6:15 PM Eastern
I know I promised to provide you with daily updates in this space in the last post (which was what, Thursday?), but the dire combination of failing hotel internet service and the Fat Elvis sim league auction this past weekend held me back, sorry about that. By the way, I got killed in that auction – Brian Buscher and Chris Duncan are my first basemen. Dig me.
Anyway, I have seen the Blue Jays play four spring games so far, and I have only seen one starting pitcher give up a run, so that’s something. In the win over the Astros today, Ricky Romero was fantastic. Returning to the spot where he secured his place in the 2009 starting rotation, Romero flummoxed an Astros team that started six regulars. He said he had the best sinker he’s had in a while, and he used it to great effect, inducing ground balls from 10 of the 13 hitters he faced, while striking out two more. Brad Arnsberg, now the Astros’ pitching coach, told me afterwards that hitters came back shaking their heads at Romero’s amazing splitter, and Arnie laughed and told them it was a straight change, it’s just that good.
Romero definitely fell flat in the second half of last season, but it’s not that long ago that the one-time first-round bust was drawing favourable comparisons to Johan Santana. I still don’t think I see him ahead of Brandon Morrow and Shaun Marcum on the effectiveness spectrum, or even Dustin McGowan if he’s healthy (simulated game tomorrow morning!), but Romero is carrying himself differently this spring, the confidence on which Arnsberg worked so hard last season is there now, and it will serve him well. Romero himself is even preaching confidence and belief in oneself to some of the younger pitchers in camp, and when the talent is there, that’s often the difference.
I have seen J.P. Arencibia play in two games so far, and I have seen him hit two mammoth home runs. That bodes well. Arencibia had laser eye surgery in the off-season (after he had his kidneys fixed up – see Bastian’s story today), improving his vision from 20/50 to 20/15. He’s a confident kid, not down at all on his season last year. He feels that even though he only hit .236/.284/.444 in Vegas, his 21 homers and 75 RBIs show that he was still productive. Even if he homers in every Grapefruit League game in which he plays – and he has so far – he’s still not going to make the team, but he’s leaving a very strong impression, and that all-star breakish call-up that going into this year didn’t look like it was going to happen now very well might.
I have seen Jose Bautista, Aaron Hill, Randy Ruiz, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay look very good so far. Granted, it’s stupid early, but it’s better to look good than not. I still don’t understand why the way has been paved for Bautista to have an everyday job, but they can’t find a spot to give Ruiz a legitimate chance to play. Ruiz is older and far weaker defensively, but he’s had nothing but success as a major-league hitter. Bautista has had many years of mediocre offensive production in the big leagues.
I got to see Brett Wallace play for the first time today, and I saw massive thighs and an incredibly quick swing. Alex Anthopoulos told me that in last year’s Futures Game, Wallace faced Neftali Feliz and fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch before working a walk, which is awfully impressive, especially when you consider that Feliz had a 0.68 WHIP in the majors last season with 39 strikeouts in 31 innings. The quick swing showed itself today as well, with Wallace fouling off a few two-strike pitches in each of his first two at-bats, but he wound up 0-for-3 with a strikeout, a pop foul and a groundout. He’ll get more work over the next week and a bit, but he’ll likely be in the first round of cuts so that he can get to work with his Las Vegas teammates, hopeful of a call-up to the bigs this year.
Wallace, Travis Snider and Adam Lind will form the backbone of the offense when the Jays get good again, which could be sooner than a lot of people seem to think. The thing I have seen more than anything else, which I already knew when I got here, was that there is a serious abundance of talent here. From the pitching, with Marcum, Romero, Morrow, Rzepczynski, Cecil, Stewart, Jenkins, Farquhar and more, to that core of young hitters. This is a team that could wind up being very good in the near future.
I should mention that it was great to catch up with Brad Arnsberg, one of the reasons I was really looking forward to this trip to Kissimmee (it certainly wasn’t the ride down 192, with its seemingly-unending stretch of fast food joints, cheap hotels, 7-11s and souvenir shops). Arnie was a real treat to deal with while he was the Jays’ pitching coach, always generous with his time, always happy to talk pitching, and always putting himself in the background while shoving his charges to the forefront. He’s a lot happier now in Houston and hey, he’s got Gustavo Chacin back! And good luck to him with that. I wish Arnsberg nothing but success, he’s good people and was terrific to me, without question.
Speaking of Chacin, he worked the 6th inning today, and it was nice to see that little herky-jerky motion again. It brought back a lot of memories of a guy who always took pride in doing his job and keeping the ball down in the zone. Chacin gave up a mammoth double to Jorge Padilla – the first batter he saw – and after getting Snider to ground to first (advancing the runner), John McDonald hit a soft liner to shallow centre with the infield in to drive in the run.
Tomorrow – Dustin McGowan’s simulated game!
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome.