7:08 PM Eastern

Not so much the ten-game unbeaten streak – I mean, that’s fun and all, but it is just spring training and the games don’t count (though winning is considerably better than losing).

No, what’s crazy – I think, anyways – is watching Dustin McGowan go out to the mound and throw three solid innings and having all of us treat it like just another spring start.  And it was.  McGowan had some trouble finding his groove early, throwing 21 pitches (only 11 strikes) in the first inning and giving up an unearned run that shouldn’t have been.  But even with the unsettledness, he only gave up one hard-hit ball in the frame and then proceeded to retire seven of the last eight hitters he faced – striking out three and getting three groundouts and a pop-up around a harmless single.

McGowan threw a total of 46 pitches, 27 of them for strikes, and continues to be right on track to be in the Blue Jays rotation to start the season.  It’s nothing short of miraculous, truly, given all that he’s been through, but it’s becoming routine now, which is nuts.

As far as that unearned run that shouldn’t have been – it’s Spring Training and most teams just use members of their P.R. department as official scorers (which in the Blue Jays’ case, works out just fine).  Jordan Schafer led off the inning with a walk and Travis d’Arnaud tried to pick him off first, but the throw sailed over David Cooper’s head and into right field for a two-base error.  The next batter, Angel Sanchez, hit a bouncer to short.  Official scorers aren’t allowed to assume a double play, so this would either have resulted in an out at first or at second, and it’s fair to assume the Jays would have gotten the closer force play, leaving Sanchez on first with one out.  Then J.D. Martinez flied to left, which wouldn’t have advanced the runner, and Carlos Lee doubled into the left-field corner.  With two out and Jose Bautista back in Dunedin, there’s zero chance that either Schafer or Sanchez doesn’t score on that play, but the official scorer said otherwise, calling the run unearned.  This shouldn’t bother me, it’s spring training and nothing counts – and in the regular season things like this don’t really matter either, but my inner baseball geek is screaming about a miscarriage of justice.  Oh, well.  Had to get that off my chest.

I spoke to McGowan after his outing, and he was pleased to be continuing what’s so far been a very successful spring:

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Kyle Drabek followed McGowan, and was even better.  Drabek should have thrown three perfect innings, but the fates conspired against him.  He retired the first six hitters he faced – the sixth thanks to a phenomenal diving grab, flat-out to his left, by Jonathan Diaz at second.  It was a spectacular play, and Diaz got up and threw out Jose Altuve (together, they’re like 11 feet tall, maybe).  Diaz has had a very strong spring – he chipped in with two hits, as well, and continues to show that he deserves consideration as the Blue Jays’ utility infielder when Omar Vizquel is finished with the position.

Here’s my conversation with Diaz, a man of few words, after the game:

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OK, back to Drabek.  He came out for the 6th having gone six up, six down and needing only 22 pitches (15 strikes) to do so, and got Schafer to lead off the inning with a hard grounder to third.  Mike McCoy couldn’t handle it, though, and Schafer reached on the error.  The next hitter, Sanchez, popped a ball up to short with Schafer on the move, but Luis Valbuena had abandoned his position to go cover second on the steal.  That left an almost defenseless Eric Thames to try to make the play, and he charged hard – making a long, long run – and the wind took the ball out to him, but it went off his glove for a base hit, the only safety Drabek would allow.

So with runners at first and second, nobody out, and things going wrong all around him, Drabek fell apart, started walking people and gave up a couple of big hits afterward, right?  Not so much.  That hasn’t happened at all this spring, in fact.  This time, the Astros helped him out a bit, as the runners took off on a double steal but Sanchez was nailed going into second.  That left a runner on third and one out and Drabek got a couple of ground balls to get out of the inning, though a run did wind up scoring.

Here’s what Drabek thought of his performance after the game:

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In the ongoing saga of “The Battle For Left Field”, Travis Snider belted a two-out, two-run double off lefty Zach Duke in the second inning as part of a 1-for-4 day.  He also struck out twice and popped up.  Snider was the DH, so he didn’t have the opportunity to dazzle on defense.  Thames was 2-for-4 with a single and a double – both hard-hit line drives that tipped of the end of the gloves of  a couple of Astros outfielders.  He also stole a base, but was later erased trying to go from second to third on a grounder to short.  Thames grounded out in his other two at-bats.

I’ve spoken to Snider quite a bit this spring, so this time, I talked to Thames, who had some interesting things to say about his reaction to all the Snider talk over the past couple of weeks:

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On the Baby Jays watch, Anthony Gose had two hits that travelled a combined 100 feet - maybe - a bunt single and a slow roller to short that Sanchez tried to barehand, but missed.  Jake Marisnick, who is likely going to be a monster, belted his first Grapefruit League homer in the 9th - a bomb down the left-field line off Fernando Abad (who has plenty of big-league time) that may have hit the roof of the Astros' clubhouse beyond the left-field wall.

More audio for you!

Here’s the post-game scrum with manager John Farrell, in which I was the only member of the media who participated, so it wound up being a one-on-one interview.  You’ll note that Farrell wasn’t as harsh on McGowan as Dustin himself was, and also that I gave Farrell an out to take Thames off the hook for the Sanchez pop-up that fell in in the 6th, and he didn’t take it.  He also seemed especially pleased with Drabek and was critical of d’Arnaud’s day behind the plate:

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And finally, with the Maple Leafs in Tampa to face the Lightning Thursday night, a couple of members of the Buds’ front office were in attendance at the game.  I said hello to Dave Poulin and informed him that his NHL debut was the first NHL game I’d ever attended in person (April of 1983 – he scored twice as the Flyers beat the Leafs, I want to say 6-4, maybe 6-3), and I also managed to get a few minutes with Burkie himself!  Here’s that conversation, for your listening pleasure:

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Friday, the Blue Jays look to stretch their spring win streak to ten when the Tampa Bay Rays pay a visit to the FAES.  Ricky Romero is scheduled to start and throw four innings, and Chad Jenkins is set to go three.  No TV or radio coverage of the game, so follow me on The Twitter @wilnerness590 and you’ll stay apprised of all the action.

Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most!

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11 Responses to “Crazy, Isn’t It?”
  1. 1.

    Sounds like Thames can only lose the job if he bombs all spring; perhaps Snider can’t *win* the job. With Gose and Marisnick coming, it seems like the winner of The Epic Battle for LF may only be a one or two year solution anyway. Do you agree?

    I think Thames comes north with the team, even though I’m pulling for the Lunch Box Hero. If that were the case I would not be upset if AA packaged Snider in a prospect-heavy trade for a core piece. Could you see that happening before May? Snider’s trade value may be at its highest right now…

    MW: I think the lesson learned from Snider’s ups and downs should serve as a huge warning to those who assume that either Gose, Marisnick, d’Arnaud or whoever will be able to hit the ground running as a big-league regular later this year or next. I also don’t think there’s any way that Snider’s value is at its highest right now and would be very surprised if either he or Thames were traded anytime before the all-star break.

    - @joelwpenney
  2. 2.

    Hi Mike,
    Solid blogging and tweeting by you this Spring Training. Thanks for keeping us all well informed as to what’s been happening in the Jays’ camp. Kieth Law wasn’t so effusive in his praise of Dustin today and suggested that all the glowing reports thus far on Dustin have come from Blue Jay coaches and Toronto media, ie not the most objective sources. I generally respect what Law has to say and as you know, he attended today’s game so I am a bit concerned that he didn’t have as glowing an endorsement of Dustin as you.

    MW: McGowan threw three innings and didn’t look very good in the first one. I believe the harshest tweets from Keith came after that first inning. He was very impressed later on that McGowan’s last two pitches clocked in at 95 and 96.

    - bg
  3. 3.

    Great insight so far Mike!

    I love the audio clips, Thames always seems to give such an animated, exciting interview. This spring is probably the most excited I have been for the season to begin.

    Just out of curiosity who is your favorite interview?

    Is Rogers going to get these spring games on TV?

    Cheers

    MW: It’s tough to say who my favourite interview is. A lot of the Jays players and coaches are terrific to talk to, though some are more comfortable off-mic than on. There will be two spring games televised on Sportsnet, Sunday March 18th and Sunday April 1st.

    - Derek
  4. 4.

    Keith Law made a pretty harsh scouting report on McGowan, claiming he is a shadow of his former self. wasn’t keith a scout with the jays previously? im just curious if you know what he’s talking about or if you’ve heard any other scouts or people who have seen a lot of McGowan mention that hes not the same pitcher he once was

    MW: I would be very surprised if Law said that McGowan was a “shadow of his former self.”

    - Bobo
  5. 5.

    Ask this a couple of times via twitter to various and sundry persons, no reply as yet so I’ll do it here.

    On the current every-fifth-day rotation, Mcgowan’s first turn of the season aligns with the home opener.

    while it’s technically NOT his turn (it’s Alvarez’s) because of the off-day, I wonder if (and advocate for) Farrell would be looking at a bit of minor juggling in order to give McGowan the home opener.

    it seems to me that on EVERY “intangible” level you can look at it, that it’s a practically perfect idea.

    McGowan might never have another healthy opening day for all we know, and might not have one in Toronto if he does – Alvarez has a much higher probability of having future chances at that honor.

    McGowan is also technically the most veteran starter in the organization, and one that everyone has a ton of emotion invested in – how can the NOT have this in mind?

    I do not mean to imply that McGowan becomes the 4th starter throughout the year – I recognize the value of having him be in a position to occasionally skip a start in order to lengthen his season into September – I just mean for this special occasion.

    Here’s how I see the calendar playing out, including the last turn through the rotation in ST:

    March 31 – Romero
    April 1 – Morrow
    4/2 – Cecil
    4/3 – Alvarez
    4/4 – McGowan
    ——-
    4/5 – Romero
    4/6 – off
    4/7 – Morrow
    4/8 – Cecil
    4/9 – McGowan
    4/10 – Alvarez
    4/11 – Romero
    4/12 – off
    4/13 – Morrow
    4/14 – Cecil
    4/15 – Alvarez
    4/16 – off (skip McGowan)
    4/17 – Romero
    4/18 – Morrow
    4/19 – Cecil
    4/20 – Alvarez
    4/21 – McGowan

    McGowan would have 11 off days there (presumably with a sim game or something on the 15th

    He won’t really need it at this point but it helps stretch out his season if the Jays are intent on limiting his innings.

    So there’s essentially no cost in terms of keeping other pitchers on either 4 or 5 days rest in order to do this thing.

    I know Farrell would never confirm it this far out but surely they have considered this – haven’t they?

    MW: I honestly don’t believe they have, but you never know. I would think they’d use those early-season off-days to hold McGowan back, not push him forward. But it would be nice to have him start the home opener, for those reasons you mention.

    - TammyBeth
  6. 6.

    on an unrelated note:

    who’s faster (and who’s a better baserunner) Raji or Gose?

    MW: I haven’t put a stopwatch on either one. They’re both really, really fast.

    - TammyBeth
  7. 7.

    Mike,

    Great coverage on the Jays so far, I envy your ‘job’ greatly!!!

    I am in a bit of dilemma heading into the season as I am having internal battles in regards to the new Jays jersey I am about to pick up. I seriously don’t know which one I should pick up! Between Lawrie, Romero, Bautista, Morrow, JP, Escobar, Rasmus, the list goes on and on.

    Maybe I should just buy 2?

    One question for you before I sign off here:

    I don’t think we’ve heard much about Colby Rasmus. How is he doing and what are we expect to see out of him this upcoming season?

    Thanks Mike!

    MW: Heck, buy three! I’d suggest Bautista and Lawrie would be the most popular choices. Rasmus is doing fine – expect good things.

    - Antony
  8. 8.

    Mike, in Gregor Chisholm’s blog, he lists the Blue Jay pitching plans for the next few days (through Sunday). I’m puzzled because I don’t see any of the key bullpen names (except Frasor) mentioned — no Santos, no Cordero, no Oliver, no Janssen. There is one inning listed as “to be determined”, so this could account for one of these guys, but what’s up here? Do we have some undisclosed “issues” pending?

    MW: No, they’re all scheduled to get work in in minor-league games. Have to find innings for the kids somewhere!

    - Norm
  9. 9.

    hey Mike,
    cheers for all the audio today. keep ‘em coming.
    glad to see you back at the helm for what’s gonna be a great season of blue jays baseball!

    check out the baseball artwork at everyhalloffamer.com

    - S.Otto
  10. 10.

    Good read Mike…I’m heading to FLA next week and am going to be catching the game against the BoSox on the 25th…can’t wait!!

    Have you read Keith Law’s impressions on McGowan’s outing? If not I’ll paraphrase…unimpressive shell of his former self. He basically said that his fatsball lacked life, and his slider lacked bite and was easy to see out of his hand. You’ve obviously seen way more of McG this spring than Law, any comments to eloborate/rebut Mr. Law? I know all Blue Jay fans have high hopes for McGowan…but maybe the enthusiasm needs to be tempered a bit.

    MW: See above, a few times. McGowan wasn’t good in the first inning in Kissimmee, but just fine in the next two.

    - Glen C
  11. 11.

    I’m guessing you’ve since heard about Keith Law’s scouting report on McGowan? Law’s exact words were on McGowan “a shadow of what he used to be”. I’m assuming by your response that you disagree with that observation?

    - Bobo
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