5:15 PM Eastern
The Blue Jays lost another one, and again the offense went missing. As I said in one of my answers in the comments section, big deal.
What is, in fact, a big deal, is that B.J. Ryan had a bad day. He threw the 6th inning, striking out Ronny Paulino looking on a fastball that had a bit of cut to it, but not too much, then allowing a line single to Jose Bautista before getting Luis Rivas on a grounder to second and having Marco Scutaro bail him out with a terrific leaping grab of a Nate McLouth liner that was headed up the middle. In all, 17 pitches, 12 strikes, nice day’s work.
But when Ryan spoke to the gathered throng after the game, he said that he didn’t feel right. He was sore, and it wasn’t the old, pre-surgery soreness that he might feel after an outing, it was something different. He didn’t seem worried, or scared, and made a point to say that he wasn’t going to be a hero or do anything stupid, though he did continue to pitch once he realized that he wasn’t feeling right.
The truth will come out in the next couple of days. Tomorrow morning, if he’s still sore, he might go get re-examined. Right now, Ryan is still scheduled to pitch on Thursday – either against the Yankees in Dunedin or at the same minor-league game that Roy Halladay will pitch so those evil Yankees don’t see him. But that very well could change.
This would appear to be the first bump in the road in what’s so far been a remarkable recovery from Tommy John surgery by the big closer. After the 1-2-3 inning against the Rays on Friday, pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said, “we’ve had nothing but steps forward. There’s been no regression, no steps backwards, so we’ll just keep our fingers crossed and keep putting him out there.” If today wasn’t the first step backwards, it absolutely wasn’t a step forward. Is it time to panic? No. Maybe this means nothing, maybe this means that Ryan gets backed up and stays down here in Florida to rehab for a while, which seems to be what a lot of you out there thought should have been done in the first place.
If he can’t answer the bell, this is where the depth gets tested, and this is where Brandon League is going to have to step up and do what Casey Janssen did last year – be that dependable third guy to team with Accardo and Downs at the back of the bullpen. I think League can do it – he threw another shutout inning today, with a strikeout and two ground ball outs. The power sinker has been working to perfection, and I think this is the guy we all thought we were going to see last year. League gave up a hit, as well, but it was a little flare-looper that John McDonald almost chased down in right-centre.
A.J. Burnett wasn’t spectacular – he couldn’t throw his change-up for strikes with any consistency, and as a result had trouble putting hitters away and walked four. The wind cost him, though, turning a routine fly out into a double in the third – that led to two runs. Luis Rivas’ double to lead off the 5th was a ground ball in exactly the right place down the third-base line, but there was nothing cheap about the Nate McLouth triple that followed. And Burnett showed some of his frustration by not covering the plate on the wild pitch he threw a couple of pitches later.
After the game, he said that he’s trying to become a pitcher, not a thrower, whether he wants to or not. He said, as he has before, that he’s taking a page from Roy Halladay’s book and trying to throw every pitch with a purpose. He also said that he really wants to incorporate the change-up into his repertoire this year, and that he won’t just scrap it once he throws one bad one in the regular season. After hearing that, the intrepid Jordan Bastian had the stones to ask the question that was on everyone’s mind – “how many times have you said that before?” A.J. was self-depricating with his answer: “Seven out of seven springs – when I haven’t been hurt.” At least he’s aware that he’s been down this road before, and never followed through.
To his credit, though, Burnett added that his right index fingernail has been long enough for him to have put on an artificial nail for a week and a half to two weeks, but he hasn’t done so in order to force himself to keep working on the change-up. He’ll have the hook the next time out, though. He also said that learning to be a four-pitch pitcher (with a slider and change in addition to his sinking fastball and curveball) will keep him healthy, and that’s what got to me. If he thinks he can stay healthy and make 30-32 starts by utilizing the change, and therefore get himself a big, giant contract in the off-season (and, secondarily, feels as though he actually contributed to a team that could win a bunch of games), then he just might stick with it this time.
Tomorrow is the Jays’ lone off-day of the spring, and mine, too, though VP of communications Jay Stenhouse asked cryptically if we’d all be around tomorrow in case something happens (a long-term contract for Aaron Hill or Alex Rios, perhaps? Please, something bigger than Bill Murphy!). My answer was no. I’m leaving the ballpark in Bradenton in a few minutes and heading over to the other coast to spend tomorrow in Miami – family medical reasons, nothing bad. If something happens, I’ll find out about it and you can find out right here what I think about it!
The pre-season resumes Wednesday at noon (!) Eastern for an ESPN game against the Red Sox at Fort Myers. Brian Tallet will start for the Jays against Daisuke Matsuzaka, the last game the Sox play before jumping on a plane to Tokyo, where they’ll open the season against Oakland. Don’t read anything into Tallet starting – Shaun Marcum is staying behind, throwing in a minor-league game, so the Jays can hide him from the BoSox. Most of the regular position players are scheduled to make the trip, though.
Comments are encouraged, as always, and I feel like I’m doing more answering of them than I thought I would, it’s fun!