5:40 PM Eastern
It didn’t take long for the Blue Jays to set about to pounding the Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon at the FAES, and they were full measure for their nine runs, the only exception being that there wasn’t a lot of big-league pitching on display from the T-Bay side.
But the Jays didn’t score a bunch because of rookie misplays and balls that were kicked all over the yard or a ton of walks, they smacked the ball around. Yunel Escobar doubled over the head of B.J. Upton to score a pair, David Cooper stroked an RBI single to centre to score J.P. Arencibia, who had doubled off the wall, Jose Bautista slammed a home run to left that still hasn’t come down and also hit a sac fly to the track in centre and Eric Thames homered deep to right and hit a sac fly to the track, also in right. The only run-producing shot that wasn’t hit well was Corey Patterson’s RBI single to centre in the 5th. Interestingly, I saw it described on Twitter as a line shot up the middle that almost took pitcher Mike Ekstrom’s head off. Truth is, it was a weak, low liner, that Ekstrom kicked at with his foot but missed. It then landed on the other side of the mound and took about 17 hops into centrefield. Still, a hit’s a hit, and the Jays had plenty of them today.
The real story was on the mound, though, and a huge scare was put into everyone when Tim Beckham hit a hot shot right back through the box in the second inning. The ball hit Brandon Morrow, who seemed dazed, taking a few long seconds before he realized the ball was right in front of him. He then picked it up and threw low to first where a great scoop by Cooper saved him and ended the inning. As he walked off towards the dugout, I saw him put his left hand on the top of his right chest/front of his right shoulder, and I didn’t expect him to come back out for the third.
He did, though, and his third and fourth innings were as good as his second, which was pretty terrific. Morrow wound up throwing four innings (65 pitches, 41 strikes), allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits. He hit Manny Ramirez with a 3-0 pitch, a ball that was in enough to allow Morrow to still state that he hasn’t walked anyone all spring, and he struck out six. Two of the three hits were line drives, as was the ball that stung him, the other was a grounder to first that Cooper fielded, but Morrow couldn’t find the bag as he went over to cover. There was also a balk and a steal of home (correctly ruled a fielder’s choice) on a strike three in the dirt. Pretty eventful for four strong innings, but four strong innings they were.
The Beckham liner, it turns out, hit Morrow on the front of his right shoulder, but the brunt of the blow was taken by his left index finger – the one that sticks out of the glove – as he brought the glove up to try to shield himself. He figured it was a glancing blow, and that the ball had caromed off his towards one of the infielders, which is why he looked stunned before he found the ball right in front of him. He said after the game that his finger hurts, but that he’s otherwise fine. Morrow gave me one of the greatest answers to a question that I’ve ever gotten from an athlete when I asked him if there was any concern that he’d have to come out of the game. He said, with a smile, “Yeah. Until I said I was all right.” The audio is below.
Marc Rzepczynski followed with three strong innings. The first one took about five pitches, and included a great sliding catch in right field by Rajai Davis. In the second, he made Manny Ramirez look pretty bad, striking him out on three pitches, and in the third one the Rays scored a run, but it was set up by an infield single and another ground ball that got through. The longer the spring goes, the less convinced I am that Kyle Drabek isn’t going to make the team, which leaves no room in the rotation for Rzepczynski, but the Jays continue to keep him stretched out and he’s probably still in the hunt for that last spot, though not the favourite.
Brett Lawrie continued to open eyes by starting a nice double play at third and staying back on a two-strike breaking ball long enough to throw his bat at it and hit a line single to centre. He’s the guy everyone is talking about, but it still says here that he’s not going to make the team out of spring training. He’s been everything the Blue Jays have hoped for, and I know that a lot of people can’t wait to see him in the big leagues, but he’s still just 21, has never played above AA and is learning a new position, no matter how well he seems to be adapting to it.
Lawrie is hitting .370 on the spring thanks to his 1-for-2 day, but that’s in only 27 springtime at-bats. Of those 27 at-bats, 20 have come against pitchers who have actually pitched in the big leagues. Against them, he has five hits, for a .250 mark. That’s not to rain on the great Lawrie parade, it’s just to point out that he’s still very much a developing prospect and hasn’t “proven he can hit major-league pitching” with his big spring or anything like that. Some time in AAA can’t hurt him and could very well do him a world of good. The Blue Jays would love for his first call-up to the big leagues to be his last.
The Blue Jays are celebrating my birthday with their second off-day of the spring tomorrow, Brett Cecil will get some work in a minor-league game. Tuesday the Phillies come to town, and we’ll be broadcasting the game for you on the web at www.bluejays.com. Also that afternoon, Aaron Hill will play in a minor-league game. He told me today that he feels ready to go, but the Jays still have some final tests they want him to pass before putting him in a real fake game. One of those is for him to be able to explode out of the batter’s box on the way to first base and not feel a pull in his quad. If he passes that test on Tuesday, I think we’ll see him in a game sooner than later.
Now, it’s time to finish up the Fat Elvis auction! I have four players left to take and while the options aren’t great, I’m agonizing over a couple of choices. Then a midnight drive to Orlando to pick up the family at the airport – best birthday present ever!
For your listening pleasure, here are the clips of Brandon Morrow’s scrum with the media after the game:
And here’s a quick little interview I did with Marc Rzepczynski:
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