Archive for March, 2008
Monday, March 31st, 2008
3:15 PM Eastern
Well, I finally got to go to Yankee Stadium to see a baseball game, only there was no baseball game to see. No batting practice, not much of anything, actually. I did get to see Dustin McGowan throw a side in the bullpen and a few people play catch in the outfield, but those were the only baseball activities on display today.
What I don’t get is this: How on Earth can you have a rainout when it doesn’t even rain? A fine mist was falling pretty much from 11:00 AM on, but it stopped at 2:15 or so, about 20 minutes before the game was postponed. I’m guessing that when Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman took their walk in short right field, they decided that it was too wet out there to risk injury. The bad news is, it’s not going to be any better tomorrow, when the forecast is calling for thunderstorms and a 90% chance of rain during the day. The good news is that you all may have another rain delay/rainout show to look forward to.
I have to hit the road tonight so that I’m back in the studio for the game tomorrow evening, so my two night trip to NYC has turned into one night here and one in Albany or Utica – maybe Syracuse. Now there’s a hopping town for you. At least I’ll be back here in July for the all-star game, when there will be some actual baseball played here.
Newswise, the Jays are so close to signing Alex Rios to that six-year, $65 million deal that the two sides have extended the deadline a few days. I’m thinking that the home opener would be the perfect time to make that announcement.
Lastly, the Barry Bonds topic came up on the rain delay show, and I believe that if Matt Stairs’ hip is going to be a long-term problem, it is incumbent upon the Blue Jays to make an effort to sign Barry Bonds. Circus or otherwise, he would be a big, lefthanded bat in the middle of the line-up, which is exactly what they need, even moreso with Stairs out, and he can play left field just as well as Manny Ramirez does in Boston. If Bonds only wants to DH, or if he doesn’t want to play on turf, or if his being under indictment brings up some issues with crossing the border, then fine, don’t sign him. But if not, then let’s go.
Comments are encouraged, and I’ll answer them from upstate New York if I can.
Sunday, March 30th, 2008
11:10 PM Eastern
One sleep away from my first trip to Yankee Stadium, and I can’t wait! I just watched Ryan Zimmerman go deep to end the first Western Hemisphere game of the 2008 season, and I’m about to hit the sack in preparation for tomorrow’s Jays opener – Roy Halladay against Chien-Ming Wang starting with the pre-game at 12:30 PM Eastern on the Fan Radio Network.
I spent the day driving from the home base in Mississauga to Manhattan, took about eight hours door-to-door, in the company of Jason Rozon, the guy who makes sure all the affiliates along the network know what’s going on and stay happy. I realized, during the drive, that I really dislike New Jersey.
Not for nothing, as they say, and I’m sure there are some wonderful New Jerseyites, but the biggest thing that strikes me about the state is that it’s free to get in, but they make you pay to get out. This should set off alarm bells pretty much right away. In the first few miles of the trip into Jersey, we passed by an exit for a town called “Buttzville”. Now, it’s bad enough you live in Jersey, but Buttzville, New Jersey? You have got to be kidding me. Stopped at a rest stop to answer the call of nature – that won’t be happening again. At least we only spent about 70 miles in the Garden State.
There was quite a commotion across the street from my hotel when I got in, and stunningly, it had nothing to do with my arrival. The Ziegfeld Theater (that’s how they spell it here) on 54th street (I think) was showing a Martin Scorsese-directed movie about the Rolling Stones. The Stones were there, and so were Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, and probably lots of other celebrity-types. This is a big deal. The street was lined with paparazzi, flashbulbs popping all over the place, it was insane. I’d never seen anything like it, and I had a solid vantage point from my hotel room window. Very cool.
After getting settled, Rozon and I went out to walk the streets of Manhattan, specifically to look for a dress shirt for me because I’d forgotten to bring one, then to eat. Gotta look decent on Opening Day, don’t you know, even though I’ll probably never take my jacket off the whole afternoon. So, forgot my laptop in Florida, forgot to pack a dress shirt for this trip (also forgot my super-cool Obus Forme pillow – damnit), at least my absent-mindedness is getting less expensive as I go. Picked up a shirt at H&M on 5th Avenue, the first time I’ve ever been in that store, and one of the rare occasions in the last 10 years that I’ve purchased an article of clothing without the guidance of the lovely wife. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Rozon and I wound up at the Stage Deli for dinner, and neither of us could finish more than half our sandwiches. He had the Katie Couric (heh heh), while I struggled with my choice of the Conan O’Brien. It felt strange to be at the Stage and not eat a sandwich named after a Jew, but most of them either combined meat and cheese, which I don’t do, or combined sliced deli meat and chopped liver, which I’m not sure anyone should ever do. The Conan, for the curious, is roast beef, pastrami and corned beef. Sweet. RJ’s Couric was Ham, Turkey and Swiss. Half of each is sitting in the minibar fridge as we speak.
Oh, you wanted some baseball talk? Sorry. I wasn’t at the workout this afternoon, I was winding my way through eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but I’m led to understand (thanks, Bastian!) that the Jays have yet to decide on whether Matt Stairs and his arthritic hip will be good to go. Given that he hasn’t played in a week and that it’s going to be really cold, I would put his chances of playing at well below 50-50, but I’m prepared to be surprised. What I am surprised about is that the Jays and Alex Rios haven’t been able to hammer out a deal yet. If the contract’s not signed by lunchtime tomorrow, it’ll be put off for a year, and I think that would be a big mistake on the Blue Jays’ part.
OK, bedtime. I’ve got to get up plenty early in the morning to be at the Stadium with lots of time to take it all in, walk around and check out Monument Park before starting to put together the pre-game show. Man, did Spring Training go by fast.
Comments are encouraged, as always, and as always, I’ll try to answer if I can.
Saturday, March 29th, 2008
3:40 PM Eastern
Just listening to the Blue Jays and Phillies celebrate the end of the pre-season, the regulars have all come out and I thought I should follow through on my promise to offer forth my predictions for the upcoming season.
But before I do – man, it’s nice to be home, even if it’s only for less than 36 hours before I hit the road to NYC for Opening Day. Great to sleep in my own bed again – even though when I woke up in the middle of the night to, umm, take care of a little business, I groggily got out of bed and hung a left directly into the wall (again groggily, so the impact was minimal), because that’s where the en suite was at the Cay Club, where I’d slept for the last five weeks. As great as it is, it’s been a rough 24 hours.
I left my work laptop at the gate in Tampa, which would be among the more stupid things I’ve ever done. Thing is, the laptop usually goes in my work bag, but because of packing and space issues and stuff like that, I brought it along as part of my carry-on in its laptop case. So, I sat, waited for the delayed flight, chatting with a couple of the Jays’ clubhouse employees who were on the same plane, and then got up, grabbed my jacket and my work bag and got on the plane. Luckily, someone turned it in early this morning, and I should have it in my hot little hands by tonight, thanks to the Jays’ Executive Baseball Assistant, Major League Operations Heather Connolly, who I can’t thank enough for hauling it back with her on her flight home tonight.
And this morning, on the way to the radio station for the pre-game, someone who I can only assume is a very nice lady thought she would do a physics test and see if she could fit her car into a space on the road that, at the time, was currently occupied my car. Not the best idea, but at least no one was hurt.
And that brings us here to this final exhibition game of the spring. Nice to see several Jays end their pre-seasons on high notes: Shannon Stewart goes 2-for-2 with a sac fly, Frank Thomas singles sharply in his last at-bat, Lyle Overbay and Marco Scutaro each go 2-for-3 and Aaron Hill’s final swing of the spring winds up in the seats in left. It was nice to see Brandon League pitch out of the bases-loaded jam of his own making in the 5th by ringing up Pat Burrell and getting Pedro Feliz on a ground ball, and equally nice to see Jason Frasor throw a 1-2-3 6th that included a three-pitch strikeout of Jayson Werth, the man for whom he was traded back in 2004. I wonder which of those two will have more of an impact on the 8th inning as B.J. Ryan continues to convalesce. Scott Downs, who we know will be out there in the 8th, got the Phils in order and barely broke a sweat in his inning.
OK, so it’s prediction time. Everybody seems to be listing the order in which they think every team will finish, and who will win the major awards. I will start off by saying that I believe most of these predictions will be ludicrously incorrect, but if I get one or two right, I’ll make sure to remind you about it late in the season.
I believe the playoff teams in the American League will be Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Toronto (damnit, it’s time!) and in the National League, it will be New York, Cincinnati, San Diego and Atlanta. Hey, you can’t pick safe all the time, then you’d be just like everyone else.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will have the best record in baseball, and the Baltimore Orioles, by a longshot, will have the worst. In all seriousness, I really think the Orioles could threaten the 1962 Mets. Not because they’re all that awful (though they’re really bad) but because they have 72 games against the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays. And they might lose 60 of them.
The playoffs are a crapshoot, so I almost want to refuse to predict. Thing is, in a best-of-5 or best-of-7, it doesn’t matter which team is better, it just matters which team has the better week or week and a half. There’s also the quandary that exists in having picked the Blue Jays to win the wild card. See, the thing is, if the Jays have a good enough year to make the playoffs, it means that Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Dustin McGowan all fulfill expectations. If that happens, there’s no team who wants to run into them in the playoffs. But I don’t want to be the guy to pick the Jays to win the World Series, it’s kind of unseemly. I’ll put it this way – if the Jays are in the playoffs, there will no better top 3 starters in the game, and no reason to pick against them winning.
So, I’m not predicting the playoffs, except that I think the Mets take the N.L. behind Johan Santana and a resurgent Pedro Martinez.
As for post-season award winners, that’s just silly, but I’ll do it anyway. We all know who the best players are, but who among them will have the best year? I have no idea, and anyone who says he or she does is full of it. That said:
Cy Young – Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
MVP – David Ortiz, Red Sox (finally)
Rookie of the Year – Evan Longoria, Rays (Hebrew Hammer style)
Manager of the Year – John Gibbons (this is the thing: I have predicted that the Blue Jays will make the playoffs. If the Blue Jays make the playoffs, there is no way Gibbons doesn’t win manager of the year).
Cy Young Award – Johan Santana, Mets
MVP – Mark Teixeira, Braves (too many people are picking David Wright)
Rookie of the Year – Jair Jurrjens, Braves
Manager of the Year – Dusty Baker, Reds (even though Cincy wins the division in spite of their new skipper, not because of him)
As for exactly how the divisions will shake down, I’ll be ecstatic if I get 9 of these 30 right:
A.L. East: 1. Boston 2. Toronto 3. New York 4. Tampa Bay 8. Baltimore
A.L. Central: 1. Cleveland 2. Detroit 3. Minnesota 4. Kansas City 5. Chicago
A.L. West: 1. Los Angeles 2. Texas 3. Seattle 4. Oakland
N.L. East: 1. New York 2. Atlanta 3. Philadelphia 4. Washington 5. Florida
N.L. Central: 1. Cincinnati 2. Pittsburgh 3. Chicago 4. St. Louis 5. Houston 6. Milwaukee
N.L. West: 1. San Diego 2. Los Angeles 3. Arizona 4. Colorado 5. San Francisco
Man, some of those picks are stupid, especially the N.L. Central. I just have a feeling about the Pirates, though. Also, it took everything I had to leave the Yankees third and the Rays fourth, and not flip that around. Oh, well, time to get ready for the final pre-season JaysTalk!
Comments are encouraged, as always. Tomorrow is a travel day to the Bronx, so I’m not promising a post, but there might be one. If not, to Opening Day!!!!
Thursday, March 27th, 2008
By Mike Wilner
6:15 PM Eastern
So, the Blue Jays leave Florida on a two-game winning streak. How about that?
Dustin McGowan finished off his Grapefruitedness with a terrific outing, save for one inning. If you throw out the 6th (I know you can’t, but bear with me) he threw six innings of one-hit shutout, walking four and striking out four. Dominant, especially since three of those walks came in the 4th, loading the bases with two out, and he then whiffed David Newhan to get out of the jam.
The hiccup in the 6th came with a runner on first and two out. That runner, Darin Erstad, stole second, and was then doubled home by Jose Cruz, Jr., who hit a shot into the right-field corner. Mark Loretta followed with a two-run homer and McGowan didn’t allow another baserunner.
A lot is expected from young Dustin, who before his 2004 Tommy John surgery was expected to one day be 1A to Roy Halladay’s 1. He took a huge stride forward last season, and I agree with the masses who expect him to continue progressing and to be a big part of a big three at the top of the Jays’ rotation. Still, Monday will be his first Opening Day in the majors, just like his teammates Jesse Litsch, Brian Wolfe, Randy Wells and Buck Coats.
Sorry that I couldn’t keep you updated with the live blog, but there was a lot of Scott Rolen audio to cut up, and that kept me busy from the 4th inning until just before the game ended, when I had to go downstairs to talk to McGowan.
Some game highlights:
-Rod Barajas doubled off the left-field wall twice, and though the plays at second were both close, he beat both throws, one with a beautiful slide around David Newhan’s tag.
-Aaron Hill continued his red-hot spring with a double into the left-field corner, and Marty Pevey made the veteran “last Spring game in Florida” move of sending pinch-runner Jacob Butler home from first with two out, even though he was meatcake. Marty knows it’s all about getting off the field at that point.
-The Jays answered immediately after the Astros took the lead in the top of the 6th, with Buck Coats leading off the bottom of the inning with his second homer of the spring. Four batters later, Hector Luna hit a prodigious shot into the trees in left for a three-run homer to give the Jays the lead for good.
-Luna added an RBI double in the 8th off Oscar Villareal – now that the 25-man is set, he’s just whaling on the ball. (wailing? I dunno)
-Scott Downs threw a 1-2-3 8th, helped out by a very nice diving/sliding catch by Coats in shallow centre.
-Jeremy Accardo came out of the bullpen with one on and one out in the 9th, and got out with one pitch – a 5-4-3 double play hit into by Newhan.
That’s it, the Jays leave Florida 11-16, or 0-0 depending on how you choose to look at things.
There were three stories outside the game from today, involving some of the injured Jays. Matt Stairs, who hasn’t appeared in a Grapefruit game since the 23rd because of a sore hip, had four at-bats and played an inning of defense in a minor-league game. Blue Jays’ VP of communications Jay Stenhouse said he was told that Stairs “felt good”. There’s still a chance he won’t be able to go on Opening Day, but it appears to be a slim chance. Thing is, why did he only play one inning of defense? If he was really feeling well, why wouldn’t he have been out there for three or more? Unless one inning was all he needed to pronounce himself fine, there may be a red flag there.
B.J. Ryan threw in the bullpen today, and though he spiked a couple of pitches, Brad Arnsberg said he threw great and felt great. They’ll see how he feels in the morning, but the Jays seem optimistic that he might be able to join the club as early as April 11th, when they start a five-day road swing through Texas and Baltimore. That date is by no means firm, and very much subject to change, we’re told.
Also, we finally got a chance to talk to Scott Rolen about his finger injury. He said that the type of accident he had is something that happens all the time, but most often without such dire consequences. Rolen was doing fielding drills, and thought that he would have to short-hop a low line drive hit by coach Brian Butterfield, but the ball stayed up, and as he was moving his right hand down to secure the ball in his glove, the ball hit him square on the tip of the middle finger. He said it was something that happens to him three or four times a year, but this time the ball tore the skin underneath his fingernail and left the skin hanging down at a 45-degree angle. The pin that was put in his finger wasn’t so much to stabilize the bone as it was to hold his finger together. Sounds pretty gross, and there are pictures circulating around the Jays’ clubhouse which Rolen likened to a “faces of death” sort of thing.
The deal is that the pin stays in until April 7th, and three or four days later, Rolen will be allowed to pick up a bat and try to swing it. If all goes well, he might be able to start throwing a few days later. It’s incredibly optimistic to believe that Rolen could be back within a week of the pin being removed – right now he can’t do anything because the soft cast/brace that goes from his forearm up and around the middle and ring fingers of his right hand – he’s hoping to get that downsized this Monday back in Baltimore. I’m thinking that maybe he makes his way back into the line-up for the Jays series in Kansas City that starts April 25th, but even that might be ambitious. At least it’s not his shoulder, and the rest of his body is just fine. Rolen was swinging the bat really well and playing terrific defense when he went down, we’ll see how long it takes for him to get back into the rhythm once his finger is healthy.
That’s it for the Florida bloggage, hope you enjoyed it all. There’s likely to be a lot less of this once things get going for real on Monday. I’ll continue to answer the comments, that’s a lot of fun – almost like a mini-JaysTalk – and Saturday I’ll likely put up a season predictions post.
We’re on the air on Saturday afternoon at 12:30 pm Eastern with the Jays and Phillies live from Philadelphia (though I’ll be in the studio in Toronto). I’ll have J.P. Ricciardi on the pre-game show, make sure you tune us in!
Thursday, March 27th, 2008
1:18 PM Eastern
Last day of school here, kids, so there’s a bunch of stuff to do. Therefore, the live bloggage is going to suffer. Some news off the top, as I spent most of this morning either getting about half the Jays to do their radio reads (“You’re listening to Blue Jays Baseball……..how do you like me now!”) or waiting for Scott Rolen, who showed up at about 11:45, but an hour later still hadn’t finished doing whatever he had to do before talking to us. We’re still waiting, but up in the press box now.
Matt Stairs hasn’t played in a game since Sunday against the Phillies, when he came in late and finished the game in left field. Turns out, says John Gibbons, that Stairs has a wonky hip, and he’s going to test it in a minor-league game today. He’s not playing in this one against the Astros because if he appears in a real fake game, the Jays won’t be able to backdate him as far on the disabled list, though Gibby said that wasn’t a consideration (it is).
By the way, the first inning is in the books, and it’s 0-0. McGowan walked Michael Bourn to lead things off, but he was erased on a fielder’s choice grounder by Hunter Pence. Pence tried to steal second, but he was nailed, and pretty easily, by Rod Barajas. Darin Erstad then doubled down the right-field line, a ground ball just inside the bag past a diving Overbay, but Ty Wigginton flied to centre on the next pitch.
In the bottom of the inning, after a groundout by Eckstein and a flyout by Stewart, Rios hung out a clothesline to left for a single and Vernon followed with a four-pitch walk before Thomas fouled off a couple of two-strike pitches, then went down swinging.
Rolen’s ready, gotta go!
1:55 PM Eastern
Just got back from talking to Rolen, so forgive the lack of bloggageness while I cut up the tape. Rolen said that he’s been given a window of 4-6 weeks from the surgery, which was this past Monday, which would put him out for 3-5 weeks of the regular season. The pin in his finger is actually holding his finger together – it wasn’t his nail that was ripped off, the bottom of his finger was torn apart, and was dangling at a 45 degree angle.
Rolen said that the surgeon wants him to hit before he tries to throw, and that he will be able to try to hit four of five days after the pin comes out, assuming his finger stays together without the pin. The pin comes out April 7th, I can’t imagine he’ll be able to be back in the line-up anytime before the series at Kansas City that starts April 25th.
By the way, we’re in the top of the 4th, and it’s still 0-0. The Astros don’t have a hit since that Erstad ground-ball double in the 1st, though McGowan has walked a pair in this inning. The Jays have added a Scutaro single to the Rios liner in the 1st, and Scoot stole second, but that’s it.
More when something happens, otherwise, it’s Rolen-cutting time.
Thursday, March 27th, 2008
11:57 PM Eastern
Man, and I thought the Tigers got Litsch-slapped last week.
So, how about those Blue Jays? Another incredible outing from Jesse Litsch, every starter save one gets at least one hit (Shannon Stewart goes 0-for-3, can’t wait for the first commenter who says Reed would have had two hits), David Eckstein goes 3-for-4 to raise his spring average 57 points and Frank Thomas goes deep for the first time this spring!
First, to Litsch. It’s important to once again note that just as the bad stuff that happens in Spring Training doesn’t mean anything, neither does the good stuff mean anything. But it’s hard to ignore Litsch’s last two starts. Tonight’s, against the Reds, he was only facing two front-line major leaguers in Ryan Freel and Scott Hatteberg, but Joey Votto and Jeff Keppinger were in there as well, two very good young hitters, so that’s something, and he had them eating out of his hands. Also, veteran bench-types Jerry Hairston, Jr., Dave Ross, Andy Phillips and Jolbert Cabrera all played, so Litsch wasn’t facing a bunch of A-ballers.
Six no-hit innings facing one hitter over the minimum despite two errors behind him. Ground ball after ground ball – only two balls were hit in the air those first six innings, and two more in the seventh. And another testament to Litsch’s mentality on the mound – his only walk of the game came in the seventh, and balls three and four were curveballs that stayed high and outside. His first pitch to the next hitter, with the bases loaded and nobody out? A gorgeous curveball that was taken for a strike. I love that.
For his last two starts, Litsch pitched 13 innings, allowing 5 hits and 1 walk. Fantastic, and let’s hope that the confidence gained down here in himself as a big leaguer and in his new sinker carry over into the regular season. He won’t have these sorts of results too often, but so long as he keeps attacking, working quickly, pitching to contact and throwing strikes, he should be a fine 5th starter, maybe even better.
Talking to Frank Thomas after his homer – a bomb off the batters’ eye in dead centre after two of the worst-looking swings I have ever seen him take – he wasn’t too excited about it. Thomas says he averages about one home run per spring in Florida (3 or 4 in Arizona where the ball carries better). He is aware of the talk about platooning him with Matt Stairs, and that he’s “lost it”, but he says people are panicking over nothing. DHing in Florida is a lot different than during the regular season, sayeth the Big Hurt. Down here, all you do between at-bats is sit in the dugout and watch. Once the real stuff is going on, Thomas rides the bike in the tunnel, watches video, moves around, does all kinds of stuff. He says he gets his best advantage from film work, none of which he does during Spring Training. Once the bell rings, we’ll see if there’s that difference he’s talking about. I’m in the camp that says Thomas will be at least the same hitter this year as he was last year.
Lastly, the defense. Three more errors tonight, but these three (unlike the 5 yesterday) were all made by people who will be in the Opening Day line-up: Aaron Hill, Marco Scutaro and Gregg Zaun. I’m not getting excited about the fact that the Jays have made eight errors in the last two games. Not only is it the last week of Spring Training, where guys have had enough and are getting impatient for the real thing, but this team was the best defensive squad in baseball last year. They have taken a step back defensively in left field and at shortstop, but a step up at third base (even with Scutaro) and probably in centre field where a healthy shoulder will make a difference for Vernon Wells. And the step back in left isn’t as big as most people seem to think. Shannon Stewart is only going to play about a third of the time. Yes, Reed Johnson is a better defender than Matt Stairs, but Stairs got a lot of work in the outfield last year, and was fine save for the first week of the season.
Day game after a night game tomorrow as we say goodbye to the Grapefruit League with the Houston Astros coming to town. There will be live-blogagge for the final time. See you then!
Wednesday, March 26th, 2008
6:30 PM Eastern
Getting set for the last ‘cast of the Grapefruit League season, this one of the internettic variety, with the Reds visiting here in Dunedin, but there’s bigger news than the Jesse Litsch-Aaron Harang match-up, or the fact that Gregg Zaun is back in the line-up catching or that Marco Scutaro is hitting ahead of him or that Shannon Stewart is in left, batting second, against a righty: The roster has been set!
John Gibbons announced this afternoon, and J.P. Ricciardi confirmed, the names of 25 guys who will be on the roster come Opening Day, Monday in The Bronx. Stunningly, the names A.J. Burnett and Shaun Marcum are on that list.
OK, it’s not that stunningly. Turns out that ESPN report about Burnett and Shaun was just one of those humourous misunderstandings, which is probably why I couldn’t find it this evening. When we were all scrumming J.P. Monday night in Sarasota to get the latest on Scott Rolen’s finger surgery, the G.M. mentioned that Burnett and Marcum wouldn’t accompany the team to Philadelphia for those last two pre-season games Friday night and Saturday. The ESPN reporter (none of us knew who he was) heard J.P. say they weren’t going to be “coming north to Philly” and must have assumed that the fingernail thing and last year’s Marcum knee surgery were going to hold them back, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, onto the roster thing. No big surprises, nothing you haven’t heard on the FAN or read here over the past couple of days. Ricciardi told the assemblage back on Sunday that he was going to shape the bullpen in a way that would have the Jays not lose any players. Since Randy Wells would have to be offered back to the Cubs if he didn’t make the team (being a Rule Fiver and all), we all kinda knew he was a go, and when the Jays recalled Buck Coats from minor-league camp on a permanent basis on Monday night, the rumours started flying that he was going to be the guy to get Rolen’s spot, and so he is.
I should note that I didn’t actually speak to Gibby or J.P. about the roster today, since I made the mistake of coming up to the broadcast booth to set up my equipment in advance of the webcast instead of running down to the field to see what was up (I didn’t get here until 4:00 – dropping off one of the Argentinean cousins at the airport – won’t do that again, she can walk next time!) . When I went to talk to J.P., he wouldn’t tell me anything because I’d been upstairs during the scrum – that’s fine with me, I have been sending back too much J.P. tape lately anyway.
So you don’t have to piece together the rest of the roster, here it is, in all its glory:
Pitchers (12 – what can I tell you):
Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, Brandon League, Jason Frasor, Brian Tallet, Brian Wolfe, Randy Wells
Catchers (2): Gregg Zaun, Rod Barajas
Infielders (6): Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, David Eckstein, Marco Scutaro, John McDonald, Frank Thomas (I guess this is where you put him)
Outfielders (5): Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Matt Stairs, Shannon Stewart, Buck Coats
Disabled list (3): Casey Janssen (60-day), Scott Rolen (15-day), B.J. Ryan (15-day)
And there you have it, in living colour, your 2008 Toronto Blue Jays (Opening Day variety, no guarantees expressed or implied). Of course, if someone gets hurt or traded before Monday, it could all change.
I (and the rest of the assemblage) got a chance to talk to Coats and Randy Wells before the game, and both were, obviously, very happy to have been given the good news. Wells was more effusive than Coats, but Buck is a very quiet guy by nature. It’ll be Wells’ first-ever big-league experience, and Buck spent a couple of months up with the Cubs and Reds last season, but he agreed that Opening Day at Yankee Stadium is a whole different animal. You can hear the comments that both made on the FAN590 tonight, after the Raptors game.
And you can hear the Jays-Reds game tonight on mlb.com – it’s a webcast, so no live blog, and with Alan Ashby and his lovely wife Kathryn on the road back to Philly to meet the Jays on Friday, it’s just Jerry and me. Jerry just leaned over to me and said that he’ll do the first inning (as well he should), and that I’ll take over the play-by-play duties and webcast until I drop – or until I have to go down to the clubhouse and get tape. It’s a very nice gesture on his part, seeing as it’s my last chance to do play-by-play until next spring – I just hope all you listeners’ ears can handle it!
I’ll check back in when it’s all over.
Tuesday, March 25th, 2008
6:15 PM Eastern
That’s it. The sky is falling. Roy Halladay can’t get anybody out, the Blue Jays can’t hit and therefore we can look forward to another second-division finish. I wonder if the Jays will be able to hold off the Rays for fourth place.
Look, I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but I find it bizarre that there’s so much hand-wringing and rending of garments going on about the Blue Jays’ lousy showing this spring. Nothing matters until the bell rings, and the seemingly overwhelming panic about Frank Thomas’ 6-for-41 is getting way out of hand for me. No one has mentioned that Alex Rios is hitting .156 this spring (7-for-45) after his 0-for-4 today.
I find it funny that there are complaints about the lack of offense. I mean, I understand that there’s worry after what happened to the bats last season, but give the season a chance to get going. And by the way, not that I think it matters (but a lot of you seem to), Vernon Wells is hitting .302 this spring, Lyle Overbay .364, Rod Barajas .300, Aaron Hill .417, Matt Stairs .304, Shannon Stewart .263, John McDonald .267 and Marco Scutaro .281. Buck Coats, who likely makes the team, is hitting .400. Scott Rolen was hitting .345 before he busted his finger. All those numbers are fine, or better. Yes, Thomas, Rios and David Eckstein are stinking it up, but they’re the only ones. So if you’re complaining about the offense based on the results of the spring, quit it.
I’m not going to go over the “inning from hell” again. If you want to know about it, check the last post. It was insane, and I really feel badly for John Tolisano, who at this point last year was getting ready for his last three months of high school.
Interesting to note that Gregg Zaun was walking around today wearing some sort of wrap/brace type thing below his right knee. He hasn’t caught in a game since last Thursday’s loss to the Yankees, and J.P. Ricciardi said today that he was having a slight hamstring issue, but it wasn’t a big deal. That thing wasn’t wrapped around his hamstring, though. Zaun was supposed to DH in last night’s loss to Cincinnati, but the Reds decided that they weren’t going to allow the Jays to use a designated hitter, so they sent Zaun home. This is something worth keeping an eye on. If Zaun can’t answer the bell either, then Rod Barajas becomes the starter and Curtis Thigpen is the likely back-up, since the Jays released Sal Fasano today. Of course, if the Zaun thing was serious, they probably wouldn’t have released Fasano, so chances are they’re actually telling us the truth. Oh, and you can add Zaun to the list of guys who aren’t hitting. So it’s him, Thomas, Eckstein and Rios.
And Reed Johnson officially signed with the Cubs this afternoon, where he’ll fit nicely into the outfield, spelling Matt Murton, Felix Pie and Kosuke Fukudome. I don’t think Lou Piniella is quite sold on Pie, who struggled mightily last year, and he’s hurt now, too, so there could be a good chance for Reed to get a lot of work. I wish him nothing but luck. The Jays and Cubs square off in interleague play this year, at Rogers Centre June 13-15, so we’ll all get a chance to catch up with Reed then, which will be nice.
Tomorrow night, the Reds come here to Dunedin, with Jesse Litsch for the Jays against Aaron Harang. We’ll have a webcast, so no live blog, and with Alan Ashby already having hit the road to Philly to meet up with the Jays Friday night, yours truly will get some serious play-by-play time. Make sure you tune in!
Comments are encouraged, as always, and make sure you check out the comments section, because I’m answering almost all of them in there.
Tuesday, March 25th, 2008
12:30 PM Eastern
A spring day game after a night game generally means a pretty slow, lazy morning, but not today.
A report out this morning that the Jays and Alex Rios have agreed on a six-year, $65 million contract extension(with an option for a seventh year that would bring the total value to $80 million) had everyone scrambling to talk to Rios and J.P. Ricciardi. We all managed to get them both, and you’ll be able to hear their comments throughout the day on the FAN590, but both of them said that nothing was in place as of right now, though both seemed to think it could happen very soon.
Ricciardi seemed frustrated by how long the process has taken with Rios, saying that they’ve been talking about this since October, but Rios said that the Jays’ original offer back then wasn’t for six years. Rios said that discussions about a no-trade clause aren’t the main reasons why the deal hasn’t gotten done yet, but that he’d like one. Right now Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells are the only Jays with full no-trades in their contracts.
The Jays play a night game tomorrow at home against the Reds, so I’m thinking around 2:00 pm would be the perfect time for the team to hold a news conference to announce the Rios extension. And could it be done that soon? Well, while we were all gathered around Rios to get his comments, Rod Barajas stood at his locker, facing Rios’, and with a huge grin on his face, pulled out a roll of hundreds and started counting them.
I’m thinking six and 65 is pretty good for both sides. Rios leaves a bunch of money on the table, assuming he stays healthy and continues to produce the next two years. He gives up four years of free agency, which would have to make the Jays happy. If Rios continues at his current rate, he’d be making Torii Hunter money out on the free market pretty easily. Rios gets security, and gets to buy a real helicopter a little earlier than planned, and the Jays get an all-star for under-market for a long, long time.
In the other news, Sal Fasano was released today, which gives him a week to try to hook on somewhere. He was never going to make this team, and there wasn’t anything for him in Syracuse because both Curtis Thigpen and Robinzon Diaz are going to be there. I hope there’s a spot for Sal somewhere, he’s still capable of contributing, and he doesn’t want to hang up the spikes and get to coaching just yet.
And it appears as though Reed Johnson is set to become a Chicago Cub. He’s going to take a physical today, and if he passes, he’ll be running into the ivy at Wrigley in no time. They’ll love him in Chicago, no question.
The live bloggage begins in about 40 minutes!
1:23 PM Eastern
I’m trying to cut up JP and Rios tape and get it to the station as well as do this, so the updates might not come as often.
Halladay struggled through a scoreless first inning, throwing 20 pitches and getting to three-ball counts on two hitters (that’s struggling for him) while allowing a single up the middle to Carl Crawford that Aaron Hill probably gets to. He ended the inning by striking out B.J. Upton on three pitches, though.
Shannon Stewart led off the Jays’ half of the first with a line single to right (off a righty! Sign him up!), but Lyle Overbay followed with a hard grounder to second for an easy DP, and Alex Rios, with an unidentifiable bulge in his back pocket, grounded out to third to end it.
1:37 PM Eastern
John Tolisano made a nice play on a Cliff Floyd grounder up the middle, good throw as he spun towards first to retire the Rays’ leadoff hitter in the second. Halladay then struck out Eric Hinske looking before giving up a single to Jonny Gomes that got just past the glove of a diving John McDonald. Dioner Navarro followed with a shot to right that got up into the jetstream up there, but Rios hauled it down at the wall with a nice, jumping catch.
In the bottom of the second, Frank Thomas led off and fouled off a few two-strike pitches before striking out swinging. Barajas followed with a looper to right that fell in for a hit, but Hector Luna whiffed and Buck Coats grounded to first.
1:50 PM Eastern
Halladay had two line drives hit right back at him in the top of the third – the first, by Andy Cannizaro, tipped off his glove and rolled up the middle for a single. The second, by Elliot Johnson, was a little lower and a little slower, and Halladay was able to glove it and had an easy double play at first. Carl Crawford ended the inning by grounding out to second.
The Jays went in order in their half of the third – Johnny Mac struck out, Tolisano hit a high chopper back to the mound, and Stewart grounded to second.
2:07 PM Eastern
Halladay struck out Carlos Pena, who looked completely overmatched, to start the fourth, then got B.J. Upton on a grounder to second before falling behind Cliff Floyd 3-0, then walking him on five pitches – Halladay’s first walk in a Grapefruit game this spring. His old teammate Hinske helped him out, though, by rolling over and hitting an easy grounder to second and not bothering to run it out.
In the bottom of the fourth – FRANK THOMAS HIT ALERT!!!! The Big Hurt got into a two-strike offering and belted it over the head of B.J. Upton in centre field for a double. For Thomas, it’s his sixth hit of the spring, second for extra bases. He died at second as Barajas lined out to Hinske at third. No, Eric didn’t have to move.
2:50 PM Eastern
Wow. I have been watching baseball faithfully for just over 30 years now, and I have never seen anything like this. Roy Halladay faced 10 batters in the top of the fifth, and didn’t retire a single one. The Jays made five errors behind him, three by minor-league call-up John Tolisano, who is currently looking for a pebble on the infield under which to hide.
Jonny Gomes led off the inning with a home run blasted to left, his fourth of the spring. Dioner Navarro followed with a ground single to left, and then the wackiness began. Andy Cannizaro hit a routine grounder to second with Navarro going. Tolisano gloved it, looked to second, decided to throw to first, then dropped the ball. His subsequent throw to first was late, but at least it was on target. With runners at first and second, Elliot Johnson dropped down a bunt. A charging Lyle Overbay fielded it and threw a blur to third, but just late – bases loaded with nobody out.
Next up was Carl Crawford, who hit a routine double-play grounder to second. Tolisano grabbed it, dropped it, then with only one play left, threw wild to first for his second error on the play and third of the inning. Instead of a run in, runner on third and two out, there were two runs in, nobody out and runners on second and third. Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton followed with legit back-to-back doubles – Pena’s a liner to the right-field corner and Upton’s a grounder down the third-base line past the outstretched glove of Looner.
Cliff Floyd then hit an easy grounder to first that went right through Overbay’s wickets, and he looked to the skies in equal parts disgust, frustration and amazement. Next up, Hinske, who doubled into the gap in left-centre, scoring Floyd. Gomes was next, for his second at-bat of the inning, and still with nobody out. He lined a single to centre, and the throw came home, but Hinske had been held up at third. Gomes kept going for second, though, and Rod Barajas fired down to try to get him, but short-hopped it and it bounced off McDonald and into short centre, allowing Hinske to score on what was the Jays’ fifth error of the inning, and that was it for Halladay.
He’d faced ten hitters, retired none, and all of them wound up scoring – Gomes coming in for the second time when Cannizaro singled off of Connor Falkenbach. The inning might have been over even a little earlier, as Johnson hit a grounder to short with Cannizaro at first, but Tolisano airmailed the relay to first. Can’t assume the double play, though, so Tolisano was spared his fourth error of the inning.
For the inning, the Rays scored 10 runs (four earned) on seven hits and five errors. Sheer and unadulterated ridiculosity, the likes of which at least these eyes had never before seen. To be honest, I’m not even sure it’s worth live-blogging the rest of this game. I have seen enough to know that I have seen too much.
Tuesday, March 25th, 2008
2:00 AM Eastern
My apologies for the lateness in posting, but blame Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. It’s the first spring ballpark I’ve been to this year that has had zero internet connection whatsoever from the broadcast booth. I understand the writers had a bit of an easier time downstairs in the press box, but it was touch-and-go there. So I was unable to put anything up until I got back to the old homestead in Clearwater.
What did I learn from the game today? Not much. It was the stuff that happened beforehand that was juicier.
A bunch of us reporter-types were gathered around talking during batting practice, as we often do, and while one particular conversation was going on, Vernon Wells wandered over and just kind of lurked for a while, then joined in. Wells wound up spending about 10 or 15 minutes with us, not in an interview or scrum-type setting at all, but just a shooting-the-bull type conversation that featured topics ranging from Tiger Woods (“he’s cool”) to whether or not Vernon would wear an initial on his jersey if Randy Wells makes the team. It was a fun conversation, with a loose, relaxed Vernon, which is great to see. I have always thought that Vernon was one of the smartest, funniest guys on this team, but more often than not he’s refused to let that side show through to us, and therefore, to you. He’s been guarded with reporters, but this spring he seems to be letting that guard down and allowing his personality to shine through, and I for one am really enjoying it. Sunday, after I turned the microphone off following my interview with Vernon for the pre-game show about Reed Johnson’s release, he stayed and we talked for a good 5-10 minutes afterwards. Best conversation I’ve had with him since I’ve known him, which I guess is almost 10 years now. I hope this loose Vernon sticks around – with us, anyway. I know he’ll always be that way with his teammates.
J.P. Ricciardi spoke to the assemblage before the game, and said that Scott Rolen’s right middle finger had a screw inserted (John Gibbons said a pin, which is likelier, but regardless, there’s a metal thing in there) and it will remain in for two weeks. The screw/pin comes out on April 7th, which is a Jays’ off-day, and from that point, assuming all is well, Rolen will be able to throw and hit to pain tolerance. It’s very difficult to imagine that Rolen would be able to be back within a week of that, so I’m thinking it’s late April before we see him make his Blue Jays’ debut. Until then, Marco Scutaro will hold things down, and he’s a much better option than the Jays had when Troy Glaus went down last April and they had to use a Jason Smith/John McDonald platoon to get by.
Scutaro probably hits 9th in the line-up, and it brings up a host of options as to what to do with the rest of it. Does Gibby simply move everybody up one spot, leaving Frank Thomas as the clean-up hitter? Does he put Matt Stairs in that 4-hole and move Overbay up to 6th? I’m thinking the best option might be to move Aaron Hill up to second – he’s certainly hitting well enough this spring to warrant it, and maybe the bat stays this hot for a little while. Then, if Gibby is still dead-set on having Wells hit 3rd, he can move Rios down to 4th, but I don’t think it’d be a big issue to have Rios-Wells go 3-4 until Rolen gets back.
Ricciardi also made it official that B.J. Ryan will not break camp with the team. He didn’t want to put a date on when Ryan would be ready to join them, but it won’t be until B.J. can throw every other day with no problems. I’m thinking that could be mid-May.
The Rolen injury does one more thing for the Jays, and that’s open up a spot on the 25-man roster. That’s a spot that could have been Reed Johnson’s had they waited a day to release Reed, but then they would have had to pay him that $3-plus million for three or four weeks of work. Instead, it appears as though Buck Coats is the front-runner for that final spot. Coats is back with the team, and he wasn’t just here as a call-up from the minor-league complex. The Jays took the unusual step (for spring training) of actually recalling Coats from minor-league camp, and bringing him back onto the Spring Training roster. They’ve been very impressed with him so far, almost like they were with Reed Johnson back in 2003 when he made his tremendous first impression. He would be a fine defensive replacement for Stewart or Stairs in left field late in games, at the very least.
It was a good JaysTalk tonight, with most of the callers lamenting the release of Johnson, which is what most commenters on this blog and others have had to say, as well. And like I have said, I understand that. Reed is a heart and soul guy who anyone would want to watch play. He’s scrappy, he hustles, he plays great defense and he gets hit by pitches a lot. All that said, Shannon Stewart is a better hitter. Period. And the Jays didn’t make the playoffs last year because they didn’t hit enough.
Tuesday it’s Roy Halladay against the Rays and Jason Hammel from Dunedin. Halladay is scheduled to throw seven innings, and I’ll be live-blogging because we won’t have the game either on the broadcast or the webcast.