Archive for March, 2012
Saturday, March 31st, 2012
5:37 PM Eastern
Ricky Romero was scheduled to throw five innings in his final spring tune-up before starting Opening Day April 5th in Cleveland, but Mother Nature had other ideas. Ominous clouds and high winds sparked a 37-minute rain delay after two innings, during which it only rained really hard for about three minutes, but that delay was enough to end Romero’s day, as well as Roy Halladay’s.
Romero was brilliant in his brief outing, throwing two perfect innings, recording four ground ball outs and striking out two. He needed just 24 pitches, and only missed the strike zone with five of them. Romero finished his day’s work in the covered bullpen and will be fresh and ready for Thursday’s opener. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to talk to Ricky after his outing, because he held court with the media during the rain delay – and I was on the air – but among the things he said were the fact that he and his teammates are sick of going home in October every year, and that the Blue Jays are bringing a different attitude to this season – that they’re arrogant, they know they can win, and they’ll play with an “I’m going to kick your (butt)” attitude every day.
So in the absence of being able to talk to Romero, I spoke to the guy who caught his 24 pitches Saturday afternoon, and here’s what J.P. Arencibia had to say:
Romero’s perfect, but brief, afternoon of work allowed him to finish the Grapefruit League season with some ridiculous, eye-popping numbers. He pitched 11 innings in a total of four starts and didn’t allow a run. He gave up just two hits, walked only two and struck out 10. That’s a WHIP of 0.364 which is, you know, just stupid.
The Blue Jays’ former ace didn’t match the current one, as the Jays got to Halladay in the second inning. Edwin Encarnacion took him deep to left-centre to lead off the frame – tying Travis Snider for the team lead with is fourth homer of the spring. Eric Thames followed with a double off the top of the wall just left of dead centre, and Brett Lawrie singled him in for a second run. Thames would also single, walk and strike out in the game to improve his terrific spring numbers-that-don’t-count to .339/.393/.518. I got to speak to him about nearly taking Halladay deep, as well as the playing conditions on a bad-weather day and his reaction to Romero’s comments. Here’s that conversation:
Jose Bautista also went deep, tying Encarnacion and Snider for the team lead with his fourth, and it came in an interesting at-bat against David Herndon in the 5th. Bautista got ahead 3-0 and then absolutely obliterated the next pitch – but it was about 50 feet foul. He fouled the next pitch straight back with another ferocious hack and then swung hard again on the 3-2, and that one went out down the left field line, with the gale-force wind blowing it back fair. Want to hear what Bautista had to say about his day, and about Romero’s comments? I thought you might. You’re free to listen right here if you’re so desirous of same:
The kids took over after Bautista’s bomb, and Luis Valbuena hit one of his own as part of a three-run eighth that provided the necessary cushion for the win, because Scott Gracey had a tough time in the bottom of the inning, allowing five of the six Phillies he faced to reach base (although he did get the only Hall of Famer he faced, Jim Thome, to bounce into a double play) before Robert Coello bailed him out by striking out Brian Schneider to end the inning.
The rains brought us the rare opportunity to throw the phone lines open and chat with some of you fine folks about what’s going on in Blue Jays land, and that’s always a good time, especially since the delay meant that we weren’t going to have time to JaysTalk it up after the game. It’s always fun and interesting when the phone lines open, even if we had a Rasmus hater along the way (I fear he won’t be the last). Here’s the Rain Delay Programme, for your listening pleasure:
Romero’s next start will be Opening Day, although the Blue Jays have yet to officially announce that. Romero himself did the job for them, by tweeting this after the game: “Feeling the excitement and anxiousness already. Can’t wait to take the ball on Opening Day in Cleveland. #OpeningDay2012 #Jays”.
There are still three spring games to get through before things begins for real, and we will have Sunday afternoon’s affair for you along The Blue Jays Radio Network beginning with the pre-game show at 12:30PM Eastern. Brandon Morrow, who has given up one run this spring in 13 1/3 innings of work, and whose 0.825 WHIP pales in comparison to his southpaw rotation-mate, will start against Pirates righty Jeff Karstens. We’ll have a Spring Training edition of the RRT for you in the pre-game, so make sure you tune in!
Please give me a follow on the Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590. Ricky Romero can be found @RickyRo24.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most!
Friday, March 30th, 2012
The Blue Jays second double-digit win streak of the spring came to an end behind a poor outing from Aaron Laffey and a day off for the offense.
Laffey’s final start of the pre-season didn’t help his cause at all in his battle for the fifth spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation with Kyle Drabek. He struggled with his command through four relatively uncomfortable innings of two-hit shutout, then got smacked all around the ballpark in the fifth and sixth. In a span of eight hitters, Laffey allowed two singles, two doubles, a triple and a home run before hitting the showers having allowed four runs on eight hits over his five-plus innings of work (he faced three hitters in the sixth and didn’t record an out).
Over his last two starts, Laffey has allowed nine runs on 17 hits in 10-plus innings, striking out four against one walk. Still, he believes he’s done enough this spring to crack the Blue Jays’ starting rotation. Here’s our conversation with him after he came out of the game:
By contrast, Drabek hasn’t given up nine runs or 17 hits all spring. It would appear that Laffey will be the odd man out when the Blue Jays announce their five-man rotation to open the season, but John Farrell was non-committal when we spoke to him after the game, saying only that the Jays would have more internal discussions before making an announcement. Those discussions could be going on right now, and by Saturday morning we could hear something, or they may wait a while longer. Generally, though, the Blue Jays have announced their decisions earlier rather than later.
Laffey and Drabek are both scheduled to pitch in the final game of the spring, Tuesday afternoon against the Tigers, in relief of Henderson Alvarez.
Casey Janssen followed Laffey into the game, facing the less-than-tenable situation of runners on second and third and nobody out. He did his job superbly, getting two weak ground balls and two pop-ups, but one of the pop-ups dropped in no man’s land in short right-centre for an RBI double. The run was charged to Laffey, so in all the Blue Jays’ bullpen of Janssen (4 outs), Bobby Korecky (2), Francisco Cordero (3) and Sergio Santos (3) combined for four innings of one-hitter without allowing a run.
But there was no comeback in the Blue Jays’ bats this time – Liam Hendriks shut them down on one hit over five innings, and this was the Jays’ regulars with the exception of Adam Lind and Eric Thames. Through six innings, there was naught but singles from Jose Bautista and Yunel Escobar, and the scoreboard wasn’t dented until Danny Perales homered with one out in the bottom of the ninth.
So the Blue Jays suffer their first loss since two Saturdays ago – nearly two weeks to the day, and fall to an abysmal 22-5-1 for the spring.
Farrell had an expansive chat with the media prior to the game, mentioning that Dustin McGowan is likely to start the season on the disabled list and that Brett Cecil is lined up to start the third game of the season, though not “officially announcing” either one of those things. He also mentioned that Adam Lind and Ben Francisco are both feeling much better and should get into games this weekend. He was effusive in his praise of Brett Lawrie and marveled at Anthony Gose’s ability to win a game all by himself. It was a long chat, but here it is, for your listening pleasure:
We also spoke to Adam Lind, who came off the field in the middle of stretch while his his teammates were warming up their arms playing catch. It turns out, though, that he’d done all he was supposed to do. Here’s that conversation:
There are just four games left in the Grapefruit season, which seems nuts, and we’ll be broadcasting the next two. Saturday afternoon we hit the airwaves at 12:30PM Eastern ahead of the Blue Jays and Phillies in Clearwater, and we’ll have one heck of a pitching match-up for you. Ricky Romero makes his final start of the spring, and he’s set to face none other than one Harry Leroy Halladay. And to add to the awsemnity of the afternoon, my guest on the pre-game show will be Paul Molitor. Make sure you tune in, won’t you?
Please give me a follow on The Twitter – you can find me @wilnerness590.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most, and I’ll catch up to the ones in the hopper soon, I promise!
Thursday, March 29th, 2012
While some of his teammates spent six hours on the bus going back and forth from Fort Myers and in-between, beat the Red Sox for good measure, Henderson Alvarez was kept at home. It appears as though the righty will face the Bostons in the Blue Jays’ Home Opener April 9th at Rogers Centre, and they didn’t want to show him to the Sox this late in spring, so he went to the minor-league complex to pitch for the Dunedin Blue Jays against the Tampa Yankees in a high-A exhibition game.
And it was no contest.
Despite the facts that Alvarez is just 21 years old and that he was pitching in high-A as recently as 11 months ago, he looked like a man against boys. He was perfect through the first four innings, allowing only one ball to be hit out of the infield. Amazingly, Alvarez only needed 34 pitches to get through those four innings, and just 43 to get through five. Those aren’t typos – he was ridiculous.
The Yankees got both their hits in the fifth inning, a ground single up the middle by Kyle Roller (it was, quite literally, a Roller roller) and a line single the other way by Rob Segedin, but Alvarez got ground balls directly after each hit, one of which was turned into a double play.
The kids started to catch up to him a bit later on – well, at least Justin James did. The 21 year-old, picked in the 13th round last season by the Yanks, fouled off three two-strike pitches before flying out to end an eight-pitch at-bat. To that point, Alvarez had needed 45 pitches to get 16 outs, an average of fewer than three pitches per out. In the 7th, Alvarez ran a couple of counts full – this after only going to as many as two balls once the entire afternoon (on James the inning before)- but still retired the side in order on three ground balls to shortstop.
In all, Alvarez went seven innings of two-hit shutout, walking none and striking out four. He faced one batter over the minimum while throwing only 72 pitches, 57 of which were strikes, and allowed just four balls to be hit out of the infield. That’s about as good as one can be, and his pitching coach, Bruce Walton was there to watch it and left thrilled:
As for Alvarez himself, he was certainly pleased with his outing, and he spoke to the media through a friendly neighbourhood translator who just happened to be watching the game:
I actually thought Alvarez would stay out and maybe even throw a complete game, since he was supposed to get stretched out to 85 or 90 pitches, but he’ll likely start the final game of the Grapefruit League schedule, Tuesday afternoon against the Tigers, and then be good to go for the Home Opener.
By the way, those Tampa Yankees that Alvarez destroyed are managed by none other than Luis Sojo. Sojo was originally signed by the Blue Jays, traded to the Angels as part of the Devon White deal, then repatriated from the Angels after the 1992 season in a trade for the broken Kelly Gruber. Sojo was seriously impressed watching his countryman teach a lesson to his young charges:
The highlight of my day, though, came not from watching Alvarez make mincemeat out of the young Yanks, nor did it come from finding a box of Franken Berry cereal at a Walgreen’s on my way “home” after the game (though that was close). No, it came in the bottom of the 7th inning, when Yankees prospect Pat Venditte came in to pitch for Tampa.
Venditte is a pretty famous guy for someone who has never pitched above Double-A. I noticed him as I walked past the Yankees’ bullpen the inning before going to my car to grab my recording equipment in anticipation of scrumming Alvarez. I saw him throw a warm-up pitch left-handed, then step down off the mound and ask his catcher if all was good. Figuring he was done warming up, I kept walking, but then I saw him take his glove off, put it on his left hand, and start to warm up right-handed. Very cool.
He came into the game pitching left-handed and faced the left-handed hitting John Talley, and got him on a weak comebacker to the mound. The right-handed hitting Kevin Ahrens was up next, so Venditte switched to throwing righty and got him on a grounder to short. Next up was switch-hitter Ivan Contreras, which presents a problem. In such cases, Venditte has to declare to the home plate umpire which hand he’s going to use before the hitter steps in the box. Not knowing anything about Contreras, Venditte decided to throw right-handed, so Contreras hit left, and struck out anyway.
Venditte also pitched the bottom of the 8th, but we were busy talking to Alvarez and Walton, which was the primary reason we were there, after all. It’s too bad, though, because Venditte pitching was one of the coolest things I have ever seen on a baseball field. I spoke to him afterwards:
The game, by the way, finished in a 0-0 tie and was called after the top of the 10th. Apparently the Yankees didn’t bring enough pitching.
In other news, Anthony Gose and Drew Hutchison had pretty huge days as the Blue Jays minor-leaguers (for the most part) beat the Red Sox to improve to 22-4-1 on the spring, setting a club record for meaningless wins in one Grapefruit season. That said, it has been an incredible spring to be watching the Blue Jays. Facing the Boston regulars, Hutchison threw four innings and allowed a run on four hits, walking one, striking out two, and earning the respect of Blue Jays fans everywhere by drilling Kevin Youkilis in the back.
Gose was 0-for-3 on the day, but in the 6th inning he reached on a Youkilis error, stole second, moved to third as Kelly Shoppach’s throw was wild, and scored on an Eric Thames two-run single (with Rajai Davis right behind him) to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead. In the 8th, with the Sox having tied it up, Gose decided to win the game all by himself. He led off the inning by drawing a walk, stole second, stole third and then, with two out, stole home. I wish I’d been there to see it.
I will be there to see tomorrow’s game, though – the Jays are home to the Minnesota Twins with Aaron Laffey making his final start of the spring as he tries to push Kyle Drabek for that 5th spot in the Jays’ rotation. He’s expected to throw five or six innings and be followed by Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero and Casey Janssen. Expect all the Blue Jays’ regulars save for Thames (the only one who made the trip to Fort Myers) and the injured Adam Lind to play. There’s no TV or radio for the game, so follow me on The Twitter for all the updates, you can find me @wilnerness590.
Speaking of injured Blue Jays, Ben Francisco tested his sore hamstring Thursday morning, and it passed the test. He’ll try again tomorrow and, if all goes well, will get into a minor-league game on the weekend. I spoke to Francisco before heading up to see Alvarez pitch:
One quick shout-out before I go – Yankee prospect Mikey O’Brien was charting pitches for Tampa, sitting right in front of me, and was a huge help telling me who was who on the Tampa side, since Yankees’ jerseys don’t have names on them. So a big public thank you to O’Brien who, it turns out, is pretty good. The 9th-round pick in 2008 has a career K:BB ratio of 7.2:2.8, keeps the ball in the park and has an ERA of 3.39 as a pro. I’ll be keeping an eye on him and his ascension through the ranks so that, as I told him today, I can get him to not talk to me when he gets to the big leagues (you know how those Yankees can be). Anyway, O’Brien is my new favourite Yankee, and if you want to follow him on The Twitter, you can find him @obmikey.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and reply to most!
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
The Baltimore Orioles came to Dunedin and brought one legitimate big-leaguer with them – their back-up catcher – so it’s no surprise that the Blue Jays extended their spring win streak to nine games, improving to 21-4-1. The Jays tied their club record with that 21st spring win, matching the total of the 1989 club that stumbled out of the gate to start the season 12-24, fired the manager, and recovered to win the AL East with a record of 89-73. But the game itself was secondary to the day’s news.
Brett Cecil was scheduled to start for the Blue Jays, but was scratched so that he could get his work in in a minor-league intrasquad game in the morning. The reason for the move was two-fold – first, Cecil’s second start of the regular season will be against the Orioles (the Jays didn’t know they weren’t going to bring anybody) so they didn’t want to give the Baltimores a free look. As an aside, I think that’s ridiculous. It’s become the norm in Spring Training to hide starting pitchers from division rivals or from teams that are on your early schedule, as if there aren’t reams of video and they’re not already well-known to them. As one of the press box denizens said on the subject – “Are they going to say ‘I didn’t know he was left-handed?’”
The second reason to have Cecil work at the minor-league complex was because in the more controlled environment, they could make sure to get him seven “innings” of work by ending innings early just to get him the ups and downs. As it turned out, they didn’t need to. It was an intra-squad game, so there wasn’t any scoring kept, and we didn’t find out Cecil was pitching until after the game had started (and weren’t told it was going to happen in the morning), so none of the media assemblage was there to see him. Also, though Cecil came back to the main stadium after his game, he left before we had a chance to talk to him, so the best I have for you is the word from General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, who watched Cecil pitch.
Anthopoulos was very happy with Cecil’s day – he had no problem getting through the seven innings (though he didn’t know the pitch count) and didn’t think Cecil walked anyone. They were watching to make sure he was able to work down in the zone, especially after his five-walk performance last time out, and Cecil was able to do that. Especially with the foot injury to Dustin McGowan, it appears as though Cecil has nailed down a spot in the starting rotation, and he’s likely to start the third game of the season, April 8th in Cleveland.
Here’s what Anthopoulos had to say about Cecil’s outing:
The other big news came after the game, when the Blue Jays confirmed what pretty much everyone who has been watching this Spring Training knew weeks ago – Omar Vizquel has won the job as the back-up infielder. Vizquel has had a terrific spring, showing enough arm to be able to handle any infield position, which is what the Jays were looking for, and of course, making all the plays – some spectacular. He’s also done very well at the plate – Vizquel had a bunt single in two trips Wednesday afternoon to bump his spring numbers to .433/.452/.500 in 30 at-bats.
It was always a foregone conclusion that Vizquel was going to make this team if he showed he could still play at a high enough level, and he obliterated any of those doubts in the first week. As Jeff Blair said a couple of weeks ago, does John Farrell really want to be the guy to tell Vizquel that he’s done? Not only would Farrell not want to do that – he absolutely lights up every time he talks about his former Indians’ teammate – there’s absolutely no reason to. Vizquel, who turns 45 next month, will wrap up his career doing a farewell lap as a Blue Jay – backing up all four infield positions and contributing on the field and off as he works with Yunel Escobar and probably gets some time with Adeiny Hechevarria as well. It will be the 24th big-league season for Vizquel, who comes in just 159 hits shy of 3,000. Of course, he may not even get 159 at-bats this year.
Vizquel had vacated the premises by the time the announcement was made – it would have been great to get a comment from him, but that’s the way things go – so it was the GM who came to talk to the assemblage about the decision. Here’s what Anthopoulos had to say about settling the infield back-up spot:
There’s no official move to place Vizquel on the 40-man roster yet, they don’t have to do that until the end of Spring Training. Likewise there’s no official move to try to send out Luis Valbuena, who is out of options and would have to go through waivers in order to be sent down. With Ben Francisco and Adam Lind’s situations still up in the air, Valbuena might be a piece the Blue Jays want on the Opening Day roster. If Francisco and Lind are both ready to answer the bell, the Jays will try to trade Valbuena before putting him on outright waivers.
Speaking of the walking wounded, Lind, whose back tightened up on him before last night’s win over the Yankees, will do nothing for two days and try to swing a bat on Friday. They’re hopeful of getting him back in game action on Saturday. The hope with Francisco is that he’ll play in a minor-league game on Friday and will get in a real fake game sometime on the weekend. As for McGowan, he threw off flat ground for a little bit, but the pain in his foot was affecting his arm slot, so he’s been temporarily shut down. John Farrell said that it’s unlikely McGowan will be able to answer the bell for his first scheduled start on April 11th, but the Blue Jays won’t need a fifth starter again until April 21st, and he might be able to start then, though it seems that’s pretty ambitious, too.
With the regulars having played two games in a row, the Blue Jays will take a skeleton crew to Fort Myers for Thursday’s game against the Red Sox. Drew Hutchison will start for the Jays while Henderson Alvarez throws six innings in a minor-league game back in Dunedin – the Red Sox have yet to announce a starter. The travel squad beyond Hutchison would indicate that the nine-game winning streak is in jeopardy: Luis Perez, Drew Carpenter, Robert Coello, Jim Hoey, Jeff Mathis, Luis Valbuena, Rajai Davis, Eric Thames, Jonathan Diaz, Yan Gomes, Anthony Gose, Ruben Gotay, Jack Murphy, Ricardo Nanita, Kellen Sweeney, John Tolisano.
Please give me a follow on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590 for all the updates from Alvarez’ minor-league outing.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and reply to most!
Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
There was plenty of both as the Blue Jays extended their win streak to eight games with a one-run win over the Yankees. The good happened on the field, the bad off of it.
About an hour before game time, we found out that Adam Lind, who had been scheduled to play first base and bat fourth, as usual, had been scratched from the line-up with a recurrence of the back problems that basically ruined his 2011 season. Lind will be shut down for at least three days and then they’ll re-evaluate and see if he’s ready to get back in. Manager John Farrell said after the game that Lind felt the tightness during warm-ups and his back didn’t get loose during batting practice. This is something they’re going to have to keep an eye on all year long, and probably for the rest of his career. If Lind is gone for a while (though I was told “he’s fine”) then the solution is likely to bring Travis Snider back, put him in left field, have Eric Thames DH and move Edwin Encarnacion out to first base. Again, that would only be in the case of a long-term injury to Lind. A shorter-term issue would likelier be addressed with guys like Ben Francisco and Rajai Davis, maybe even Omar Vizquel.
The good news was basically everything else. Kyle Drabek pitched five shutout innings while throwing almost as many balls as strikes. He only had one three-up, three-down inning and was pitching in trouble most of the night, which makes the fact that he didn’t give up a run that much more impressive. While getting squeezed on more than a few pitches, Drabek maintained his composure, stayed in his lanes and didn’t come out of his mechanics. With the injury to Dustin McGowan (even though “it’s just a foot”), Drabek made himself the front-runner for the fifth spot in the rotation with this start, factoring in the rest of his very impressive spring as well.
Brett Lawrie showed that he’s over his groin injury by kicking it into high gear coming around second base on his second-inning triple. He also doubled and lined out hard to shortstop, showing that his bat hasn’t really suffered either from that week-long layoff.
And Kelly Johnson continued to look very comfortable in the leadoff spot, going 2-for-3 against tough lefty CC Sabathia, including a triple into the gap in right-centre to lead off the game.
More good news? Sure! We got to have the first extendo-JaysTalk of 2012! Here it is, for your listening pleasure:
There’s plenty more audio for your consumption from Tuesday night’s game, and here it is:
First, Kyle Drabek talking about his outing:
Here’s lead-off man Kelly Johnson:
Casey Janssen threw a perfect 6th inning (against Cano, A-Rod and Ibanez) to keep his spring ERA at 0.00 and drop his WHIP to 0.57:
Brett Lawrie talked about his healthy, young groin:
And here’s Eric Thames, on winning The Battle For Left Field (TM):
The Blue Jays get back at it Wednesday afternoon, hosting the Baltimore Orioles at The FAES. Brett Cecil will make his penultimate start of the spring, while old friend Dana Eveland will oppose. There’s neither radio nor television coverage for this game, so keep your eye on my Twitter feed to stay updated. You can follow me @wilnerness590.
Comments are always welcome – I read them all and reply to most!
Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
10:47 AM Eastern
Monday evening, the Blue Jays announced that they’d signed Dustin McGowan to a two-year contract extension with an option for a third year. The deal begins with the 2013 season (McGowan will make $600,000 this year) and will pay him $1,500,000 in each of 2013 and 2014. The Blue Jays have a club option for $4,000,000 for the 2015 season. If they choose not to exercise it, it will cost them $500,000. Tuesday morning, Alex Anthopoulos and McGowan met with the assemblage to discuss the deal.
When Anthopuolos approached McGowan and his agent about an extension, the reasons were many. First of all, the Blue Jays love what they have seen out of McGowan this spring as far as mechanics and stuff, and they believe there’s a chance he could be an important piece of their starting rotation over the next few years. As well, they felt that they had come so far with McGowan in his recovery from the four surgeries he’s been through over the last eight years that they were invested in seeing the process through to the end, and not walking away from him after this season or letting him walk away from them as a free agent. Most importantly, said Anthopoulos, they love McGowan as a person. Like he did when he beamed about Jose Bautista during the news conference to announce his new contract a year ago, Anthopoulos said that he’s supremely confident in gambling on Dustin McGowan, the man. The Blue Jays are thrilled to have people the quality of McGowan, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow setting an example for the huge group of kid pitchers with which they’re going to be overwhelmed in the next three or four years.
McGowan, who said he feels as though his new name is “How Do You Feel?”, said that for him, accepting the deal was a combination of wanting to show loyalty to the team that has stood by him lo these many years and wanting to grab guaranteed money when it’s offered, because it may never be offered to him again. He also says he feels great, except for the plantar fasciitis (about which he said, dismissively, “It’s just a foot”), and that while he knows enough not to push himself too hard, he thinks that he can pitch without limitation, up until the point at which things start to bother him, which they may not. Anthopoulos, too, refused to put a limit on what McGowan might be able to do this year – saying that there’s no hard and fast innings limit (some have discussed 120 as McGowan’s cap this season), but that they’ll monitor him very, very carefully throughout the season – strength tests and such – and will act at the first sign of anything abnormal. But if he keeps feeling great, they’ll let him go.
As far as the money goes, Anthopoulos said “no one looks like him” as far as comparables go, but then brought up Erik Bedard a couple of times and said that while he and a couple of others like him got million-dollar contracts with incentives they almost never reached, and then contracts in the four-million dollar neighbourhood later on, the Blue Jays don’t do incentive clauses (not as policy, just as a rule of thumb – that may change), so they upped the base on McGowan’s earlier years and kept that option year at four.
It was easy to see, throughout the 25-minute chat with the assemblage, in how high an esteem Anthopoulos holds McGowan, and also how much McGowan wants to be in Toronto and contribute to the Blue Jays at the major-league level. There’s no question he has ace stuff and there’s no question he’s a top-notch human being. There are two rather large questions, though -and those are: Can he stay healthy and can he get back to the point where he commands his stuff well enough to have success in the big leagues? Those questions will remain unanswered for a while, but those questions are why the Blue Jays were able to lock him up for a combined $7.6 million over the next four years, if they want him around the whole time.
Here’s the audio of the entire news conference, for your listening pleasure:
Tonight, the Blue Jays head east across the causeway to take on the Yankees in Tampa. Kyle Drabek will start and is expected to throw five innings and be followed by Sergio Santos, Casey Janssen and Francisco Cordero. CC Sabathia gets the call for the Yankees, and will be followed by Hiroki Kuroda. We’ll have the game for you along the Blue Jays Radio Network starting at 7:00PM Eastern, with The JaysTalk to follow. Join us, won’t you?
Please give me a follow on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most!
Monday, March 26th, 2012
So it turns out that while Dustin McGowan was in the trainers’ room for 3 1/2 hours Monday morning, he was also hammering out a contract extension with the Blue Jays the final touches of which, we’re told, were done after he and the assembled media had left the ballpark for the day.
McGowan, currently rehabbing plantar fasciitis in his right foot, signed a two-year extension worth $3 million with a third-year club option for $4 million. The contract kicks in for the 2013 season – he’ll make $600,000 this year.
McGowan’s story is an amazing one, and has been recounted many times over the past few months. Forget the Tommy John surgery, that happened forever ago (2004). Since McGowan first went down with a shoulder injury on July 8, 2008, he ‘s had that right shoulder operated on twice and has had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. He finally made his way back to the big leagues last September, and while his numbers weren’t good at all, he still allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and struck out 20 in 21 innings of work.
The contract is both a reward for McGowan’s years of hard work and perseverance and a good financial gamble for the Blue Jays. Sure, there’s a chance that McGowan never returns to the level of performance that he’d just started to establish before he got hurt – he had a 1.22 WHIP in 2007, the year that included his near no-hitter against the Rockies. His numbers were down the next season as he fought the shoulder problems.
The chance that McGowan doesn’t get back to that – or better than that, as had been projected for him (remember, people used to talk about him as a potential 1A with Roy Halladay) – is far greater than the chance that he does, but the Blue Jays spent a pittance in order to find out.
The $3 million guaranteed to McGowan over two years is nothing in terms of big-league budget. He’ll make less than 2% of the club’s overall payroll each of the next three seasons including this one (less than 1% this year, actually), which is ridiculous for a member of the starting rotation who has been eligible for free agency. If McGowan doesn’t work out, the Blue Jays lose $3 million. If he does, they get a rotation piece for $7.6 million over the next four years. Despite all the negativity that came out about the deal on Twitter in the aftermath of the announcement, there really is no regrettable downside to the contract. And yes, there is a comparison to Jose Bautista’s deal. Bautista cashed in huge after only one great season, which is the risk that the Blue Jays bought with their $3 million.
On a personal note, I’m thrilled for McGowan. He’s a really nice guy with a big-time arm, and after all the crap he’s gone through the last three years, for him to get any kind of guaranteed money at all is a huge plus. I’m hopeful that he’ll be able to come all the way back to be able to command the great stuff he still has. If he never does, it cost three million dollars to see if he could. For the potential payoff, it’s well worth it.
Also, some audio treats for you! Even though we’ll have to go back to the ballpark Tuesday morning to talk to McGowan about the new deal, only 9 1/2 hours prior to the first pitch of that night’s Blue Jays game, having to wait that long to talk to Dustin today did enable us to speak to a couple of other important Blue Jays types – Ricky Romero and John Farrell.
Romero threw about 96 pitches in seven innings of a minor-league game against the Tigers, and though he gave up 13 hits, only allowed four runs, something he took as a silver lining in an otherwise rough start. Here’s what Romero had to say when he came out of the game:
And when Ricky’s day was done, Farrell left the premises, too. Farrell talked to us not only about his ace, but about McGowan’s rehab (no one knew about the contract yet, of course) and how Jose Bautista is doing after getting hit in the hand by Daniel Bard Sunday afternoon. Here’s that audio, for your listening pleasure:
Remember, you can find me on The Twitter @wilnerness590.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most!
Monday, March 26th, 2012
There’s no better way to spend an off-day than hanging out in the media workroom at the FAES, waiting three and a half hours for an injured player to finish getting treatment in order to talk to him.
Spring training problems, though. Truth remains I’m well aware I have one of the best jobs in the world.
When Dustin McGowan finally emerged from the trainers’ room, he did so with no wraps or ice or anything on his right foot, just a regular running shoe, and he walked out of the clubhouse without so much as the hint of a limp.
McGowan said that he felt much better today than he did Sunday afternoon, when he removed himself from a scheduled five-inning minor-league start a couple of batters into his second inning of work, having to be taken off the field on a golf cart. The plantar fascia in his right foot was really bothering him, and he was concerned that the pain in his foot might affect his mechanics on the mound, so he figured the right move to make was to shut it down for the day, and he was right.
The plantar fasciitis is mild, and the fascia itself is not torn, which is wonderful news. McGowan hoped that he would be able to throw (not from a mound) in the next day or two, and that he might not need to miss more than a week before getting back on the mound. How optimistic a scenario that is, we don’t know. What we do know, though, is that McGowan had the same problem with his left foot earlier in the spring, and it resolved itself within a couple of weeks. Left foot problems aren’t nearly as bad for a right-handed pitcher though, because while the left foot is the one on which he lands, the right foot is used to push off and generate power.
McGowan doesn’t think this is a huge setback, though. He was already stretched out to 68 pitches in his previous outing, and says he won’t have too hard a time getting back there. If he does have to miss a major-league start or two getting stretched back out at extended Spring Training, such is life. As he said, better to take a week off than a career off – and he’s well acquainted with potential career-ending injuries.
Here’s our discussion with McGowan, for your listening pleasure:
While Dustin is optimistic, the injury likely means that he won’t be able to be on the major-league roster for Opening Day, swinging the door open for either Aaron Laffey (who’s not on the 40-man roster) or Kyle Drabek (who is). Laffey was having a terrific spring until the Red Sox beat him up for five runs on nine hits Sunday afternoon. Drabek is having a terrific spring, and will be on the mound on Tuesday night against the Yankees. We’ll have that game for you all across the Blue Jays Radio Network, beginning at 7:00 PM Eastern, and expect to have a full edition of The JaysTalk for you afterwards. Join us, won’t you?
Drabek is scheduled to pitch five innings, and be followed by the big guns – Sergio Santos, Casey Janssen and Francisco Cordero. Here’s the rest of the Jays’ travel squad for the game: Drew Carpenter, Jesse Chavez, Robert Coello, J.P. Arencibia, Jeff Mathis, Edwin Encarnacion, Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, Mike McCoy, Luis Valbuena, Omar Vizquel, Jose Bautista, Rajai Davis, Ben Francisco, Colby Rasmus, Eric Thames, Jonathan Diaz, Yan Gomes, Brian Jeroloman, Ricardo Nanita, John Tolisano, Chris Woodward.
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Sunday, March 25th, 2012
With just over a week remaining in Spring Training, the Blue Jays have declared a winner in The Battle For Left Field (TM), choosing incumbent Eric Thames over Travis Snider.
Thames had the lead coming into the competition, and really has done nothing to this point in the spring to let loose his grip on the job, hitting .333/.380/.511 and showing that he has become an average defensive left fielder, at least. Of course, Snider didn’t do anything to lose the job either, hitting .271/.340/.625 and leading the Blue Jays with four spring home runs while playing excellent defense and stealing a couple of bases. Both Snider and Thames went 0-for-2 in the extra-inning win over Boston Sunday afternoon, with Snider driving in the tying run in the bottom of the 6th to give him 16 RBIs in 17 spring games.
Snider’s demotion certainly isn’t the end of the line for him as a Blue Jay – he’ll go down to Las Vegas and tear it up, as he always does, and eventually he’ll be back. It might be sooner than later, as General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was very clear in saying that in his mind, the competition for left field is not over. It will continue throughout the year. He’s told Snider, and will tell Thames, that things can change at any time.
Anthopoulos was very impressed with Snider’s spring, that the power is back in his bat and the speed and defense is very strong. And though Snider didn’t do anything to lose the job, neither did Thames, and since Thames is the one who had it for the last three months of 2011, he gets to keep it.
Here’s my entire conversation with Anthopoulos on Snider’s demotion:
Certainly this doesn’t mean Snider’s time with the Blue Jays is over, or that they’ve given up on him. What it does mean, though, is that a sad chapter in Blue Jays’ history continues. Travis Snider could have established himself by now as one of the up-and-coming young stars in baseball. He should be, by now, a major-league regular, a middle-of-the-order bat, one of the guys around whom a good team builds its lineup. Instead, he’s a lesson on how not to handle a top prospect.
The Blue Jays had the 14th overall pick in the 2006 draft, and had their eye on a young pitcher from the Pacific Northwest named Tim Lincecum. When the Giants took him 10th, the Jays turned to Plan B and grabbed themselves a high school slugger from the same area. Snider was ranked the #53 prospect in the game by Baseball America after a half-season of rookie ball and was their 11th-ranked prospect going into the next year, 2008. That season, Snider started at high-A Dunedin, was promoted to AA New Hampshire after just three weeks, and spent most of the summer in the Eastern League before getting called up to Syracuse in August, where he hit .344/.386/.516 in just 18 games. For the season, Snider hit.275/.358/.480 at three levels of the minor leagues – as a 20 year-old – and he was called up to the major leagues on August 29th.
Was he called up so soon because he’d earned the look for team that was out of the race going into the season’s last month, or was he called up because J.P. Ricciardi wanted to prove to the fans that he’d drafted a really good young star in the making? More believe the latter than the former, but I think it was because Ricciardi thought he really had something and wanted to see Snider in the bigs for a month.
Travis didn’t disappoint, hitting .301/.338/.466 over 80 plate appearances in his late-season call-up, and broke camp in 2009 as the starting left-fielder, sort of. One of the problems was that in Cito Gaston, the Blue Jays had a manager who didn’t believe that young left-handed hitters should play against left-handed pitchers, as he’d shown in the past with players such as Shawn Green, John Olerud and others.
Snider got off to a great start in 2009, hitting two home runs in an April 15th win over the Twins that jacked his early-season numbers to .318/.400/.864. But the Twins started a lefty the next day, so Snider sat. In fact, the Blue Jays faced a left-handed starter so often over the next 10 games that Snider played less than half the time. He was then allowed to play every day for a couple of weeks, but slumped badly and was sent down before the end of May so that the Jays could call up Joe Inglett.
That was the beginning, and it continued through a number of injuries and a wacky September in 2010 when Snider, who had hit in the bottom third of the order his entire major-league career, was suddenly installed as the lead-off man – but only every other day, sharing duties with Fred Lewis.
Last season, Snider made the team out of Spring Training, and was told the job was his long-term, but Anthopoulos and John Farrell didn’t like what they saw a month into the season, and he was sent out before the end of April with instructions to rework his swing to get the power back into it. While he was doing that, Thames came up and took the left-field job.
Snider came back in early July and hit the ground running, then slumped, and when the Jays were ready to bring Brett Lawrie to the big leagues, it was Snider who went back down, despite the fact that he had outperformed Thames (.682 OPS to .655) in the month that they were on the team together.
Thames picked things up, and had a .760 OPS from that point on, and spent the winter making himself into a much better defensive outfielder than he had been before, as well as working hard on improving his swing. It has shown this spring, without question.
The bad news is that the Blue Jays have probably wasted two or three years of Travis Snider’s development, and may well wind up losing him as an asset before he blossoms. The good news is that in Eric Thames, they might have uncovered a gem that they otherwise may have overlooked.
They certainly appear to be conscious of the mistakes they made with Snider in the way they’ve handled Thames. They haven’t been afraid to hit Thames near the top of the line-up, and they stuck with him through hot streaks and through slumps. So far, that’s paid off. And for all the talk about Snider, there’s no question that Thames is a good player and a great kid – he just doesn’t bring the defense or speed that Snider does, and his ceiling doesn’t appear to be as high.
Hopefully we get to see them both become stars in Toronto someday.
In other news, Dustin McGowan took himself out of a minor-league start in the second of his scheduled five innings with soreness in the plantar fascia of his right foot. He had to be taken off the field on a golf cart, but was walking later in the afternoon. He saw the Jays’ team podiatrist, and it was determined that he hadn’t torn the plantar fascia, which is very good news indeed. McGowan, who is trying to come back to the big leagues after undergoing three different arm surgeries (with a knee surgery tossed in just for fun), was in no mood to talk to reporters after getting treatment, so Anthopoulos spoke to us instead. And the General Manager didn’t seem terribly worried, at all. Here’s what he had to say:
Later on in the afternoon, while he was out talking about the Snider demotion, Anthopoulos said that he’d just gotten word that McGowan is doing even better than he expected to be, so it really may not be a long-term thing at all. In any case, it’s difficult to imagine Dustin being ready to make a major-league start on April 11th, which is the first time the Blue Jays need a 5th starter this season. That means the door swings open for Aaron Laffey or Kyle Drabek to swoop in.
Laffey started Sunday’s game against the Red Sox, and wasn’t good. He gave up five runs on nine hits – five of which went for extra bases – over his five innings, though he didn’t walk anyone. Laffey spoke to the gathered assemblage afterwards:
Drabek gets his next chance to impress on Tuesday night, when the Jays visit the Yankees over in Tampa. We’ll have that game for you on the Blue Jays Radio Network, beginning at 7:00PM Eastern. Join us, won’t you?
Please give me a follow on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590. Travis Snider is there as well, @LunchboxHero45, and Eric Thames can be found @EThames14.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most!
Saturday, March 24th, 2012
6:12 PM Eastern
It’s beginning to get unfair already.
The Blue Jays continue to cut a swath through their opposition, laying a pounding on the Atlanta Braves Saturday afternoon in which the score would have been the same had the interlopers from Disneyworld not even bothered to show up at all.
The Jays have won six in a row, and 16 of 18, and this one came courtesy the good right arm of Henderson Alvarez and the strong bats of Adam Lind and Kelly Johnson.
Alvarez was brilliant over his five innings, allowing just one hit – a line-drive single up the middle by Freddie Freeman on Alvarez’ only 3-0 pitch of the day – striking out four and not issuing a base on balls. Basically two of every three of his 61 pitches were strikes and he worked quickly and confidently, aggressively attacking the strike zone. He spoke to us afterwards, through a translator (one of the Spanish reporters who was covering the game), and was very pleased with his outing. He felt fuerte afterwards, which is very good to hear. Here’s the whole thing, for your listening pleasure:
Lind had a terrific game, going 2-for-3 with his first home run of the spring, a triple and a walk. The homer came on the 10th pitch of his second at-bat, after he’d fouled off five pitches in a row, and the walk was a 10-pitch plate appearance, too. The triple was a high fly ball deep into the right field corner that Braves rightfielder Matt Diaz never saw even for a second. It hit at the base of the wall, less than a foot fair, and Lind was able to easily cruise into third. It was great to see Lind get deep into some at-bats and see a whole big whack of pitches – it’s something he seems to have been struggling with, the whole “controlled aggression” thing. It’s a change from what Cito Gaston wanted from him, which was the approach with which he had his most success.
Here’s what Lind had to say about his day:
Kelly Johnson also swung a big stick, his three-run double was the big blow in the Blue Jays’ five-run fourth off Randall Delgado, and Eric Thames was 2-for-3 with a ringing double off the wall in dead centre. Thames also made a really nice running catch on an Eric Hinske drive that was tailing away from him into the left-field corner. He’s raised his spring numbers to .349/.396/.535. Here’s my conversation with Thames after he came out of the game:
Travis Snider was the DH and went 0-for-3, though his double-play grounder in the 4th was misplayed by Braves’ second baseman Josh Wilson and opened the door to the big inning. Snider has cooled off as of late, but is still hitting .283/.353/.652 and leading Thames by a few points of OPS. The Battle For Left Field (TM) is likely to continue right to the end of the spring, but the Blue Jays’ brass continues to insist that Thames’ incumbency has given him the leg up in the fight, and there continues to be no reason not to believe them, despite Snider’s better speed, defense and higher ceiling.
We saw an inning from Sergio Santos – he pitched a shutout 6th, striking out a pair while walking one and giving up a broken-bat double that just eluded a diving Lind at first. It was only Santos’ third appearance of the spring – he’s been doing a lot of work in bullpens and minor-league games developing his change-up. He seemed to be very happy with where he is, and expects to be getting a lot more work in Grapefruit League games to come. Here, listen for yourself:
Darren Oliver, Casey Janssen and Francisco Cordero finished up with a combined three innings of one-hitter.
Every Blue Jays starter either scored a run or drove one in, with the exception of Colby Rasmus, but Rasmus beat out an infield single in the second and was spectacularly robbed of a double that would likely have driven in two by Freddie Freeman, who simply stuck his glove up high and had Rasmus’ rocket of a line drive catch him.
We had a little bit of JaysTalk after the game, time for just three calls, and here it is, for your listening pleasure:
Friday night, the Jays scored four with two out in the ninth inning against the Rays – their second four-run 9th in three days – and overcame a rough Brett Cecil start to beat T-Bay. Cecil walked five in his 2 1/3 innings of work, allowing four runs on four hits. Since no reporters went down to Port Charlotte to cover the game, Cecil made himself available to the media before Saturday’s action, and here’s what he had to say about his rough night:
The Blue Jays are back at it Sunday afternoon, with the Red Sox making the long trip up to Dunedin. Aaron Laffey will get the start – he had a very good five innings against the Bosox down in Fort Myers on Tuesday night and starts again because Dustin McGowan will throw five innings in a minor-league game. If McGowan makes the team as the fifth starter, as expected, his first start of the regular season will be against Boston, so there’s no need to expose him to the Red Sox this late in the spring. Brett Lawrie is expected to play in the game – it’ll be his first action since suffering a mild hamstring strain on March 16th. We’ll have the game for you across the Blue Jays Radio Network starting with the pre-game at 12:30PM Eastern – make sure you tune us in!
Please give me a follow on The Twitter for all the latest news and information – you can find me @wilnerness590.
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