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.
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