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.
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