Archive for March, 2011
Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
1:30 PM Eastern
They couldn’t give me one day off, huh?
My flight home touched down almost exactly 12 hours ago, and I was looking forward to a down day or two, but instead, intrepid reporters Gregor Chisholm of mlb.com and John E. Lott of The National Post spread the news that this morning, John Farrell announced that Jose Bautista was moving back out to right field, Edwin Encarnacion was returning to third base, and Juan Rivera was being pulled in from the outfield to serve as the designated hitter.
It’s a major change, and on the face of it, means simply that the Blue Jays feel they’re better defensively with Encarnacion at third and Bautista in right than with Bautista at third and Rivera in right. It means that the Blue Jays were so unimpressed by Rivera’s work in the outfield they figure they’re better off living with Encarnacion at third.
I can’t believe it’s that simple.
Yes, Edwin looks a lot better this spring. He’s lost weight, he’s faster and more agile. Thing is, he was always a great defensive third baseman. He got to a ton of balls and made terrific plays on tough grounders with regularity. He just couldn’t throw. I don’t see how losing weight and gaining agility is going to help him throw the ball where he wants it to go. His throwing certainly hadn’t improved significantly the times I saw him at third this spring.
To me, this is more about how unimpressed the Blue Jays were with Rivera in the outfield. He didn’t stand out to me as being especially awful, and he even threw out a couple of runners at the plate. Now that I think about it, though, I can recall three or four fly balls to right that should have been caught but weren’t. I don’t get a good view of right field from the broadcast booth, so I didn’t see every jump he got or every route he took, but I guess Rivera was a lot worse than they’d hoped – so bad, in fact, that they’d rather put a guy who made 18 errors in 95 games back at third base.
Don’t think Encarnacion is going to play all year at third, though. This move greases the skids for an even earlier than expected call-up for Brett Lawrie. Lawrie was in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse before the rain-shortened game with the Red Sox, and I didn’t think anything of it, because guys get called up from the minor-league complex all the time. But then he didn’t play in the game – maybe the adverse conditions had them keep him out – which would be unusual for a minor-leaguer, especially one of his stature.
I don’t think Lawrie is going to get called up to break camp with the Blue Jays as the DH, while learning to play third from Brian Butterfield, and eventually switch positions with Encarnacion a couple of months into the season, but it could happen.
That’s, of course, predicated on the Blue Jays being able to move Rivera – and with lots of teams trying to figure out a trade market for their players who are out-of-options over the course of the next three days, that could be a possibility.
As well, the fact that Adam Lind has shown that he can handle poor throws at first base is a big bonus. His hands are very good, he picks the ball very well on bad throws, so having Edwin over there isn’t going to kill him (though maybe Jon Rauch at first would be the best option). I’m more worried that Encarnacion is going to get Aaron Hill killed, which almost happened at least half a dozen times last season.
Maybe he has made great strides in his throwing, but it’s hard to believe that Encarnacion can now do something that he hasn’t been able to do for the first six years of his major-league career. Something that the Blue Jays were so convinced he wasn’t going to be able to fix that when they brought him back they swore up and down his days as a third baseman were over.
What changed their minds? Two things – just how well Lawrie took to third, and just how bad Rivera looked in right.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that there might be something else coming.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Monday, March 28th, 2011
7:40 PM Eastern
Never before have I spent a Spring Training in such consistently gorgeous weather, and this was my 11th trip down here. This spring – aside from ridiculous amounts of pollen that turned the broadcast booth into merely an echo chamber for my sneezes – was phenomenal. But for one morning, the sun shone, temperatures were in the mid-to-high 20s, and it was beautiful.
I say this not to rub it in to those of you who spent the last six weeks back home in Toronto (I managed to get into the pool all of twice), but to both point out that the Blue Jays were able to get in pretty much all their work outside, on the field, uninterrupted and to point out that it would have been a lot nicer had today’s ugliness just waited one more day until I was out of town.
But for a few brief respites, it rained all day today in Dunedin, starting around 9:00, pausing for an hour at about 10:00, and then again at noon. As soon as the national anthems were done, it started raining again, and the Blue Jays and Red Sox dodged raindrops for five innings until the umpires pulled both teams off the field in a deluge. They got back in action 33 minutes later, Kyle Drabek having already thrown a simulated sixth inning under cover, and made it through another two and a half innings before pulling the plug during the seventh-inning stretch.
I understand that the Red Sox came a long way, and I understand the stadium waa full and there were hot dogs and beer to be sold, but this is a game that never should have been played, never mind restarted after five. The infield was fine, but the warning tracks were drenched and there were puddles all over the outfield. Luckily, no one got hurt.
Kyle Drabek showed well, throwing five real fake innings and allowing only a run on five hits before throwing one more inning under cover. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out five, making good strides towards Saturday afternoon’s start at Rogers Centre against Francisco Liriano and the Twins. Drabek goes out looking for his first major-league win, in his fourth attempt.
Aaron Hill had another good day. After being tested both on the field and off yesterday, he let loose again, ripping a pair of doubles, one scoring a run. His pinch-runner scored on a Juan Rivera single on the other double, because all the regulars came out after two at-bats due to the adverse conditions. After the game, Hill wasn’t quite willing to declare himself 100% fit, but there’s no longer any question that he’ll be able to answer the bell on Friday.
The Red Sox wound up with a win, because – not to take anything away from some kid named Jeremy Hazelbaker – some kid named Jeremy Hazelbaker took Carlos Villanueva deep with a runner on and one out in the 7th in the pouring rain. After the game, I asked John Farrell if there was anything to be gleaned from Villanueva and Casey Janssen’s performances, coming as they did in an incessant, driving rain. His answer was, simply, they got their work in.
Here are today’s collected works of audio, first the starting pitcher., Kyle Drabek:
Aaron Hill gave us a moment, as well:
And here are John Farrell’s post-game comments, mostly about Drabek and Hill:
Tomorrow, the Blue Jays wrap up the Grapefruit League portion of their schedule (I don’t know why, but Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Rays isn’t considered “Grapefruit League” – probably because it’s being played in a major-league stadium) as Brett Cecil takes the ball, searching for his missing fastball. I won’t be there, my sojourn down south is over. Corey Patterson, however, is likely to play in that game.
The next you’ll hear from me will be on Thursday afternoon, when I host Prime Time Sports (Dig me!) along with Stephen Brunt from 3:00 to 6:00pm Eastern. It’s going to be kind of baseball-heavy.
Make sure you follow me on Twitter @Wilnerness590!
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome, and will be answered!
Sunday, March 27th, 2011
11:45 PM Eastern
Sorry for the lateness of this post, but the THROW Rookie Draft went down tonight (I came out of it with John Jaso, Brent Morel, Tyson Ross and Tommy Manzella – don’t judge!), so that had to be tended to.
It was our final broadcast of the spring (Sportsnet TV still has one more, on Wednesday afternoon), and with the radio spotlight on him, the Blue Jays’ new leadoff man took it upon himself to make a rather loud introduction to the populace. Rajai Davis led the Jays 20-hit attack with five of his own; two singles, two doubles and a triple. He missed the cycle by just one total base, depending on how you look at things.
Davis put the cherry on top with his first stolen base of the spring – you can expect at least 40 of those during the regular season, and I’m thinking he has a very good chance of breaking the all-time single-season Blue Jays record of 60, set by Dave Collins back in 1984. He stole third on the first pitch after his first-inning line shot to deep left that Robert Andino butchered into a double.
Davis is going to be a really exciting player for Jays watchers to get to see everyday. He has tremendous speed and puts it to great use both on the bases and in the outfield. As well, Davis believes that he is now a far different, and much better hitter than he has been to this point (he’s a lifetime .281/.330/.383 in parts of five big-league seasons). Dwayne Murphy has helped him simplify; he now goes to the plate looking fastball and adjusts from there, instead of looking for everything.
Yunel Escobar had a big day at the plate as well – he drove in five runs with a double, a homer and a groundout. Very quietly, Escobar has had a sensational spring. He’s hitting .414/.469/.552 with the second-most at-bats on the team behind Edwin Encarnacion. Escobar was a very, very good offensive player from 2007 to 2009, and I don’t think we saw what he’s really capable of doing last year.
Also, Aaron Hill was the best I’ve seen him so far this spring. He made a sprawling play to his left to haul in a Tyler Henson grounder and start an inning-ending double play in the 5th, and went 3-for-3 at the plate. Included in those three hits were a liner to left field that got cut off before it got to the corner; Hill had to explode out of the box AND find another gear coming around first, sliding into second for a double. He also beat out an infield single in the 5th. We’ll see how he feels in the morning, but for now, my concerns about his quad are gone.
Neither Corey Patterson nor John McDonald played in the game, but both are expected to do so tomorrow. Patterson got his heart rate up on the exercise bike to see if there were any post-concussion symptoms. I saw him afterwards and asked him if he puked. He said no, so that’s a very good sign. McDonald hasn’t played since March 18th because of a sore arm, but told me he’d be in there tomorrow.
Before the game, another round of cuts were made, and only 27 healthy players remain in camp. It’s pretty apparent that Jonathan Diaz and Ryan Budde aren’t going to make the team, so we know what the final roster is, barring any injuries or trades the rest of the way:
Pitchers (12): Shawn Camp, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Jon Rauch, Jo-Jo Reyes, Ricky Romero, Marc Rzepczynski, Carlos Villanueva
Catchers (2): J.P. Arencibia, Jose Molina
Infielders (7): Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Yunel Escobar, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Mike McCoy, John McDonald
Outfielders (4): Rajai Davis, Corey Patterson, Juan Rivera, Travis Snider
Starting the season on the disabled list will be: Jesse Carlson, Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco, Dustin McGowan and Brandon Morrow
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 Toronto Blue Jays!
Here are the collected works of audio from today. First, Ricky Romero, after allowing five runs on eight hits (no walks!) in 5 1/3 innings:
And, Mr. Five Hits himself, Rajai Davis:
Tomorrow, the Blue Jays stay home in Dunedin and meet the Boston Red Sox for the second time in four days. Kyle Drabek will make his final start of the spring, in preparation for Saturday afternoon’s regular-season affair against the Twinkies. He’ll face John Lackey. It’ll be my last game of what’s been a pretty sensational spring so far. There’s no radio coverage, nor is there any TV, so follow me on Twitter @Wilnerness590 for all the updates!
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome, and will be answered!
Saturday, March 26th, 2011
5:00 PM Eastern
What happened at the ballpark this afternoon didn’t seem nearly as important as what went on down in Fort Myers last night – a game that saw J.P. Arencibia miss the cycle by a triple, Adam Loewen go deep and both Corey Patterson and Jesse Litsch wind up in the hospital in an 11-8 win over the Red Sox.
The biggest issue was with Patterson, who was drilled in the back of the head by a 97 mph fastball from Daniel Bard. Miraculously, though, Patterson appears to be completely unhurt, save for a little bump on the noggin. He never lost consciousness, got nauseous or suffered any other concussion-type symptoms and his CT scan was fine. Patterson was in the clubhouse this morning feeling well, though he didn’t do anything today. Tomorrow, he’ll climb on the exercise bike, get his heart rate up and see how well he feels then. If he’s OK, he’ll be in the line-up on Monday and will be fine to come north with the team after Wednesday afternoon’s game with the Rays.
Litsch was in the clubhouse this morning as well, and felt fine. He simply didn’t hydrate properly in the severe humidity of Fort Myers and, as his manager said, he’s a guy who sweats a lot. Litsch started feeling shaky in the third inning last night, and when he reached his pitch count and went back to the clubhouse, he actually started shaking, which led to a couple of bags of fluid being pumped into him intravenously. He didn’t work out today, but he was out there throwing with his teammates. Litsch says he’ll be completely fine to start Thursday in a minor-league game, which will be his final outing before his April 6th start against the Oakland A’s.
As far as today went, Drew Hutchison sure put himself on the map. The 20 year-old, who split last year between short-season Auburn and low-A Lansing, got the call to fill in for Kyle Drabek, whose start was pushed back a couple of days to accommodate his new schedule, with Brandon Morrow on the disabled list and all. Hutchison may have only faced a split squad of Philbos, but it was one that included regulars Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz – and the kid was brilliant.
Scheduled for four innings, Hutchison allowed one hit and one walk through those four frames, facing just one batter over the minimum. He came back out for the 5th, and got a couple of pop-ups and a weak grounder – but Jose Bautista threw the grounder away, extending the inning for Ruiz, who went deep down the left-field line for a two-run homer to end Hutchison’s day. He deserved better, but he couldn’t have been much better. Combined, Victorino, Rollins, Howard and Francisco went 0-for-8 against him – talk about opening some eyes.
Hutchison was a guy nobody knew going into this afternoon – and that includes John Farrell and Bruce Walton. That’s certainly not the case anymore. While he’s still a few years away, he’s definitely on the radar now.
Bautista had a big day at the plate, with three doubles in four trips – and he should have had four, but Victorino robbed him with a sensational catch at the wall in dead centre in the 5th. Rajai Davis had one of those spectacular catches as well – the effortlessness with which he appears to close on a ball is really something to see – taking extra bases away from Rollins in the first. Davis went deep his own self – tying Edwin Encarnacion for the club spring lead with his fourth of the Grapefruit season, a solo shot off Ryan Madson in the 5th. Yunel Escobar also pitched in with three hits of his own, continuing his torrid spring.
Casey Janssen pitched a perfect 7th, then got bitten by the bad-luck bug in the 8th. He got a grounder to second, which was kicked by Callix Crabbe for an inning-opening error, then induced a harmless pop-up from Luis Castillo that was placed in exactly the right spot to fall in for a bloop single between the shortstop and centrefielder. Instead of two out and nobody on there were two on and nobody out. Janssen then walked Rollins and gave up a ground single up the middle that scored a pair. On came Jon Rauch, who popped up Francisco to shallow right, but Adam Loewen broke late and his diving attempt came up short. That reloaded the bases, and Rauch got a pop-up (which was caught!) and a strikeout and had two strikes on Ruiz, but walked him to force in the tying run.
In the top of the 9th, sweet retribution. Crabbe got a chance to shake off the goat horns, coming to the plate with two on and two out, and he did, hitting a rope to right for a single, scoring pinch-runner Nate Contreras with what proved to be the winning run, and the Blue Jays made the eight-minute drive back to Dunedin with smiles on their faces.
Here are the collected works of audio from today’s affair, first, the kid himself, Happy Drew Hutchison:
Now, the pre-game stuff. First Corey Patterson:
And the pre-game comments from John Farrell, who addresses both Patterson and Litsch’s situations, but also updates Scott Podsednik’s condition (the cast is off), talks about the importance of seeing Aaron Hill in “A” games, even though it means they can’t backdate a trip to the disabled list if he’s not ready, and raves about Adam Loewen:
Finally, here’s this afternoon’s edition of The JaysTalk, for your listening pleasure:
Tomorrow, the Blue Jays take on a split squad of Baltimore Orioles back at the FAES. Ricky Romero will make his last start before Opening Night, facing righty Jeremy Guthrie. We’re expecting to see John McDonald in the line-up; he hasn’t played since March 18th. We’ll have the game for you along our entire Blue Jays Radio Network, including our flagship Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 – it’s our last fake broadcast of the spring! We start things up at 12:30 pm Eastern, so make sure to tune us in!
Please follow me on Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome, and will be answered!
Friday, March 25th, 2011
4:30 PM Eastern
The Blue Jays hit the road in a big way tonight, heading a few hours down I-75 to Fort Myers to meet up with the Boston Red Sox. It’s a long trip, it’s a night game, and there’s a day game tomorrow so what the Blue Jays are sending on the bus isn’t exactly a fair representation of the ballclub. Jesse Litsch is starting, and there will only be two guys in the game who will be in the starting line-up on Opening Day – J.P. Arencibia is catching and Edwin Encarnacion gets a start at third base. Corey Patterson and Mike McCoy are there, too, as are the kids.
All the regulars were at the FAES in Dunedin to work out this morning, so we headed there and had the chance to talk to a few, including Octavio Dotel, who is going to start the season on the disabled list.
Dotel told the assemblage he had a plan that would have him ready for Opening Day – he’d throw tomorrow, Monday and Wednesday, then when everyone was off on Thursday, he’d get an inning in then, too, giving him the back-to-back outings he feels he needs in order to be ready to answer the bell. It was a well thought-out plan, and quite lovely in the abstract, but it won’t be put into practice. The Blue Jays don’t feel right about having Dotel pitch every other day quite yet, and they feel as though the timetable he’s set out is a little too short. He’s going to keep pitching in minor-league games for now, and will start the season on the disabled list.
We also spoke to Bruce Walton about Brett Cecil’s lack of velocity this spring, and the Blue Jays’ pitching coach isn’t worried at all. The man the Blue Jays affectionately call “Pappy” says that this has happened to Cecil every year, at different points in the season – and besides, the main goal is to get people out, and Cecil has done that. He’s only had two bad innings all spring, even with the reduced velocity. Walton agreed with me, laughingly, that if Mike McCoy had turned that double play in the 6th inning yesterday, this wouldn’t even be a story. He’s willing to try whatever Cecil wants to do in an attempt to regain those lost miles-per-hour, but believes that chances are the velocity will return when it wants to, no matter what they do.
According to Cecil’s Twitter feed (@CEC0208), Cecil took a dip in the cold tub today for the first time this spring – because he’s willing to try anything at this point. Walton walked by and, with a smile, asked if his fastball was in there. That story reminds me of a few springs ago, when a coach was watching an aging veteran throw a bullpen, trying to make one last gasp at a career resurgence. He looked at us and said “If anyone of you finds a curveball lying around, pick it up and give it to that guy – he could use one.”
John Farrell was gracious enough to meet with the media before the bus left, since none of the assembled reporters are making the trip to Fort Myers. He told us that Jesse Carlson saw Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday and got a PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) shot in his left biceps tendon. Carlson doesn’t need surgery, but he needed the shot to help speed his recovery. He’s still unable to throw, and there’s no timetable for his return to action.
Farrell also spoke glowingly about Juan Rivera. The guy most fans seem to think is only here because the Blue Jays can’t trade him is seen by his manager as a luxury in the eighth spot in the batting order because of his pop and his savvy at the plate. Those clips are included in the audio package below, as are Farrell’s comments on J.P. Arencibia,who he hopes tears the cover off the ball this season.
Farrell also said that part of Don Wakamatsu’s job – part of the job description of whoever they were going to hire as bench coach – was to help control the running game. Wakamatsu will work with the catchers, signalling in pitch-outs and throws over, but whoever is behind the plate will be in charge of calling the game.
Here are today’s collected works of audio, first Bruce Walton:
And now John Farrell:
Tomorrow, the Blue Jays will make a far shorter road trip – about two and a half hours shorter, in fact – as they hook up with a split-squad of Phillies in Clearwater. With the injury to Brandon Morrow having forced Kyle Drabek to move up into the second spot in the rotation, there’s a big hole for the Saturday afternoon start, so the call has gone all the way down to A-ball for 20 year-old Drew Hutchison. The young righty was a 19th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2009, and posted a 1.109 WHIP in Auburn and Lansing last season, making 15 starts and finishing 2-3 with a 2.49 ERA, striking out 63 in 68 1/3 innings and allowing only two home runs. He’s scheduled to go four and will be followed by Chad Cordero, Casey Janssen for two innings and Jon Rauch. As of now, the 6th inning is set to be pitched by a question mark.
The only position players in camp who will not be making the trip to Clearwater are Encarnacion and Patterson – who play tonight in Fort Myers – and John McDonald, who will be back in the line-up on Sunday when the Blue Jays host a split-squad of Orioles.
We will have both weekend games for you on the full Blue Jays Radio Network, including our flagship Sportsnet Radio the Fan 590, so be sure to tune us in starting at 12:30 PM Eastern. On tomorrow’s pre-game, Jerry will have John Farrell and I’ll speak to player who has the longest current tenure with the Blue Jays - none other than Jason Frasor.
Remember to follow me on Twitter @Wilnerness590 – I’ll answer your tweets on the air during the pre-game!
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Thursday, March 24th, 2011
5:30 PM Eastern
It’s funny, if Mike McCoy had been able to turn Matt Young’s hard-hit ground ball into a double play, the sixth inning would have ended with the Blue Jays leading 3-0 and Brett Cecil having thrown six innings of three hit shutout, walking none and striking out five.
If that had happened, Cecil’s frustration may not have boiled over and we may never have learned that he has experienced a mystifying drop in velocity all spring.
Instead, McCoy’s error prolonged the inning, and Cecil wound up allowing back-to-back RBI ground singles to Brandon Hicks and Jason Heyward to tie the game, then Dan Uggla took a high fastball into the trees in left-centre for a three-run shot (his first homer of the spring) and just like that, the Braves had put up a five-spot and Cecil was done for the day. The fastball that Uggla caught up to was somewhere between 84-87 miles an hour, where Cecil feels he would generally have it somewhere between 90-92. The faster pitch is far more likely to get fouled off – the slower version gets turned around in a hurry.
In the clubhouse afterwards, Cecil was completely baffled by the fact that his fastball isn’t where he wants it. He says he feels great, his arm is strong, his command is there – even the fastball is going where he wants it to go, it’s just not going fast enough, and no one knows why. Ricky Romero, with whom Cecil consulted before he came over to talk to the media, suggested that he might be trying to be too fine with the fastball – aiming it, which would lead to a drop in speed. Cecil thinks he might be gripping the ball too hard on the fastball, which would get it out of his hand slightly more slowly. Manager John Farrell thinks that his velocity may simply not be built up the way it will be later in the season. Thing is, no one seems at all concerned, and there are no plans to seek medical advice.
Farrell’s theory may well be the best one. Truth is, we have never seen Cecil through an entire spring training before. Two years ago, he wasn’t a candidate to make the team and was farmed out relatively early. No one really paid much attention to him beyond the “young kid is opening eyes/will be here sooner than you think” stories. Last year, because of the Chicken Salad incident, Cecil missed the middle three weeks of Spring Training and pitched the first three weeks of the season in Las Vegas. Maybe this is the way his arm shapes up in March. Or maybe if it hasn’t in the past, maybe it’s the way it’s going to – after all, he has only recently been converted to starting – maybe Spring Training will be about building velocity for him.
At any rate, no one is worried right now – and even with his reduced velocity, Cecil did pitch well enough that he should have had six innings of three-hit shutout against a decent Atlanta line-up. Cecil said that if he’s still throwing 83-84 at the all-star break, that’s when he’ll get concerned. If the velocity doesn’t come around a lot sooner than that, lots of people will be concerned for him a lot earlier than mid-July. Right now, though, there don’t seem to be any alarm bells ringing. Cecil is scheduled to pitch again on Tuesday night against the Orioles; his last start before April 3rd – Game 3 of the regular season – against the Twins.
In other news, Marc Rzepczynski looked great again in his one-inning stint in the 7th. Again he faced a couple of lefties and again he retired them both. Farrell continues to be impressed, and my money is on Zep making the team as the situational late-inning lefty. He’s going to have to deal with some big lefty bats late in games, but he’s got the great slider that should be able to get the job done far more often than not.
Here are the collected works of audio from today, first from Brett Cecil:
Here’s Ricky Romero, about what Cecil is going through and about the rotation in general:
Here’s a quick little conversation with Rzepczynski:
And here’s John Farrell:
Tomorrow, the Blue Jays play their second night game in three……ummm, nights. They’re headed way down the road to Fort Myers to take on the Red Sox. Jesse Litsch makes his penultimate start of the spring, and is scheduled to throw six innings and be followed by David Purcey and Carlos Villanueva; Josh Beckett is starting for the Bosox.
The travel squad is as follows: Litsch, Purcey, Villanueva, Winston Abreu, Sean Henn, Mike Hinckley, Wilfredo Ledezma, Rommie Lewis, J.P. Arencibia, Ryan Budde, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Edwin Encarnacion, Mike McCoy, Corey Patterson, Eric Thames, Anthony Gose, Adam Loewen, Chris Woodward, Kevin Ahrens, Jason Lane and four as-yet-unnamed minor-leaguers; a catcher, an infielder and two outfielders.
It’s a night game, and it’s a 2 1/2 hour drive each way, so I won’t be heading down to the game – we’re broadcasting Saturday afternoon’s game against the Phillies and I really don’t want to be getting home at 3 AM Saturday morning. Also, there’s a significant dearth of major-league talent on the bus to City of Palms Park. I’ll be here at the FAES in the morning to talk to some of the guys who aren’t making the trip and to help out Jeff Blair with his morning show. Then I’ll probably go over and watch Aaron Hill DH in a minor-league game.
Remember to follow me on Twitter @wilnerness590!
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome, and will be answered!
Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
10:50 PM Eastern
That’s what Reyes told us he thinks when he’s out there on the mound, and that’s what he was tonight, throwing six beautiful innings of two-hit shutout at the Yankees, walking one and striking out four before tiring in the 7th and putting a couple of hitters on before handing things over to David Purcey.
On a bad news day for the Blue Jays that saw Brandon Morrow hit the disabled list, Reyes brought some positive vibes back with a terrific performance against what should be the Yankees’ Opening Day line-up.
Granted, it was a night game on an A-ball field, and the lights aren’t big-league quality – it was still a dominant performance. Reyes would have locked up a spot in the rotation with this outing regardless, but the injury to Morrow just makes it easier to put him in. He’ll start the fourth game of the season, April 5th against Oakland.
It’ll be interesting to see if Reyes can carry his spring success (he’s only had one bad inning; it’s been a little ridiculous) into the regular season. This will be the first time he’s ever broken camp as a member of a major-league rotation, and in his history in the bigs he’s been someone who hasn’t been able to throw strikes on a consistent basis, which has been his downfall. That certainly hasn’t been the case this spring, and he says it’s because he’s taking a Halladayesque “next pitch” approach to the mound, along with being a bad S.O.B. He’s no longer overthinking, no longer letting a bad result get to him, and he’s following the Bruce Walton mantra of “pound down”. If it sticks, the Blue Jays have themselves a real find.
Aaron Hill looked a million times better tonight than he did yesterday. He doubled in the game’s first run with a shot into the left-field corner that short-hopped the wall, and ran hard out of the box. He didn’t seem to slow down until about 2/3 of the way up the line, and he easily coasted into second. He told me after the game that he didn’t even think about his leg running out of the box, and now it’s just getting past the mental side of things, getting to the point where he’s not afraid to let loose. That’s a great sign, because based on yesterday I would have given Hill no chance of coming north with the team. Now I think he’ll be ok for Opening Day.
The Morrow story is the biggest of the day, obviously. He complained of soreness following his side session the other day, and told the Blue Jays he didn’t think he should pitch his scheduled minor-league outing today, so they gave him an MRI and found some inflammation in his right forearm, near the elbow. The Jays did what they believe is the prudent thing and put Morrow on the disabled list – retroactive to yesterday, so he can be activated April 6th and could potentially miss only one start. Morrow was surprised to be placed on the DL, but the extra-cautious approach is more than likely the right one, especially with a guy whose innings are going to be limited to the extent that he wouldn’t be able to make every start in the season anyway.
With Morrow on the DL, Kyle Drabek will get a couple of extra days off this week so that he can slot into Morrow’s spot in the rotation. Drabek will start the second game of the season, following Ricky Romero and ahead of Brett Cecil. Reyes gets the fourth game, and Jesse Litsch the fifth. With three lefties in the rotation, you were going to wind up with two in a row at some point. At least this way, the season starts with the back-to-back lefties facing different teams, though I’m not sure just how big a deal the whole two-lefties-in-a-row thing is anyway. No one ever complains about having two righties in a row in a rotation.
Time for the collected works of audio. First, the exclusive one-on-one with Aaron Hill:
Here are some clips from Jo-Jo Reyes:
Here’s what John Farrell had to say before the game, mostly about Morrow, but also about Rzepczynski, who looks to have a pretty secure spot as a late-inning bullpen lefty:
And here’s what Farrell had to say after the game, mostly about Reyes:
Tomorrow, the Blue Jays host the Braves at the FAES, with Brett Cecil taking on Jair Jurrjens. It’s the first day game after a night game of the spring, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of line-up the Blue Jays put out there behind Cecil. We will be broadcasting the game for you on bluejays.com starting at 1:05 PM Eastern, so tune in to hear the dulcet tones of Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby – it’s our final webcast of the spring!
Make sure you follow me on Twitter – my handle has changed to @Wilnerness590 so please make the appropriate adjustments.
Rational, reasonable comments are welcome, and will be answered!
Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011
5:35 PM Eastern
Jonathan Diaz grounded into a double play with the tying run on second base to end the ballgame and deny Chris Woodward the opportunity for a walkoff in his first real fake game back with the Blue Jays, but that wasn’t secondary -or even tertiary – to the events of the day.
Today was all about health, and it was all about good news.
Ricky Romero came back from missing a start with a finger injury and felt great – too strong, he said - and he wound up throwing four innings and though the line wasn’t pretty, he really did hit his stride after a rough first inning. Romero faced 16 hitters and gave up two hard-hit balls (one of which went out to left-centre for a three-run homer by Raul Ibanez). He didn’t walk anybody, struck out four, and upon leaving the game went back to the bullpen to throw an addition ten pitches, getting his total workload up to 74 for the day. He’ll go up to 90 next time out and be ready to go full bore on Opening Day.
Aaron Hill made his first appearance in a real fake game this spring, and it was quite apparent that he’d been told to take it easy. Hill went 0-for-3 with a pop-up, a fly out and a ground out, so he only had to run out of the batters’ box once, and he did so very gingerly, jogging down the line. There were a couple of pop flies down the first-base line that Hill would normally have hauled in, but he didn’t even approach them, and he looked exceedingly guarded going after an Ibanez ground ball in the 3-4 hole in the 6th inning that wound up getting through. But that was what the Blue Jays wanted from him. To get him into a game, see some real pitching, and not have him aggravate the injury. Hill is scheduled to be in the line-up tomorrow night against the Yankees for another test run, and he said he wants to play everyday from here on out (with the natural exception of Friday night’s game in Fort Myers – a three-hour bus trip away).
In talking to Hill after the game, he didn’t seem upset at having to not play at full speed, but he did say something that stood out to me – and the clips are below – he said that he’ll be ready Opening Day, but then said something about the team having to decide if it’s worth having him at eighty or ninety percent. Please don’t panic, but hearing that is the first time I’ve actually thought that Hill might not come north with the team on April 1st. Of course, so long as they keep playing him in real fake games, they lose the opportunity to backdate a DL stint, which is good news.
Chad Cordero made his Grapefruit debut as a Blue Jay, as well. The one-time Nationals all-star closer, who has been fighting his way back from shoulder problems for a few years, gave up a bloop single (that a healthy Hill probably gets) and a soft liner over first, but also threw a wild pitch and hit a batter in giving up a run in his one inning of work. Cordero isn’t a candidate to break with the team, but his return to the majors may not be that far off.
The other good news on the health front came from Birmingham, Alabama, where Dr. James Andrews reported that Frank Francisco’s shoulder is structurally sound. There are issues in his right pectoral muscle and right biceps muscle, but only inflammation, and Francisco will resume a throwing program on Sunday. It’s great news, but it’s still going to be almost impossible for Francisco to be ready for Opening Day. The Blue Jays are hoping his stint on the disabled list won’t be a long one, and Jon Rauch will take over as closer until he’s ready, at least.
In keeping with the good news theme of the day, Marc Rzepczynski made his first appearance since being told he’s now a reliever, and looked terrific. He faced a couple of left-handed hitters and struck them both out, giving up only a seeing-eye single to Ben Francisco in his one inning of work. Manager John Farrell raved about Zep after the game, saying that he would definitely be a weapon for the Blue Jays as a reliever and loving the lefty on lefty breaking ball he showed.
One more thing about the game that has nothing to do with health or comebacks or anything, but it should be noted that once again J.P. Arencibia flashed a tremendous throwing arm, nailing a couple of Phillies baserunners trying to steal. He got Michael Martinez headed for third with a beautiful throw in the second inning, then took care of Ben Francisco trying to nab second in the third. Both terrific throws, right on the money, just as he’s done all spring. Arencibia also went 1-for-2 with a walk and a hard line single to centre.
Tomorrow, it’s a night game in Tampa against the Yankees, with Jo-Jo Reyes being given another opportunity to show he belongs in the season-opening starting rotation. Reyes is scheduled to throw six innings, and if he looks as good as he did last time out, he may very well take a spot from Jesse Litsch or Kyle Drabek. If he gets his tail kicked, look for him to be moved to the bullpen pretty much right away. Regardless, he’s going to make the team if he’s healthy – the Blue Jays don’t want to give him away for nothing; he’s out of option so he’d have to go through waivers in order to be sent down. David Purcey and Rauch are scheduled to follow. Phil Hughes is scheduled to start for the Yankees. We won’t have the game on the radio or on mlb.com, but the fine folks over at Rogers Sportsnet TV will be broadcasting it! You can still follow me on Twitter, though, @InTheWilnerness – keep an eye out, that handle will be changing very soon!
Here are the collected works of audio from today, and plenty of them:
First, Ricky Romero on his return to the rotation:
Aaron Hill on his 2011 Grapefruit debut:
Here’s a short one-on-one with Chad Cordero:
A couple of clips from Marc Rzepczynski:
And finally, the skipper himself, John Farrell:
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome – there are a few in the hopper to which I haven’t been able to get yet, but I will either by game time tomorrow or before.
Sunday, March 20th, 2011
5:03 PM Eastern
……..that son-of-a-Litsch can pitch.
Jesse Litsch has been the favourite of plenty of Blue Jays fans to kick around the last couple of years, with the majority seemingly having completely forgotten that he was legitimately one of the best starting pitchers in the American League in 2008, and that as a 22 year-old in 2007, had a fine rookie season.
When he’s on, he controls the strike zone and keeps hitters off-balance with a strong cut fastball - whether he’s on or not, he fields his position exceptionally well. No, he doesn’t look the part, but yes, he has always done the job.
Throw out last year, when he came back less than 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery and got knocked around in every other outing he had. He’s healthy now, strong and recovered, and can certainly contribute to a big-league starting rotation, even one as good as the Jays’. In fact that his presence makes it that much better.
Today, Litsch fervently stated his case for the 4th spot for which he’d already been pencilled in, throwing 5 1/3 innings of three-hit shutout. He didn’t walk anybody and struck out seven, four of those coming with a Twin hitter’s bat still on his shoulders. He was only scheduled to throw five innings, but Litsch had only thrown 60 pitches through five so they sent him back out for the 6th to strike out Jason Repko on three pitches before giving way to David Purcey. I’m not sure Litsch allowed more than two hard-hit balls all afternoon. It was an incredibly impressive performance.
I’m not sure if this has come through, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Litsch back as a regular in the rotation.
Travis Snider had a big day as well, belting a two-run rocket out to right-centre in the bottom of the 8th to give the Blue Jays some breathing room, and he followed it up with a sensational catch along the warning track in the top of the 9th to help Jon Rauch in his perfect 9th inning for the save. I’m still amazed at how many people believe that Snider isn’t a capable defensive outfielder and lacks speed. Neither idea is even remotely close to the truth.
It was interesting to see how John Farrell used his bullpen today – he’d said that one of the reasons he was comfortable having Rauch be his closer if Frank Francisco can’t answer the bell is that Shawn Camp and Jason Frasor had histories of being able to handle the 7th and 8th innings, respectively, and handle them well.
Today -with the news that Francisco is headed to Dr. James Andrews’ office for a look-see on his sore right shoulder – Camp pitched the 7th, Frasor the 8th and Rauch the 9th. It seems as though that’s the way things are going to break, though Octavio Dotel still has a shot at coming north with the team if his hamstring heals quickly enough. I can’t imagine there’s any way that Francisco comes north with the club, and now it appears as though his entire season may be in doubt. I don’t want to start any sort of panic, but Dr. Andrews plus shoulder doesn’t generally equal happy things. It could be nothing, but even if it’s nothing, he’s not going to throw a pitch until Wednesday at the absolute earliest, which means Rauch is the closer for at least a while.
The big news this morning was that Marc Rzepczynski is no longer a candidate for the rotation, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. Zep wasn’t actually starting any games and was behind the other starters as far as innings buildup, though he was still being sent out to throw multiple innings. I’m a big Rzepczynski fan, and think he can be an asset in the big leagues as a starter, but there are five guys better than him on this team right now and a sixth, Jo-Jo Reyes, who is out of options. We haven’t found out whether Zep will go back into the rotation if he winds up down in Las Vegas, but odds are he’s going to wind up down in Las Vegas, so we’ll find out soon enough.
I’m confident that Reyes makes the team because of the options situation, that the same applies to David Purcey, and that Casey Janssen and Carlos Villanueva step into the spots vacated by Dotel and Francisco’s trips to the disabled list. Of course, they could decide they want a third lefty and keep Rzepczynski.
Reyes and Kyle Drabek are in competition for the 5th spot in the rotation, and Drabek will throw six innings in a minor-league game tomorrow while Reyes is set to do the same Wednesday night against the Yankees. I got the feeling the last time I talked to John Farrell that Drabek has a clear edge in any battle to win a spot in the rotation, so that’s why I’m thinking that way.
Tomorrow, the Blue Jays are off – with the exceptions of Drabek and Aaron Hill, who will continue to prep for his real fake game debut, scheduled to come Tuesday afternoon against the Phillies. Ricky Romero will start that game against Cliff Lee. No radio, no TV, no webcast for that game, so keep an eye on my Twitter feed @InTheWilnerness.
The collected works of audio from today are as follows:
Clips from Jesse Litsch, on his fine performance:
A short one-on-one with J.P. Arencibia, done after he came out of the game (love his response to the question about his offensive “struggles” this spring):
And, finally, this afternoon’s brief edition of The JaysTalk, for your listening pleasure:
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Saturday, March 19th, 2011
5:05 PM Eastern
The Blue Jays played to a tie for the first time this spring, ending the festivities with the Yankees after a scoreless 10th inning and remaining unbeaten against The Bronx Bombers in 2011.
It wasn’t a pretty start for Brett Cecil, who struggled with his control all afternoon. Derek Jeter led off the game with a ground single to left that kicked off the glove of a diving Brett Lawrie, but two outs later he was still standing at second. That was when the Yanks got to work – an Alex Rodriguez double down the left field line (past a diving-the-other-way Lawrie) scored Jeter, then Robinson Cano ended one of several long at-bats with a two-run shot to right-centre. Cecil then hit Jorge Posada – just grazing his jersey – and walked Andruw Jones before getting Austin Romine on a weak grounder to third.
That was it for the scoring, but not for the grind, as Cecil still had 68 (by my unofficial count) pitches in him to get the 10 outs he managed to get after that 30-pitch frame. Even into the fourth inning, there was a point at which he’d thrown an equal number of balls and strikes, but he settled down in sailing through that fourth before running into trouble again in the fifth and winding up out of bullets.
His teammates came back for him, finally getting to Freddy Garcia the second time around. After he’d retired the first nine Blue Jays in order, Garcia didn’t get any of the first four on the next trip through the line-up, though he’d earned one. With runners on the corners, Eric Thames hit a grounder in the 3-4 hole on which Mark Teixeira made a nice diving play to his right. Teixeira got up firing towards the plate, but Rajai Davis managed to scamper back to third ahead of Romine’s throw to load the bases. A run scored on a wild pitch, then Lawrie fisted a looping single to centre to cash another ahead of a game-tying sac fly by David Cooper. Cooper then blasted a mammoth two-run homer over the bleachers in right field to give the Jays a short-lived lead in the 6th.
The last run of the game came on a ground single up the middle by Eduardo Nunez in the 6th, scoring Doug Bernier, who was running for Derek Jeter. Jeter had doubled with two out off Carlos Villanueva to extend the inning.
Villanueva was stretched out to two innings and Casey Janssen retired all four Yankees he faced, striking out Ronnie Bellaird and Jesus Montero to finish up his stint.
Mark Prior pitched the 8th inning for the Yankees, which was cool to see. He’s become one of the great cautionary tales – the ace starter with the perfect mechanics who was never going to break down but did anyway. He hasn’t thrown a big-league pitch since 2006, but at the tender age of 30 continues on the comeback trail. I wish him nothing but luck, and he’s a no-risk add for the Yankees. He looked fine today, striking out Lawrie looking and allowing a single to Thames in his one inning of work. If he can make it back, that increases the hope for Dustin McGowan – or maybe it’s vice-versa. After all, McGowan is younger and hasn’t spent nearly as much time on the sidelines as Prior has.
Despite the fact that it was my first look as super-prospect Jesus Montero, I didn’t see his one at-bat. I had just wrapped up with Cecil and was on my way back up from the clubhouse, so I can’t give you a scouting report on him. I do know that Russell Martin was scheduled to catch today, but Romine and Montero split the game instead – more than likely because of the workout A.J. Burnett gave Martin yesterday.
The collected works of audio number two today – first, my discussion with Brett Cecil, following his outing:
Also, some pre-game audio from John Farrell, talking mostly about the plight of Frank Francisco and who will replace him as closer to start the season. He also talks about Octavio Dotel, whose hamstring isn’t preventing him from throwing or doing upper body work, and who will likely see some minor-league game action in a couple of days:
Tomorrow, it’s the Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins in an Opening Day preview, with Jesse Litsch (who won’t throw in that opening series) looking to rebound from a rough last start and taking on Minny’s Scott Baker. We’ll have all the action for you across the Blue Jays Radio Network starting with the pre-game show at 12:30 PM Eastern, so make sure to tune in as well as hopping on the live blog that will be available here and at live.fan590.com starting with the first pitch.
And follow me on Twitter @InTheWilnerness, please!
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome.