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Blue Jays off to hot start thanks to unheralded newcomers

The Toronto Blue Jays are off to their best start since 2009. Their 12 wins through 17 games have come as a surprise to some, but even before the season, there was plenty of excitement in the Blue Jays clubhouse.

The Jays didn’t make any real big splashes in free agency last offseason, but did improve the roster with the addition of Curtis Granderson, Aledmys Diaz, Yangervis Solarte and Randal Grichuk. Those four have a combined 12 home runs early in the year. Solarte and Diaz have four homers apiece while the ageless Granderson is hitting .318 early in his 15th MLB season.

“Even the new guys coming in, it’s an easy clubhouse, more of a relaxed atmosphere, easy clubhouse to kind of get to know guys and feel comfortable,” starting pitcher J.A. Happ said last month in Port Charlotte, Fla.

Another newcomer, 25-year-old outfielder Teoscar Hernandez — acquired last season in a trade with the Houston Astros — is off to an incredible start. After beginning the season at Triple-A Buffalo, Hernandez is 8 of 19 with a home run and six RBIs in four games since being called up last week. His home run was a 426-foot blast off Kansas City’s Ian Kennedy in the third inning of Wednesday’s 15-5 win over the Royals.

“When I got the call, I put in my mind that it meant you get another chance — to do what you know, and to try your best. To try to do things to keep getting better,” Hernandez told reporters after collecting four hits in Wednesday’s victory. “Every time I get a chance, I just try to do my best and try to do some damage.”

Toronto also entered 2018 with Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis healthy.

Happ, who improved to 3-1 with Wednesday’s win over the Royals, said Travis has been a catalyst for the team despite his .140 start at the plate. It’s his exuberant personality in the clubhouse that sparked the team during spring training and early in the regular season.

Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ

“That energy’s always good,” Happ said. “We’ll look to feed off that, for sure.”

Happ was Toronto’s opening-day starter and felt positive entering season after ending spring training on a “good note” in Port Charlotte against the Tampa Bay Rays. He admitted to being “amped” for the March 29 opener against the New York Yankees.

“The reality sets in. There’s excitement. There’s anxiety. There’s all those things that go into it being real and it counting,” Happ said of opening day. “That’s what you use the spring for, to build up to that moment.

“It’s important to sort of go on auto-pilot a little bit as you’re getting ready,” he added. “Some people talk about an adrenaline dump, so I want to prepare like I normally do and treat it as normal as I can and try to maintain some energy throughout.”

Happ took the loss despite giving up just two earned runs in 4 2/3 innings of the 6-1 defeat. Since that opening-day loss, Happ has rattled off three straight wins to help the Blue Jays get off to their hot start.

If the Jays can stay healthy this season, Happy said they can accomplish good things. The new faces are certainly helping.