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.