Archive for March, 2011

A.J. Gets Spanked

Friday, March 18th, 2011

5:20 PM Eastern

I’m not sure why, but there always seems to be some sort of visceral satisfaction from Blue Jays observers whenever the Jays lay a beating on A.J. Burnett, and today was no different.

Burnett had a rough four-inning stint at the FAES, with the final tally being four runs (two earned) on five hits, no walks, but a hit batsman and a pair of wild pitches, and a home run allowed to his former personal catcher, Jose Molina.

Burnett put Russell Martin through his paces, rigorously testing the new Yankee catcher’s surgically-repaired hip by having him bounce all around the home plate area for the better part of an hour.  If he hadn’t yet learned how tough it is to catch A.J., he did today.  He also found out that Burnett doesn’t give his catcher much of a chance to throw out potential basestealers – Martin was 0-for-3 in such endeavours, allowing Corey Patterson, Jose Bautista and Travis Snider to each grab an extra bag.

Bautista and Juan Rivera each drove in a first-inning run with a single, Snider and Adam Lind each stroked line-drive doubles and Molina and Mike McCoy each went deep.  For McCoy, it was his first home run in a Blue Jays uniform, period.  For Molina, it was a day to see what he once had and what he has now. 

Back when he was with the Yankees, Molina became Burnett’s personal catcher because A.J., like others before him, simply didn’t want to throw to Jorge Posada.  Last year, Molina was Brandon Morrow’s personal catcher with the Blue Jays, and while he won’t be used as strictly in that role this season, he caught Morrow’s terrific five shutout innings today.  Molina briefly opened the door to discussing Burnett, but shut it just as quickly, comparing A.J.’s apparent current lack of confidence in his stuff to Morrow’s current confidence in his.  He wouldn’t go any farther on the A.J. front, though.  He was more than happy to talk about Morrow and his maturation as a pitcher - those clips are included in the collected works of audio below.

Morrow was pretty terrific once again.  He needed only 48 pitches to get through the first four innings, which is a ratio that, if he can keep it up, will enable him to get deep into games on a regular basis – something he hasn’t been capable of doing yet.  He did walk three, but he struck out six, and finished with a flourish by striking out the side in the 5th inning after a leadoff single.

Marc Rzepczynski came in and struggled through 2 2/3.  Actually, his first two innings were fine.  He deserved better in the one-run sixth, since the run that scored reached on a little bloop to right field and his teammates couldn’t turn a double play behind him.  Three of the four runs he gave up in the 8th were unearned because of a none-out error by Ryan Goins with the bases loaded, but Zep couldn’t pitch himself out of trouble that inning, walking a pair with two out, one walk coming after the bases had been re-loaded.

I’m a big fan of Zep’s, and I know he can pitch in the big leagues, but at this point there are likely too many arms ahead of his in the big-league picture for him to start anywhere but in Las Vegas, unless someone gets hurt between now and April 1st.  I don’t love the idea of him moving to the bullpen, because I think he can be a viable big-league starter – if not with the Blue Jays, then with someone else – and you don’t want to close the door on that until you absolutely have to.

Before the game, the Blue Jays farmed out Zach Stewart, Henderson Alvarez and John Tolisano.  No surprises there, but John Farrell mentioned that one of the biggest positives of camp for him was Alvarez’ growth as a pitcher.  His breaking ball has become much, much more effective and he’s also picked up a few miles an hour on his fastball, getting up to 97 at times.  He’s a guy who has a very bright future ahead of him, as does Stewart, who is the closest to the bigs of any Jays pitcher who has yet to appear with the big club.

Farrell also mentioned that Aaron Hill is expected to play in a real fake game for the first time on Tuesday, when the Blue Jays host the Phillies, that Frank Francisco is scheduled to get into a minor-league game on Sunday and that Octavio Dotel threw a light bullpen yesterday and reported no problems.

Here are today’s collected works of audio, for your listening pleasure:

 First, Brandon Morrow, speaking with great brevity on his terrific performance:

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Jose Molina, first in a one-on-one and then a couple of clips after the rest of the assemblage joined in:

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Mike McCoy, who homered and had a sacrifice bunt, and whose path to make the team seems clear with the injury to Scott Podsednik:

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And finally, manager John Farrell:

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Tomorrow, it’s the Blue Jays and Yankees all over again, this time at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.  Brett Cecil will start and is expected to pitch five or six innings.  He’ll be followed by Carlos Villanueva and Casey Janssen, who will be motivated to throw a quick inning so he can get downtown to watch his UCLA Bruins try to get to the Round of 16 at the St. Pete Times Forum.  Freddy Garcia will throw for the Yankees.  We will be broadcasting the game on our entire Blue Jays Radio Network, so be sure to tune in starting at 12:30 PM Eastern for the pre-game show.

Here’s the Blue Jays’ full travel squad for the game:  Winston Abreu, Cecil, Sean Henn, Mike Hinckley, Janssen, Wilfredo Ledezma, Rommie Lewis, Villanueva, J.P. Arencibia, Ryan Budde, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Yunel Escobar, Brett Lawrie, Mike McCoy, Rajai Davis, Eric Thames, Adam Loewen, Kevin Ahrens and an as-yet-unnamed extra catcher. 

Make sure you follow me on Twitter @InTheWilnerness!

Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome.

Cliff Lee? No Problem!

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

6:25 PM Eastern

The big-swinging Blue Jays used a bat-around, five-run fourth inning to pound Clifton Phifer Lee into submission and ultimately beat the Phillies 7-6, moving the Jays over .500 for the first time this spring.

It started pretty harmlessly, with Jose Bautista hitting a sharp grounder to third on which Jesse Barfield’s kid Josh made a nice sliding grab to his left.  He popped up with plenty of time, but threw wildly to first for an inning-opening two-base error.  Adam Lind followed by short-hopping the wall in left-centre for an RBI double – his second hit of the afternoon off Lee, the other being a two-strike line-drive single to centre – and Juan Rivera blasted his first home run of the spring down the left-field line.  After Lee struck out Travis Snider on three pitches, Edwin Encarnacion took sole possession of the Jays’ spring home run lead with his fourth.  Then J.P. Arencibia singled, was doubled to third by John McDonald, and scored on a sac fly to centre by Rajai Davis.

Just like that, a 2-0 deficit turned into a 5-2 lead and the Blue Jays were never headed.  Mike Hinckley made it interesting in the 9th, giving up a two-out, two-run homer to light-hitting Freddy Galvis to draw the Philbos to within a run, but he managed to close it out and pick up the save.

There was plenty of good that came out of this game for the Blue Jays, starting with Jo-Jo Reyes, who pitched five strong innings after things could have fallen apart early.  He had trouble controlling his nerves early on (he said he was “too juiced”, using an unfortunate turn of phrase), and after giving up a leadoff single to Jimmy Rollins, he threw a get-me-over 3-1 fastball to Shane Victorino, and The Flyin’ Hawaiian put it in the seats, giving the Phillies a 2-0 lead before Reyes had even recorded an out.

He then fell behind three-hitter Raul Ibanez 2-0, causing alarm bells to start ringing, but was a different guy from that point on.  He rebounded to strike Ibanez out looking, and only gave up three more hits over the course of his five innings of work.  Most importantly, he didn’t walk anyone.  Walks have been Reyes’ major issue throughout his brief big-league career – he’s issued 98 free passes in 194 innings of work, which is pretty terrible.  Today, there was none of that; manager John Farrell even said that (after the first inning) Reyes “dominated the bottom of the strike zone”.

Reyes did say that he’s taken pitching coach Bruce Walton’s “pound down” philosophy to heart, and that has made a difference for him.  But it’s also the fact that he’s learned a lot over the last 3 1/2 years bouncing between the minors and the majors.  He’s just 26 years old, and he feels that things are now all coming together for him.  An added benefit to his cause is that he’s out of options, so he’s going to get a very good, very long look for a spot on the roster.  In fact, he’s scheduled to start again on March 23rd at the Yankees, and may well get stretched out to six innings that night.

That’s not Ricky Romero’s day, which is the one on which Reyes started today, it’s Brandon Morrow’s.  Romero has shown no signs of the finger issue that forced him to be scratched from today’s start, so he’ll throw a couple of simulated innings and then be given the green light to start on Tuesday.  Morrow will more than likely throw in a minor-league game on the 23rd, to avoid giving him two starts in a row against the Yankees.

The other major positives from the game included three hits each from Adam Lind, Juan Rivera and John McDonald.  While two each of Rivera’s and Mac’s were bloops and bleeders, Lind was full measure for all three of his, throwing a double into the left-field corner in to go with his two hard-hit balls off Lee.  It was especially gratifying to see Lind do so well against one of the game’s best left-handers, since he’s coming off an historically poor year against left-handed pitching (he hit just .117/.159/.182 against southpaws last season).  He didn’t seem as excited, since he seemed surprised that I wanted to talk to him after the game.  So I told him that since he’d gotten a couple of hits off Cliff Lee and stuff, people might want to hear from him.  Hence my first question – the audio is here:

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Before the game, John Farrell gave us an idea of how the batting order will look on Opening Day, saying he is now favouring hitting Jose Bautista third and Lind fourth, owing to Bautista’s greater abilities on the basepaths.  I followed up by asking if having Lind hit cleanup would force Travis Snider to hit lower in the line-up than sixth, in order to spread out the only two regulars who hit left-handed, and Farrell didn’t seem to think so.  Therefore, it would appear that the Opening Day line-up against Minnesota’s Carl Pavano – one through six – will be Rajai Davis, Yunel Escobar, Bautista, Lind, Aaron Hill and Snider.  The bottom three will feature some combination of Edwin Encarnacion, Juan Rivera and J.P. Arencibia, and I’m thinking it’s likely to be in that order.

Farrell’s Bautista/Lind clip, and a few from the post-game (Rivera is the guy he’s talking about who is starting to feel comfortable at the plate) are here, for your listening pleasure:

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And here are Reyes’ post-game comments:

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Tomorrow, the Jays and the Yankees play the first of a home-and-home, this one at the FAES.  Brandon Morrow will start and Marc Rzepczynski will finish – between them they’re scheduled to take care of all nine innings - while A.J. Burnett answers for the New Yorkists.  There’s no radio, nor is there a webcast, so make sure to follow me on Twitter @InTheWilnerness for everything you need to know!

Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!

Powering Past The Pirates

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

5:25 PM Eastern

The Blue Jays went down to Bradenton and played longball against the Pirates, holding on despite more shaky bullpen work in the late innings.  David Cooper and Edwin Encarnacion both hit prodigious home runs off Pittsburgh starter Paul Maholm, Cooper’s going off the huge “Bradenton – The Friendly City” sign beyond the fence in right-centre field.

The power display came in support of a shaky-but-not-really-shaky Kyle Drabek, who has all but cemented his position in the starting rotation, it seems.  Talking to John Farrell both before and after the game, it doesn’t appear as though service time or other people’s option status will impact on the decision to bring Drabek north, and the skipper is thoroughly impressed by Drabek’s stuff and his ability to get hitters out.

This afternoon, Drabek allowed seven hits in five innings, walking one and striking out four, but only gave up two runs – the second coming when he wild-pitched Lyle Overbay to second (a ball that Jose Molina tried to backhand in the dirt; where have we seen that before?) and then gave up a ground single to Garrett Jones that went off the glove of a diving second baseman Jonathan Diaz.  Despite the eight baserunners in five innings, Drabek never really appeared to be in a jam, staying in control of himself and his emotions, which is something he’s really been working on this spring.  He was also helped out by a couple of double plays behind him – one of which was started beautifully by Encarnacion at third – and by Molina throwing out Andrew McCutchen trying to steal second in the first inning.

Having torn through the Eastern League last year and gotten a taste of the bigs with those three late-season starts, Drabek may very well have reached the point where he’s going to be a big-leaguer from here on out – the way does seem clear for him to make the team, despite the fact that the Jays could gain an extra year of control over him by keeping him in the minors for a month.  That may be moot anyway, if the Jays decide to lock him up the way they did Ricky Romero, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill.

Encarnacion was impressive both in the field and at the plate.  In addition to the home run, he also flied out to the base of the wall in left (just got under it), missing a second big fly by inches.  He started an inning-ending double play in the third inning with a perfect feed to Jonathan Diaz at second – a play on which we saw him almost get Aaron Hill killed on multiple occasions last year – and he made a great play on a slow chopper by Neil Walker in the 5th, throwing on the run.  It was a low throw, and Cooper had to dig it out of the dirt, but it was a nice play nonetheless.  I’d be surprised if Eddie wound up playing even 20 games at third base this year, but the Jays want to keep him ready, and he passed all the tests today.

Cooper jacked his batting average up to .393 on the spring with his three-hit day, and is impressing Farrell with the way he covers the plate and uses the whole field.  He’s been written off by most Jays followers as a bust because he was drafted three whole years ago and hasn’t done anything yet, but The Cautionary Tale of Ricky Romero should remind people that it can take a much longer time than most would like.  Cooper’s ceiling appears to be matching Lyle Overbay’s, and there doesn’t appear to be room on the big club for a while, but things can change quickly.  At the very least, he’s playing himself into a starting role in AAA, which is something of which he couldn’t have been at all certain coming into camp.

Carlos Villanueva and Casey Janssen pitched a clean inning each, with Villanueva stranding a leadoff double and Janssen getting around a leadoff single by way of a double-play ball – both those guys have the inside track to make the team now with the injuries to Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco.  And on the Brett Lawrie watch – he walked in his only plate appearance, but was part of a double steal with Anthony Gose in the 8th.

Once again, the bullpen tried its best to give the lead back late, with Sean Henn getting two quick outs, then giving up a single, throwing a wild pitch and walking three guys in a row before Rommie Lewis came on to bail him out of it.  Lewis then put the tying run on base in the 9th before getting Cory Wimberley to fly out to centre to end it.  Two more bullpen guys who could be taking advantage of the opportunity now presented, but who haven’t gotten the job done – same as yesterday with Wilfredo Ledezma and Winston Abreu.

Here are the collected works of audio from today’s game, first manager John Farrell:

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Here’s Kyle Drabek:

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And finally a short interview with Casey Janssen:

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Tomorrow, the Blue Jays take on the Phillies in Clearwater, which means that they’ll do all the pre-game stuff at the FAES, since the Phils’ park is only a 10-minute drive away. Jo-Jo Reyes will start in place of Ricky Romero, who gets one start off to try to fix whatever sort of ligament/tendon thing is going on in his left middle finger, Cliff Lee answers for the home side.

No radio, TV or web coverage for the game, so remember to follow me @InTheWilnerness!

Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!

Dropping Like Flies

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

6:26 PM Eastern 

The big news of the day wasn’t the fact that Jesse Litsch had his first rough outing of the spring, that Travis Snider had another couple of hits, that Anthony Gose temporarily gave the Blue Jays the lead late with a two-run triple off big-league lefty J.C. Romero or even that Rajai Davis had a huge day, missing the cycle by a triple and making a sensational catch in right-centre field.

Nope, the story of the day came this morning, with a parade of Blue Jays to sick bay, marring what had otherwise been a pretty healthy spring.  Scott Podsednik showed up for work with a walking cast on his left foot, and the Jays’ pitching schedule – which goes through the end of the week - showed no Ricky Romero or Frank Francisco on it.  Also, it was revealed that Octavio Dotel had been dealing with an injured hamstring for a week.

We found out that Romero has something going on in the middle finger of his left hand, either a tendon or ligament issue, and that his Thursday start will be taken instead by Jo-Jo Reyes.  It’s supposed to be just a one-start thing, though, and he should remain on track to be able to start on Opening Day. 

Dotel has an issue with his left hamstring, having hurt it last Tuesday in his outing against the Rays.  He doesn’t think it’s a big deal, either, smartly believing it’s better to take care of it now than try to pitch through it and have it pop on him.  Dotel said he feels it when he’s turning his body to get ready to deliver the ball and when he lands, but he’s otherwise fine.  He doesn’t expect to be on the shelf very long, but he’s not pitching for the rest of the week, and that puts his ability to make the Opening Day roster in serious jeopardy.

Likewise Francisco, who has only made a couple of appearances all spring.  His problem is a little tougher to define, having had trouble getting loose for his last appearance.  It’s a shoulder thing, which sends up a big red flag.  I’m trying not to read too, too much into things, but it seems pretty suspicious, from him wanting to take it slow from the start of the spring to having these issues now.  It’s virtually impossible to see him being ready to answer the bell on April 1st.

So – with Dotel and Francisco on the shelf for the foreseeable future, all that bullpen surplus we thought the Blue Jays had will be forced into action.  Their injuries would seem to open up spots for Casey Janssen and Carlos Villanueva on the team, pushing Jon Rauch into the closer spot with Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp setting him up.

The good thing about the early-season disabled list is that – if they start the season there - Dotel and Francisco won’t have to miss the first 15 days of the season.  The DL can be back-dated a week or so before the start of the season, so they’d only have to sit out about a week if that’s all the time one or both needs to be ready for the season.

There’s a chance for a dark horse to enter the bullpen race now, but both Wilfredo Ledezma and Winston Abreu spit the bit this afternoon against the Phillies.  Ledezma started the eighth inning, faced six hitters and only retired one.  He mixed a couple of walks in there, one to load the bases and the other after he had loaded the bases.  After the game, manager John Farrell raved about Ledezma’s stuff but lamented the fact that he has serious trouble throwing strikes and hasn’t been able to develop a strong secondary pitch to get hitters off his fastball.

Abreu took over for Ledezma with the bases loaded and threw some gas on the fire, giving up a three-run double and then getting into trouble in the 9th, hitting the showers after allowing a two-run double to right to Rule 5er Michael Martinez.  He was a long, long shot to make the team as it was, but he’s not doing himself any favours.

Jesse Litsch had trouble today, too, lasting only one out into the 4th and allowing five runs (four earned) on nine hits, walking one and striking out four.  He didn’t use the excuse of a mid-spring dead arm, instead saying that although he felt as strong physically as he has all spring, he just couldn’t keep the ball down.  Farrell saw Litsch dragging his arm through his delivery a bit, and thought that he was rushing to attack the strike zone, which worked against him.  The rough outing won’t hurt Litsch’s chances to make the rotation.

Farrell pointed out, without bring prompted, the strong work of Jason Frasor and Juan Rivera today.  Frasor looked much more “Frasoresque”, said the skipper, than he has in a while, having gotten over a bout of the flu, and Rivera finally took some good swings, looked comfortable and got the head of the bat out on some hard stuff.  Rivera’s praiseworthy efforts only translated into a 1-for-3 day, with a single, a shallow fly out and a double play ball.

As for Davis, he showed off every aspect of his game today, going 3-for-4 with a 15-foot single, a long double and a big homerun.  The out was a fly ball to the warning track in left. He also chased down what appeared to be a sure double deep in the gap in right-centre field. I spoke to him after his mini-tour de force, and he gave hitting coach Dwayne Murphy a lot of credit for helping him tap into the power he always knew he had, but which had never manifested itself in game action.  And credit where it’s due, Davis used the Cito Gaston credo of getting ready early and being on time with the swing, saying that’s made a big difference.  He also talked about the work he did in the off-season on his running, and trying to more efficiently put his speed and quickness to use.  You can hear my conversation with Davis right here:

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There’s more audio for your listening pleasure, as well.  Here’s my chat with Jesse Litsch:

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And one with Jon Rauch:

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Here are John Farrell’s post-game comments:

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And here are Octavio Dotel’s comments, addressing his hamstring injury:

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Finally, here’s what Aaron Hill had to say this morning about the sprint drills he did:

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Hill is going to play tomorrow in a minor-league game while his teammates head to Bradenton to take on the Pirates.  Kyle Drabek will start and is scheduled to pitch five innings, backed by Carlos Villanueva, Casey Janssen and Rommie Lewis.  Dotel was originally on the list, but that’s not going to happen.  Here’s the rest of the travel squad for that game:

Winston Abreu, Sean Henn, Mike Hinckley, J.P. Arencibia, Ryan Budde, Travis d’Arnaud, Jose Molina, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Mike McCoy, Anthony Gose, Corey Patterson, Eric Thames and John Tolisano.  There will also be three pitchers and three hitters called up from the minor-league complex, but their names weren’t listed.

I actually haven’t figured out yet which game I’m going to cover.  Hill will be leading off and DHing in the minor-league game, and could get seven or eight at-bats, depending on how he feels and how deep into the game he wants to go.  If he passes all the tests there, he should get cleared to partcipate in real fake games.  So I may go watch him, I may go watch Drabek.  I’ll figure it out tonight and let you all know on Twitter @InTheWilnerness.

Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!

The Big Bats Take Down The Rats

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

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:

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And here’s a quick little interview I did with Marc Rzepczynski:

 

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Remember to follow me on Twitter @InTheWilnerness, and remember to leave rational and reasonable comments for me to answer here on the blog!

Not Such A Warm Welcome

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

6:00 PM Eastern

Here I am, back in Florida after a week away, and I came to the ballpark today expecting to see newly-minted Opening Day starter Ricky Romero throw five innings at the Pirates, to be followed by closer-to-be Frank Francisco.  I also hoped to get my first look at Scott Podsednik, Blue Jay, in game action and, of course, to wish Jerry Howarth a Happy 65th Birthday.

I got just one of the four things I expected.

While I was one of many to wish Jerry many happy returns of the day, Podesednik came off the field during warm-ups with a recurrence of the plantar fasciitis that had kept him out of the line-up until yesterday and was scratched, Romero struggled through 3 2/3 innings, walking five and having the trainer come out to take a look at him at one point, and Francisco didn’t pitch; instead wrapping up his right shoulder in ice and applying what appeared to be a little bit of electro-stim to aid in getting whatever is bothering him out of there.

Needless to say, none of that news is good.  Actually, the only good bit is that Romero reported after the game that there was nothing wrong, and that’s backed up by the fact that the Jays allowed him to stay in after having had the trainer come out and talk to him, and having head trainer George Poulis come down to the dugout after the third inning to take a first-hand look.  Spring Training games are many things, but one thing they’re not is unneccesarily risky.  If there was any inkling whatsoever that Romero was actually hurt, he’d have been yanked from the ballgame as soon as that inkling arose.  It could have been the mid-March doldrums that hit more than a few pitchers, or Romero could still have been geeked up by the fact that he was named Opening Day starter yesterday.  I look forward to seeing his next outing five days hence.

Podsednik’s scratching is a little more disconcerting.  Plantar fasciitis is a tough nut to crack, and as a guy who makes his living with his legs, Podsednik has to be 100% in order to be able to contribute.  I thought he was, with his start (and stolen base!) yesterday against the Yankees, but evidently not.  The positive there is that he’s on a minor-league contract, so the Jays can give him as much time as he needs down in Las Vegas to get ready for the season without having to worry about disabled list deadlines or him being out of options or anything like that.

With Francisco, there’s no news, so I’ll try to check in with him tomorrow.

On the field, nice to see big hits from Jose Bautista and Travis Snider, and there was some great leather flashage (once again) from Brett Lawrie and Jonathan Diaz.  They turned a really pretty DP together, and Diaz made a sensational play to help catch Josh Fields stealing in the second.  He leapt high to snare a wild throw from J.P. Arencibia, and came down with his glove in exactly the right spot to tag Fields out.  John Farrell calls him a John McDonald clone, and he’s bang on.

There’s no player audio to post today, because Romero didn’t come out of the trainer’s room before the 9th inning, when I had to go up and do the post-game.  Speaking of which, here’s our mini-spring-training version of The JaysTalk, for your listening pleasure:

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Tomorrow, it’s the Jays and Rays, which just makes things easier for newly-claimed Rule 5er Cesar Cabral (maybe that caller was on to something when he suggested an eight-man bullpen!).  Brandon Morrow will start against Chris Bootcheck, and we’ll have the action for you along the Blue Jays Radio Network, though not on our flagship Sportnet Radio The Fan 590, because of the Raptors game.  Tune us in, check out the live blog, and follow me @InTheWilnerness.

Now, it’s www.fat-elvis.com draft night, the first of two.  Wish me luck!

Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!

Live Chat Transcript

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

12:07 PM Eastern

Just wrapped up a fun little two hours of live chatting – the busiest live chat I’ve ever hosted!  Hope you all enjoyed it, and for those of you who couldn’t make it for the whole thing, or who just want to relive the sheer awsemnity, the transcript is below.

I’ll be back in Dunedin for this weekend’s games against the Pirates on Saturday and the Rays on Sunday – make sure you tune us in both days, starting with the pre-game shows at 12:30 PM Eastern.  Jerry and Alan will have the call of Friday’s game against the Yankees as well, on mlb.com.

Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!

Bludgeoning The Buccos

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

8:00 PM Eastern 

 

The Blue Jays’ third (or fourth if you count Friday’s affair against the Junior Nats) straight win was mostly about pitching, which fits in beautifully with the whole idea of Spring Training.  Down here, it’s mostly about pitching – getting the pitchers stretched out, keeping the pitchers healthy, allowing the pitchers the opportunity to work on increasing the number of pitches they can pitch, that sort of thing.  The batters are kind of secondary, save for their parallel need to stay healthy and for the younger types to get a chance to work with, and hopefully make a lasting impression on, the major-league front office and coaching staff.

 

Today’s game illustrated that almost perfectly, starting with Ricky Romero.  The man who is destined to be the Jays’ third Opening Day starter in as many years rebounded rather nicely from a four-run, five-hit effort in Lakeland earlier in the week by throwing four innings of one-hit shutout at the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He walked a couple and struck out six, matching Brett Cecil’s total of the other day (Cecil only threw three innings, though).  Romero’s job this spring is to continue to develop his sinker and to cut down on his walks.  Today wasn’t an all-sinker day like his last start, though, he worked everything in and we got more than a glimpse of the killer change-up that has become Romero’s bread and butter.

 

Romero was followed by Jon Rauch, working for just the second time this spring, and the likely 8th-inning guy walked the first batter he faced on four pitches, but recovered to get a double-play grounder from the next hitter and put together a 1-2-3 inning the hard way.

 

The big deal was the spring debut of Frank Francisco, who has taken things a little more slowly than the rest of his teammates, mindful of the early start off to which he got last spring and the resultant ugliness in the early part of his season with Texas.  I didn’t see Francisco throw his shutout frame, in which he worked out of a bases-loaded jam, because I was in the clubhouse talking to Romero, but I did manage to talk to Francisco about it right after he walked into the clubhouse and declared that his arm felt “like a million bucks.”  Here’s that conversation, for your listening pleasure:

 

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Zach Stewart also had a nice bounce-back from his last rough outing in Lakeland, striking out five over his two innings of work.  He was aware of his baserunners and even flashed a solid pick-off move, so lesson learned from having Brandon Inge and Victor Martinez pick his pocket, one hopes.

 

As for the impression-making, Brett Lawrie didn’t slow down a bit, going 2-for-2 for the second straight game.  He came in in relief of Jose Bautista, who was 3-for-3 with a pair of well-hit doubles – Bautista had a big smile on his face after having gotten the job done against the team that thought so little of him a couple of years ago that they sent him to the Jays in a waiver deal for Robinzon Diaz.

 

Eric Thames drove in a run in each of his at-bats, and Travis Snider – playing for the second straight game after missing all spring with a strained ribcage muscle – followed one of Bautista’s doubles with one of his own, a rocket into the gap.

 

The walking wounded are starting to return, with Snider, Rauch and Francisco all making their spring debuts the last few days, and Aaron Hill’s soon to come, I’m thinking.  The Blue Jays are off tomorrow and then play three straight road games, each of which is at least a 2 ½ hour bus ride each way, so I’m thinking it’s pretty safe to assume that Hill won’t be making any of those trips.  I’d expect to see him in the line-up for the Jays’ next game at the FAES, which is Friday against the Yankees.

 

Some more audio to send your way – here are the post-game comments from Romero:

 

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And Bautista:

 

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And here’s today’s awfully-truncated version of The JaysTalk.  It’ll return to its more normal timing once the season gets going for real:

 

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Thanks to all of who you have jumped on my Twitter feed @InTheWilnerness, it’s been a blast having a new way to interact with so many of you on a regular basis.  No more live tweet/chats for a while, though, because my night 7-mile walk isn’t going to happen for a few days.  I’m heading home tonight for a week, and really looking forward to seeing my family.  Quick story – dropped off my rental car and hopped on the airport shuttle  to sit and wait for a husband/wife/teenage son combo waiting to get a ride from the local Park’n'Fly.  Only they couldn’t decide whether to actually use the parking lot, so they had to argue about that for a while.  Then they figured it was the right move, and we were off on our way.  Halfway to the airport, the driver asked them if they’d gotten their claim check, leading to mass panic.  The wife said she gave it to the husband, the husband said he gave it to the son.  No one could find anything, so we turned around to head back to he parking lot while I’m checking my watch to make sure there’s still an hour and a half before my flight.

 

We pull into the parking lot, and not only does the husband find his claim check, he somehow has the massive stones to be angry with his wife about it.  That was seriously something.

Anyway, I’ll be back down in FLA next weekend, so the next live tweet/chat will be either Friday or Saturday, depending on the timing of my reFloridification.

 Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome, though!

Coming Out Party

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

4:55 PM Eastern

It appears as though this entire Spring Training has been a coming-out party for one Brett Lawrie, but that party got ramped up this afternoon with his big day in the Jays’ Grapefruit win over the Tigers.

Lawrie came into the game for starter John McDonald halfway through, and in his half-game of work managed to double into the right-field corner, hit a prodigious three-run home run to left and make a great defensive play to start an around-the-horn double play.

Every time the kid takes the field, he does at least one thing that’s very, very impressive – today it was three.  A week into Spring Training fake-game action, he’s made an impression that’s going to wind up being pretty indelible on the minds of the Blue Jays, from front-office folk to his future teammates.

He’s still not going to make the team, though, and nor should he.  Lawrie just turned 21, has never played above AA and has never played third base professionally.  No matter how well he appears to have taken to the position (and he appears to have taken to it REALLY well), he would be well-served by having multiple reps at third in a low-pressure environment.  I’m assuming that he’s been told as much, and I expect him to be one of the last cuts in camp (if not the last) and then to go down to Las Vegas and rake.  He’s a whole lot of fun to watch play, and he’ll be up in the bigs a lot sooner than I thought, that’s for sure.

Today was a reminder as well that Jo-Jo Reyes has a horse in the race for open spots on the pitching staff.  He rebounded beautifully from a poor inning in his start on Monday to face the minimum nine hitters over three hitless innings, the only blemish being a walk to Ryan Raburn that was immediately erased by a double-play ball.  He struck out a couple, popped up a couple and got four outs on ground balls, staking his claim to either the fifth spot in the rotation that Marc Rzepczynski let slip a little bit yesterday, or that last spot in the bullpen.  Reyes is out of options, something that only helps in his effort to go north with the big boys – remember Dana Eveland.

Kyle Drabek started the game and looked fine through his two innings.  He gave up hits to three of the first four batters he faced then settled right down, getting a double-play grounder and a couple of strikeouts the rest of the way.  The first hitter, Austin Jackson, hit a rope towards the left-field corner that Travis Snider knocked down before it could get to the wall.  A nice immediate test for Snider, who was seeing his first game action of the spring, just like Drabek.  Snider bounced a hard single up the middle in his first at-bat, and after the game reported no physical issues at all.  He also said that he won’t be bounced between left and right this year, that he’s been told that he’s going to be in left field all year.  That’s good news for Juan Rivera, I would think, since it’d be tough to give Scott Podsednik significant playing time outside left field, though they could always play him in centre and Rajai Davis in right, I guess.

Lots of audio from the game today – first of all, here’s The JaysTalk, which had a lot of yesterday’s tape in it, too:

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Now, here’s Kyle Drabek:

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Jo-Jo Reyes:

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And some clips of Travis Snider:

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Tomorrow, we hit the road as the Jays take on the Pirates in Bradenton, which is just across Tampa Bay.  Ricky Romero is scheduled to pitch the first four innings.  Frank Francisco will make his first appearance of the spring and we’ll also see Jon Rauch, Carlos Villanueva and, for two innings, Zach Stewart.  James McDonald will start for the Buccos.

The position players who are making the trip are: J.P. Arencibia, Ryan Budde, Travis D’Arnaud, Brian Jeroloman, Jose Bautista, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Edwin Encarnacion, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechevarria, Brett Lawrie, Mike McCoy, Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Darin Mastroianni, Corey Patterson, Moises Sierra, Travis Snider, Eric Thames and John Tolisano.

We’ll be on the air across our full Blue Jays Radio Network, including Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590, starting at 12:30 pm Eastern with a pre-game show that will feature Peter Gammons, John Farrell’s son Jeremy (who is a Pirates farmhand) and, hopefully, Lyle Overbay.  There will also be a live blog to entertain you, and as always, you can follow me on twitter @InTheWilnerness.

Speaking of which, I’ll be heading out for my nightly 5-7 miles tonight around 8:30 or 9:00, I think, so join me for a live tweet/chat.  It’ll be the last one for a week, since I’m coming home for a few days after tomorrow afternoon’s game.

Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome, and will be answered!

A Glimpse of The Future

Friday, March 4th, 2011

4:15 PM Eastern

I’m a huge fan of Baseball Canada.  Greg Hamilton and his crew do fantastic work in helping to grow the game in our country and taking those who have shown elite ability to the next level.  Part of all the hard work was on display this afternoon at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg as the National Junior Team took on a split-squad of Blue Jays as part of an international baseball event that has seen the Junior Nats take on some Junior College teams from the U.S. as well as pro teams from South Korea and the Netherlands.

Canadas’ crew of kids – all Grade 11s and 12s with the exception of 14 year-old Gareth Morgan, who is in Grade 9 and played right field and hit 9th against the Jays – were thoroughly overmatched, but the experience was well worth it.

The Blue Jays won either 9-0 or 11-0, depending on how you keep score.  The Jays were the home team, but they played the bottom of the 9th anyway and they tacked on a couple more runs.  Mike McDade hit the game’s only homer, taking Maidstone, Ont. (it’s near Windsor)’s Skyler Janisse deep to right, and the Junior Nats’ outfielders had a hard time with just how hard the Jays’ kids hit the ball, misjudging a couple of balls and having a couple more shoot over their heads.

Aaron Hill and John McDonald were the only big-leaguers they Jays brought, Hill being scratched from the line-up about an hour before game time with his sore right quad still not 100% (he said he’d play if it was a regular season game, but no  need to push it).  McDonald started at short and went 0-for-2 against Canada’s starter, Tom Robson of Delta, BC.  The 17 year-old, expected to go late in the first round or early in the second of this coming’s June’s draft, struck out Johnny Mac in the second with a terrific right-on-right change-up, but showed jitters in the first inning when, after getting two quick outs, he hit Brett Lawrie with a pitch, walked Eric Thames and threw a wild pitch before Travis D’Arnaud almost Charlie Browned him with a two-run single up the middle.

The Canada Kids only managed two hits in the game – a double into the right-field corner by Toronto’s Bryan Saucedo off Deck McGuire in the 3rd and a ground single up the middle by Brendan Hendricks of Cochrane, Alberta off McGuire in the 4th.  Combined, they walked twice, struck out 13 times and only got one runner as far as second base.

But they did get to take grounders and shag flies with the Blue Jays in batting practice, and Hill and McDonald spent a few innings in their dugout during the game, answering questions, telling stories, talking baseball.  The kids were engrossed – so much so that Saucero almost missed his at-bat for being so caught up in it.

It’s a wonderful thing that Baseball Canada is doing, having this team at an event/tournament like this, and it’s equally wonderful of the Blue Jays to participate to the extent that they have.  Hopefully this becomes an annual rite of spring, and we see even more involvement between the Jays and Canada’s national baseball program, which is something I’m sure Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos are very interested in having happen.

Lots of audio for your listening pleasure:

Here’s Aaron Hill, just minutes after he was scratched from the game:

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John McDonald, after going 0-for-2:

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Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada Grand Poobah (before the game):

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Chris Reitsma, pitching coach for the Jr. Nats (before the game):

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Gareth Morgan, the 14 year-old who wound up striking out three times (before the game):

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Tom Robson, Canada’s starting and losing pitcher (post-game):

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Bryan Saucedo, who had half of Team Canada’s offensive output – and 2/3 of the total bases (post-game):

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Tomorrow, the Jays are back home to play the Tigers, and we’ll have the game for you along the Blue Jays Radio Network, but not on Sportsnet Radio the Fan 590 because of the Raptors game.  It’s another date with the Tigers, who have already beaten the Jays three times this spring – Kyle Drabek will make his stiff-neck-delayed spring debut against Jacob Turner. Travis Snider is also expected to make his spring debut, he’ll DH.  Make sure to join us at 12:30 pm Eastern for the pre-game, and remember that we’ll be live-blogging the game as well, so get in on the conversation through the links at either fan590.com or live.fan590.com.

As always, tonight I’ll be going for my 7-mile walk around the FLA condo complex, and will be happy to do a live tweet/chat as I go.  Probably sometime around 8:00, but you never know.  Check in with me on Twitter @InTheWilnerness, and we’ll talk!

Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome, and will be answered!

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