jays are an even 2-2 in the first four games of that stretch.
• Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie went 2-for-5 on Friday night, extending his hit streak to six games. In those contests, he's batted .458 (11-for-24) with three RBIs.
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.