Archive for March, 2012
Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
The Blue Jays must have known that I had a sim-geek-league rookie draft to get to tonight, because they took down the Phillies in a crisp two hours and seven minutes.
Brandon Morrow walked two and allowed a ground single in his five innings of work, striking out only one while getting seven ground ball outs and three infield pop-ups. His fastball control left him in the second inning, when he issued both walks and only seven of the 19 pitches he threw were strikes, but scathe-wise, he emerged from that frame relatively un, and went on to retire nine straight Philbos at one point. His pitch count was low – about 60 for the five innings of work – so much so that he had to go to the bullpen after he was done and throw 15 more.
It’s been quite the spring for Morrow, who is so far doing a very good job transforming himself from thrower to pitcher. That might not be good news for people in fantasy leagues who pick him up in order to jack their strikeout totals, but it seems to be good news for everyone else.
Here’s what the trying-to-get-to-be-Halladayesque righty had to say after the game:
Morrow and Clifton Phifer Lee engaged in a nice little pitchers’ duel, with Lee striking out seven without a walk over his six innings of five-hitter, but Lee was the one who blinked. The Philly lefty got lucky in the first inning when Kelly Johnson led off with a single and stole second, but then didn’t score on Jose Bautista’s double off the right-field wall. Either Johnson read the ball poorly or it carried a lot more than he thought it would, but KJ was at second tagging up on the play, so he could only manage to get to third. The Phils’ outfielders just assumed he would score, and the throw came into second base. Strikeouts by Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion got Lee out of that jam.
Bautista doubled again his next time up, in the 4th – this time a laserbeam off the left-field wall that seemed to take less than a second to get there. He daringly stole third and this time, Lind drove him in. Lind’s third RBI of the spring came on a bouncer that got through the right side of the infield for a base hit.
The Jays’ other run came in the 8th, when Travis Snider came off the bench and drilled a hard line drive to straightaway centrefield that Scott Podsednik just plain dropped. Johnson followed with a double down the right field line to score him.
Snider was 0-for-1 with that scorched liner, Eric Thames got the start and went 0-for-3 with a hard-hit fly ball to left, a pop foul and a strikeout. Thames also threw his glove in the ring as The Battle For Left Field(TM) rages on. He made a really nice running catch of a hot shot by Ty Wigginton that seemed ticketed for the gap in left-centre.
Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor each threw a perfect inning of relief behind Morrow and Carlos Villanueva to finish things up.
For the second straight game in which they’ve both played, John Farrell has had Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson flipped at the top of the line-up, with Johnson leading off. I like the idea, as I mentioned a couple of days ago. The move mitigates Johnson’s strikeouts to an extent, and even with them, he’s capable of getting on base at a high rate. Escobar is a very solid hit-and-run man to go with all the other positives he provides at the plate. Yes, it has the Jays stacking righties at the top of the line-up a bit, which makes it even more difficult to move Adam Lind out of the clean-up spot should that be required, but both Escobar and Bautista are guys who can hit right-handed pitching just fine. I don’t know if that set-up is one they’ll continue to use, but I hope they give it a real shot.
John Farrell spoke about that, as well as about Morrow, after the game:
Before the game, Alex Anthopoulos held court with the media, and touched on several subjects. Included among them was the idea that Travis Snider might make this team as the centrefielder, pushing Colby Rasmus aside. The General Manager’s response to that was “Zero chance.” We also discussed yesterday’s firestorm on The Twitter brought about by my disagreeing with the notion that Adam Lind has been one of the very worst hitters in baseball the last two years – Anthopoulos says that he believes in Lind because he’s won batting titles in the minors and has “always hit”, and because of 2009 and the first half of last season, but he does believe this is a “big year” for Lind as far s proving himself goes. He also said that since the Blue Jays won’t need a 5th starter the first time through the rotation, the winner of that job (likely Dustin McGowan) will remain in Florida to get another start in. If it’s McGowan, though, the Jays wouldn’t be able to manipulate the roster to add another player in the interim, because he’s out of options and can’t be sent down.
Here’s most of what Anthopoulos had to say – I had to switch batteries mid-stream:
The Blue Jays hit the road to Port Charlotte Friday night to take on the Tampa Bay Rays. Brett Cecil will get the start against David Price, and he’s expected to throw five innings. Drew Hutchison is scheduled to take the next three, The rest of the travel squad for that game is as follows: Drew Carpenter, Jesse Chavez, Robert Coello, Yan Gomes, Jeff Mathis, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Edwin Encarnacion, Mike McCoy, Luis Valbuena, Chris Woodward, Rajai Davis, Ben Francisco, Anthony Gose, Travis Snider, Eric Thames, Ruben Gotay, Brian Bocock, John Tolisano, Ricardo Nanita and Brian Jeroloman.
I won’t be at that game, since there’s a Sportsnet590 The Fan event around here tomorrow night.
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Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
It was the first “Cardiac Kids” moment of the spring, and the Blue Jays’ kids were up to the challenge.
Trailing the Orioles 3-2 going into the 9th, with all the starters out of the game, the Jays’ minor-leaguers and future stars rallied for four runs off big-leaguer Pedro Strop and extended the Blue Jays’ spring win streak to three games.
Ricardo Nanita led it off with a single, then Yan Gomes hit a little swinging bunt-type nubber towards third that he beat out for his second hit of the game (he doubled in a run in the second). David Cooper drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases and Jonathan Diaz, with a career slugging percentage under .300 as a pro, picked out a pitch he could drive and belted it to the lip of the warning track in left for a game-tying sacrifice fly on which all three runners moved up. Anthony Gose was next, having walked and stolen both second and third the inning before in a valiant attempt to single-handedly tie the game. On his own, he dropped a bunt down the first base line on which Gomes didn’t break right away from third. On the ball’s big hop, though, he did, and he would have been out by a ton at the plate had Strop’s six-foot flip to the catcher not sailed past him to the backstop. A batter later, Brian Bocok ripped a single up the middle to score a pair, and that was that.
Ronald Uviedo, called up from the minor-league complex for the day, struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth around a couple of singles to nail down the save. Uviedo was picked up by the Blue Jays for the long-since-lamented Dana Eveland a couple of years back.
Earlier in the game, J.P. Arencibia hit a moonshot for his fourth home run of the spring, and Travis Snider was 1-for-2 with a double and a walk, scoring ahead of the Gomes double. Eric Thames was supposed to play, but his legs started cramping up after the game in Fort Myers last night, and the Jays decided to hold him out. He may play Thursday against the Phillies, or may wait until Saturday’s home game against the Braves. Likewise Brett Lawrie.
Kyle Drabek started and was OK. He didn’t finish the requisite four innings, reaching his pitch count of 60 with one out in the fourth. Drabek allowed three hits over his 3.1 innings, but two of them were infield singles. He maintained his poise, never let an inning get away from him and in the overall, looked as good as you would want him to look as far as composure and strength. The fastball touched 95 and the curveball was working well. He’s still behind the eight-ball for a rotation spot, though. Here’s what Drabek had to say after his outing:
John Farrell had very good things to say about Drabek, Yan Gomes and the rest of the kids after the game:
And we also spoke to Rick van den Hurk, who was claimed on waivers by the Cleveland Indians during the game. The tall Dutchman was never going to make the team barring the unforeseen, but he didn’t do himself any favours by giving up seven earned runs on 10 hits over 6.1 spring innings, walking twice as many hitters as he struck out. The move clears a spot on the 40-man roster, ostensibly so the Blue Jays can add Omar Vizquel to it later this spring.
Here’s what van den Hurk had to say:
The Blue Jays are home to the Phillies on Thursday, and we’ll have that game for you on mlb.com starting at 1:05PM Eastern. You have to have an mlb audio account to access the broadcast, but I do believe it’s free. Brandon Morrow is scheduled to start and throw five innings and will be followed by Carlos Villanueva for two, Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor. Join us, won’t you?
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Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
While his teammates enjoyed a three-hour bus ride to the beautiful new Red Sox complex in Fort Myers, Dustin McGowan stayed behind to get his work in in a minor-league game against the Yankees’ A-ball squad at the Bobby Mattick complex in Dunedin.
Results-wise, things didn’t go well, but that wasn’t really the focal point of the afternoon.
Facing a bunch of kids who are a long, long way from the bright lights of the big leagues, McGowa struck out three of the first four batters he faced, then started to get lit up.
With one out in the second inning, a line single to right field was followed by a hot shot down the line past a diving third baseman (Kellen Sweeney, I believe) to cash a run. That runner (I have no idea who any of the Yankees were, sorry about that) moved to third on a wild pitch as the next hitter struck out, and McGowan walked the next on five pitches. An RBI double into the right-field followed and that was the end of the inning, even though there were only two out.
Minor-league games are even more fake than the fake games that go on in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues, and teams have a lot of leeway with regards to the structure of the actual game itself. That last double came on McGowan’s 30th pitch of the inning, so they just shut it down.
In the third, having discussed the issues in his delivery from the stretch that got him so out of whack the inning previous, McGowan struck out the leadoff man, then issued a walk and gave up a ground-ball single. He got a double-play ball from the next hitter, but whoever was playing second base mishandled it and everyone was safe. A grounder to short followed for the inning’s second out, and the inning was stopped.
McGowan threw just 17 pitches in recording two outs in the third, but the Blue Jays wanted him to sit through a half-inning of watching his team hit one more time, then throw a few more pitches before his day was done (you’ll hear pitching coach Bruce Walton refer to that as an “up-and-down”). He went back out in the fourth to face two more hitters and gave up a bloop single to centre and a line single to left – both runners wound up scoring against a relief pitcher to be named later.
So for the afternoon, McGowan pitched in four innings though he only managed to record seven outs. His line for the minor-league affair, therefore, is as follows: 2.1 ip, 6 hits, 5 runs, all earned, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts. He threw 68 pitches, 40 of which were strikes.
The key to the entire day is this: Dustin McGowan threw 68 pitches, and he feels fine. He held his velocity from the beginning of the game to his exit, hitting 96 on the gun in the fourth inning. And while velocity isn’t top of mind when discussing a guy like Brett Cecil, it certainly is when McGowan is the topic, given his injury history and, more importantly, the fact that he’s a power pitcher.
If he continues to feel fine in the morning, and there’s no reason yet to believe that he won’t, he’ll go back into what’s been an astonishingly normal throwing program and will pitch five innings against the Red Sox on Sunday in a game we’ll have for you along the Blue Jays Radio Network, unless the Blue Jays choose to stick him in another minor-league game.
Here’s what McGowan had to say to the assembled media (all four of us) after his outing:
And we got to speak to Walton, as well:
The main squad of Blue Jays is getting set to go against the Red Sox as I write this, and while I’m not there to see it (at this point, I wouldn’t make it until the third or fourth inning, anyway), I will be watching the game on television (because I have MLB TV in my condo – it’s also available through NESN on the Rogers Extra Innings package, I’m led to understand) and will be on The Twitter throughout the game. If you want to tweet with me, give me a follow @wilnerness590.
Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar are both playing in the game, and yet Johnson is leading off with Escobar hitting second. It’s interesting, though I don’t know whether or not it’s a one-off. Johnson gets on base very well, but also strikes out a lot. Escobar is a bat-control guy who also gets on base and is very good at the hit-and-run, which makes him a perfect fit in the second spot in the order. But John Farrell has said for a long time that he likes a left-handed bat in that spot and prefers to alternate righty-lefty all the way down the line-up, if he can. It’s something I’ll ask him about prior to Wednesday’s game against the Orioles in Sarasota, in which Kyle Drabek is scheduled to start and throw four innings while Ricky Romero throws five (and Sergio Santos one!) in a minor-league game.
Speaking of that game against the Orioles, Brett Lawrie’s name has been removed from the travel squad. He may get into the line-up Thursday home to the Phillies (we’ll have it for you on mlb.com), or he may still be a few days away, nursing that mild groin strain.
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Sunday, March 18th, 2012
6:18 PM Eastern
After doubling their spring loss total with a pair of split-squad defeats on Saturday, the Blue Jays went back to work and swung the big bats against Cole Hamels and the Phillies Sunday, hitting double digits on the scoreboard for just the second time this spring.
And this without Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, Kelly Johnson, Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider or Eric Thames in the starting line-up.
The big bats belonged to Yunel Escobar, who had a pair of RBI doubles to make up for a lacklustre day in the field, Jose Bautista, who hit his third homer of the spring, an absolute bomb to left-centre, and Yan Gomes, the minor-league catcher who went three-for-three with a single, two doubles and three runs batted in. He also earned high praise from Brett Cecil for his work behind the plate.
Gomes is the catching prospect nobody really talks about, what with J.P. Arencibia and Travis d’Arnaud ahead of him and A.J. Jimenez and Carlos Perez coming up behind him. Drafted in the 10th round by the Blue Jays in 2009, Gomes was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil and moved to Miami when he was 12 years old. There has never been a Brazilian-born player in the major leagues.
The 24 year-old is making one heck of an impression this spring, though. Today’s three hits brought his Grapefruit League numbers up to .500/.500/.929 in just 14 at-bats. He has three doubles and a home run, that off Pirates’ prospect Jeff Locke. Gomes split time between AA and AAA last season, sharing time behind the plate with d’Arnaud while also playing some first, third and DH in order to keep his bat in the line-up, and is a career .271/.330/.455 hitter as a pro. He’s likely to be in Vegas this year, backing up d’Arnaud and getting the occasional start elsewhere on the diamond, but make no mistake, he can definitely do the job behind the plate. He throws well, does a good job blocking balls in the dirt, and as I mentioned above, Cecil was very impressed with how Gomes thinks the game.
I had a chance to speak to Gomes after he came out of the game:
As for Cecil, he was scored on for the first time this spring, giving up a run in the first inning as Shane Victorino tripled into the gap in right-centre and was cashed by Hunter Pence, whose hard grounder went right through Yunel Escobar, who was playing in. It was one of three plays that Escobar probably should have made on the afternoon but didn’t, though he made up for it with the bat.
Despite not humping it up over 87 on the FAES radar gun, Cecil kept the Phillies off-balance with his secondary stuff and was a strike-throwing machine. He didn’t walk a batter and stayed out of trouble over his four-inning stint while Cole Hamels, who brings very similar stuff to the table, didn’t have his good control and got raked by the Blue Jays, allowing five runs on eight hits over 3 1/3 innings.
Here’s what Cecil had to say to the assemblage after his outing:
Alan Ashby made an excellent point in the game in that as far as stuff goes, Cecil and Hamels – the World Series MVP in 2008 and a man who is going to become obscenely wealthy sometime in the next year – are the exact same guy. Nothing to choose from between the two of them, but Hamels has been more successful because he’s been able to command his stuff better. It’s not about the radar gun, it’s about hitting your spots and not making mistakes up in the strike zone. So far this spring, the results have been there for Cecil. In 10 innings, he’s allowed one run on six hits, walking three and striking out six.
One more post-game interview for you – I spoke to Rajai Davis, who went 2-for-3, stole a base and scored twice:
The Blue Jays have an off-day Monday – everyone except for Henderson Alvarez, who will throw five innings in a minor-league game. I’ll be working, though, joining Jeff Blair from 11:00AM to Noon Eastern on Sportsnet590 The Fan. We’ll talk Blue Jays, take your calls and such.
On Tuesday, the Jays have a date with the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers. I won’t be making the trip, though, and that’s because Dustin McGowan won’t be making the trip. McGowan is staying behind to throw four innings in a minor-league game. Aaron Laffey will take the three-hour bus ride south to face the Sox. Here’s the rest of the travel squad for Tuesday’s game – one of only two night games the Jays will play this spring: Drew Carpenter, Jesse Chavez, Robert Coello, Yan Gomes, Jeff Mathis, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Edwin Encarnacion, Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Mike McCoy, Luis Valbuena, Jose Bautista, Anthony Gose, Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider, Eric Thames, Brian Bocock, Brian Jeroloman, Jack Murphy, Danny Perales.
Wednesday afternoon, the Jays are in Sarasota to meet the Orioles. Kyle Drabek will start that game, scheduled to go four innings, as Ricky Romero hangs back to throw five in a minor-league game. Brett Lawrie, who has been out of action since suffering a mild left groin strain on Friday, is currently listed on the Jays’ travel squad for the game against Baltimore.
We got the chance to have a good old-fashioned edition of The JaysTalk after Sunday’s game, and here it is, for your listening pleasure:
Before I go, Sunday morning the Blue Jays had their annual meeting with the grand poobahs of the MLB Players’ Association, and just like Don Fehr before him, Executive Director Michael Weiner held court with the media following the meeting. Here’s what Weiner had to say about the Ryan Braun case, the excessive testing of Jose Bautista, labour peace, and hockey (oh, well), among other things:
Please give me a follow on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590. Jeff Blair, on whose show I’ll be spending an hour Monday morning, can be found @GloBlair.
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Saturday, March 17th, 2012
5:40 PM Eastern
See? Brett Lawrie gets hurt, and the next day the Blue Jays go out and DOUBLE their number of spring losses. Clearly, it’s all over.
Actually, it’s not that bad at all. In fact, there was some good that came out of the 10-inning loss to the Phillies, in which a trio of relievers, not one member of which will have significant time in the big leagues this year, gave up a run each in the 8th, 9th and 10th to lose the game.
The good came from Brandon Morrow, who didn’t finish up his scheduled four innings because he reached his pitch count early. Morrow struggled with his fastball control throughout his entire outing, but his curveball and change-up were terrific. That’s huge, because those are the pitches that Morrow is trying to improve so that he can become a better, more efficient starter and get deeper into games with much more regularity.
In Clearwater, Morrow got a double-play ball when he needed it in the first inning (and remember, he only induced one DP all of last season) and of the ten outs he recorded, nine were by strikeout (4) or ground out (5). If he can start to become more of a groundball pitcher and less of a flyball guy, very good things will follow.
Here’s my brief conversation with Morrow that followed his outing:
The Blue Jays stole three bases in the game, including a daring theft of third base by J.P. Arencibia (who later went deep), the front end of what turned out to be a double steal, with Ben Francisco trucking into second behind him. Colby Rasmus had the other steal, nabbing second to set up what wound up being the game-tying run.
It was a very good day for Eric Thames, as well, though he got caught in-between on a line drive smoked right at him by Erik Kratz that wound up kicking off his shin into short left-centre. Thames went 2-for-4 with a bunt single, a booming double the opposite way and a sacrifice fly to deep left. While all this attention has been paid to Travis Snider, and rightly so, Thames has very quietly had a terrific spring with the bat. Thames is now hitting .345/.375/.552 in 29 springtime at-bats. Snider, who was 0-for-2 with a walk over at Disneyworld, is hitting .313/.371/.781 in 32 spring at-bats. Clearly, there are no losers here. Except, you know, for the one who is going to wind up starting the season in Las Vegas.
This is going to be a terrific race, probably right to the end of the spring, and the lead will change hands several times between now and then. It doesn’t matter who was leading at the end of February or who’s leading now.
The Blue Jays will be back home Sunday for the first of two televised games this spring. Sportsnet will carry the game, with Buck Martinez, Pat Tabler and Pat Hentgen in the booth. We’ll also have it for you along the Blue Jays Radio Network beginning with the pre-game show at 12:30pm Eastern. Brett Cecil will get the start against Phils’ lefty Cole Hamels. Cecil, scheduled to throw four innings, is one of three of the Blue Jays’ five projected starters with an ERA of 0.00. The starting five has given up a grand total of three runs in 34 1/3 innings of work this spring – Morrow’s one today, and two for Henderson Alvarez – one in each of his last two starts.
Please give me a follow on The Twitter – you can find me @wilnerness590 and our wonderful engineer Tom Young can be found @tomyoung590.
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Friday, March 16th, 2012
7:12 PM Eastern
The Blue Jays reeled off their tenth straight win, their 11th in a row without a loss, but what price victory?
Not much of a price, apparently. Brett Lawrie left the game after the third inning with tightness in his left groin, but he didn’t seem to think it was that big a deal and the Blue Jays are saying that he’s day to day and will be re-evaluated Saturday morning. He wasn’t scheduled to play Saturday anyway, and I’m thinking he’ll get at least Sunday off as well.
Lawrie beat out an infield single in the second inning, busting it up the first-base line as Ben Zobrist went up the middle to snare his chopper to second. Zobrist turned and threw in one motion, but wasn’t quick enough to get Lawrie, who then stole second off old friend Jose Molina. J.P. Arencibia cashed Lawrie with a line single to right to open the scoring, and it was on his way home from third that Lawrie felt something not right in his leg. He didn’t say “pull” or “grab” or anything like that, just that something didn’t feel right and he knew as he was gearing down after scoring that he should probably come out of the game. He played the top of the 3rd inning, but nothing was hit to him, didn’t come to bat in the bottom and Jonathan Diaz came out to play third in the fourth.
Lawrie says he’s had leg issues before, and that he knows that this can grow into something that will bite you later on in the season, so he doesn’t want to take any chances. He called it a light strain, no big deal at all, and he didn’t seem to be favouring anything while getting dressed after the game, which was a good sign.
Here’s what Lawrie had to say to the gathered media assemblage:
So it really doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the Blue Jays may be without their sparkplug for a few games. Unfortunately, the first televised game of the spring is this Sunday, March 18th. I can’t imagine Lawrie will be playing, which will disappoint some viewers.
Ricky Romero started for the Blue Jays and fought his command for the entirety of his four-inning stint. He threw 26 balls and 26 strikes, walking two and striking out four through four no-hit innings. Despite the control issues, Romero faced only one batter over the minimum and retired eight in a row at one point. Also, despite the control issues, Romero didn’t allow a single ball to be hit out of the infield. So even without his best stuff, the results were spectacular.
Here’s what Ricky had to say after his outing:
Travis Snider continued his red-hot spring, with a single off the glove of centrefielder Elliot Johnson as Johnson sprinted back towards the wall (a single because the runners had to hold up to see if the ball would drop) and a home run to right-centre off Jhonny Nunez in the 6th; his team-leading fourth homer of the Grapefruit season. Yunel Escobar and Arencibia pitched in with two hits each as well – each of J.P.’s drove in a run.
The Blue Jays will split their squad for St. Patrick’s Day, with half the team going to Disneyworld for a date with the Braves and the other half making the 10-minute run to visit the Phillies next door in Clearwater. Brandon Morrow will start against the Phils, and that’s the game we’ll have for you along the Blue Jays Radio Network (pre-game beginning at 12:30pm Eastern). He’s slated for four innings and will be picked up by Luis Perez and Rick van den Hurk for two each. Jerry Gil is scheduled to throw one. Over in Orlando, Drew Hutchison will start and Deck McGuire will piggyback – they’re set for three innings each, to be followed by Jesse Chavez, Robert Coello and Jim Hoey.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s travel squads:
To Clearwater – J.P. Arencibia, Yan Gomes, Jeff Mathis, Edwin Encarnacion, Kelly Johnson, Mike McCoy, Omar Vizquel, Ben Francisco, Colby Rasmus, Eric Thames, Brian Bocock, Brian Jeroloman, Jake Marisnick, Kellen Sweeney, Bobby Korecky, Aaron Loup.
To Orlando – Travis d’Arnaud, A.J. Jimenez, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Mike McDade, Luis Valbuena, Chris Woodward, Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Travis Snider, Andy Burns, Michael Crouse, Ruben Gotay, Ricardo Nanita, Chad Beck, Scott Gracey.
Here’s the post-game scrum with John Farrell – he had good things to say about Chad Jenkins, who was sent back to minor-league camp after the game:
Remember to tune into the game tomorrow and Sunday, and please follow me on The Twitter – you can find me @wilnerness590.
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Thursday, March 15th, 2012
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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!
Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
8:29 PM Eastern
And to honour my celebrating the year marking the true answer to Life, The Universe and Everything, I’m going to have a lovely dinner with my lovely bride and leave you blogless.
Except for the following:
I had a couple of conversations post-game, and I present them to you now.
First, J.P. Arencibia:
Carlos Villanueva, who threw two strong innings in his second appearance since shutting down for a week with a numbness scare:
And here’s the post-game scrum with John Farrell:
Farrell was pretty dismissive of my theory that Edwin Encarnacion being a passable left fielder would mitigate the need for a guy like Ben Francisco on the roster (though he was polite about it), but I think that may change as the spring goes on.
It was a wonderful birthday present to get to call a couple of innings of the Blue Jays’ latest win, and even more of a gift to have the Jays score five runs in those two innings, including a pair of big flies. Here they are, for your listening pleasure:
Arencibia’s tie-breaking shot in the 4th:
And Encarnacion’s insurance blast in the 5th:
The Blue Jays head northeast to Kissimmee to meet the Astros on Thursday. Dustin McGowan gets the start and is scheduled to throw three innings, Kyle Drabek is set to follow with three of his own. Here’s the rest of the travel squad: Jesse Chavez, Jerry Gil, Travis d’Arnaud, Yan Gomes, A.J. Jimenez, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Mike McCoy, Mike McDade, Luis Valbuena, Chris Woodward, Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Travis Snider, Eric Thames, Brian Bocock, Michael Crouse, Ruben Gotay, Jake Marisnick, Danny Perales.
Please follow me on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and reply to most!
Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
5:52 PM Eastern
For the second straight year, the Blue Jays took part in the St. Petersburg International Baseball Spring Series, sending a group mainly comprised of minor-league call-ups to Al Lang Field at Progress Energy Park to play Canada’s National Junior team in a “B” game.
Team Canada spent the week here taking on senior teams from the Netherlands and the U.S., and they also hooked up with minor-leaguers from the Phillies and Orioles before wrapping up their southern sojourn by getting pasted 10-2 by the Jays.
Last year, the Blue Jays sent John McDonald and Aaron Hill over to meet the under-19s and give the kids a taste of the big leagues, but this year there was a much greater complement of major-leaguers. Brett Lawrie came over, just as he did last year, and he was joined by Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia. Scott Richmond, Chris Woodward and Brian Bocock, who also have time in the majors but aren’t expected to make the big club this year, made the trip as well.
With that kind of firepower in the line-up and on the mound, the Blue Jays were expected to run roughshod over the Junior Nats – and they did, it just took them a while to get going. In fact, when the big-leaguers were done for the day, after the third inning, Team Canada held a 2-1 lead.
Lefty Ryan Kellogg, a Whitby, Ont. native who turned 18 last month and stands 6’5″, got the start for Team Canada and showed very well. He gave up a ground single to Lawrie, just past the glove of a diving shortstop Mitchell Triolo (Scarborough, Ont.), but then popped up Bautista and got Lind to ground to second. In the second inning, Kellogg got both Arencibia and Woodward to fly out before giving up back-to-back doubles to Bocock and Junior Nats alumnus Michael Crouse. Crouse later stole third before fellow alum Marcus Knecht drew a walk, but when Crouse took off for home as Kellogg threw over to first to check on Knecht, he was nailed at the plate to end the inning.
I spoke to Kellogg after he came out of the game:
Kellogg left with a 2-1 lead because his Canuck teammates jumped on B.C. native Richmond in the first inning. Jacob Robson (Windsor, Ont. – no relation to Tom Robson, who started last year’s game and was taken by the Jays’ in the 4th-round last June) and Kyle Hann (Oakville, Ont.) led off the bottom of the first with back-to-back doubles, 15 year-old Gareth Morgan (Toronto) singled Hann to third and Brett Siddall (Windsor, son of former Expo Joe) followed with a sac fly to centre.
The first two members of Team Canada who came to bat wound up scoring, but nobody else did. In fact, the Blue Jays’ bullpen held them to just two hits over seven innings of work, including a perfect 7th inning from Trystan Magnuson.
Magnuson was drafted by the Blue Jays, moved to Oakland a year ago in the Rajai Davis deal, then was traded back to the Jays this past winter for cash. The Vancouver native made his major-league debut last season, but was shut down in mid-August with shoulder tendinitis and hadn’t pitched since. This was his first action in nearly seven months, so it was more than just an ordinary outing and he was equal to the task, getting two groundouts and a strikeout.
I spoke to Magnuson both before the game:
And after his appearance:
The Blue Jays took the lead for good in the 5th on back-to-back RBI doubles by John Tolisano and K.C. Hobson off Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont. – son of Paul), added another run in the 7th when they hit four straight double-play balls, only one of which was turned into even one out, and blew it open with a five-run 8th.
Lawrie and Arencibia each wound up with a single and a fly out to deep centre, while Bautista and Lind took the collar, going 0-for-2 each.
Crouse swung the big stick for the Blue Jays. The Port Moody, B.C. native went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBIs, though he was caught stealing twice. The 21 year-old spent last year at low-A Lansing, and should get time at high-A Dunedin this season, along with Toronto’s Knecht.
I spoke to both of them – Crouse after the game:
And Knecht before:
I also spoke to Cal Quantrill before the game:
And Kyle Hann afterwards:
It really was a terrific afternoon watching a group of talented 17- and 18-year olds take on the Blue Jays, or at least some of the Blue Jays and a lot of their good minor-leaguers. The excitement and nervousness on the part of the kids was palpable, and the experience is one they’ll never forget, whether it serves as a teaching and growing point for a future in baseball or just an incredible memory for a life outside the game. I really hope this remains an annual event, it’s a great thing for baseball in Canada.
The Blue Jays sent their “A” team down to Fort Myers, where they picked up a seventh straight Grapefruit League win, cubing the Twins. Travis Snider had a two-run double, but struck out in his other three at-bats, while Eric Thames singled, scored a run and struck out twice. Brett Cecil delivered a strong performance with three innings of one-hit shutout, walking two and striking out a pair.
The Jays will be home to the New York Yankees tomorrow, with Henderson Alvarez starting and scheduled to throw three innings. Joel Carreno and Carlos Villanueva are set to get two each. We’ll have the game for you, webcastically, but you have to have the mlb.com audio package in order to hear it. It’s my birthday tomorrow (drivers’ licence expires – woo-hoo!), so hopefully they’ll let me call a couple of innings of play-by-play.
The Yankees will start Freddy Garcia, and they’re sending over most of their regulars, including Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Eric Chavez, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez. That’s every starter but for Brett Gardner – they’re not messing around. Our webcast will begin at 1:05PM Eastern – make sure to tune in!
Please give me a follow on The Twitter, if you’re not already doing so. You can find me @wilnerness590. Plenty of the Blue Jays’ young Canadians are tweeting as well – Brett Lawrie is @blawrie13, Michael Crouse is @ _crouse_, Marcus Knecht is @MarcusallenK, Trystan Magnuson is @trystanmagnuson.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most!
Monday, March 12th, 2012
7:12 PM Eastern
Granted, it was the Baltimore Orioles, and granted, the only major-league regular they brought to Dunedin was one who only became a regular because Brian Roberts was knocked out for basically all of last year with a concussion, but it was still a very impressive display by Brandon Morrow Monday afternoon at the FAES in helping the Blue Jays to their sixth straight win, which made it a Happy Birthday indeed for the inestimable Jerry Howarth.
Morrow used just 33 pitches to get through his three innings of one-hit shutout – there were times when he threw that many in a single inning last season – and he only missed with six. There were two strikeouts, two fly ball outs and six ground balls, including the one that got through to the left of Kelly Johnson for a game-opening single.
Morrow is trying to become less of a fascist and more of a democrat on the mound, to use Crash Davis-speak. Like Roy Halladay before him, he’s realizing that spreading the ball around leads to lower pitch counts and, by extension, longer outings. Last season, Morrow led the major leagues (among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title) with 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, which was just a hair over his career rate of 10.1 per nine. But he also averaged just under six innings per start, and that’s something that needs to change.
He said after his outing (you can hear it below) that he left a couple of strikeouts on the table, which is to say he felt he could have had a couple more had he gone to his filthy slider in certain situations, but he stayed curveball-changeup because those were the pitches on which he had planned to work.
If Morrow can become more efficient with his pitches, not just dialing it up and trying to throw it through people which often results in a bunch of pitches just barely fouled off and many at-bats extended prior to an eventual strikeout or walk, and if he can involve his infielders more (remember, he only got one opponent to ground into a double play last year), then he could easily move into the upper echelon of starting pitchers in the big leagues and provide sensational support to Ricky Romero.
The Blue Jays had one big inning – against O’s righty Armando Galarraga – and it came because of their patience at the plate. They managed just two singles in the bottom of the fourth, but scored three runs because they managed to work three walks. Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus were both willing to pass the baton, and they were both on base when Travis Snider hit a moonshot to right field that kept carrying and carrying until it scraped the wr0ng side of the wall on the way down. Rasmus only took a few steps off first base, thinking correctly that the ball had a good chance to be caught, so Snider had to wait with him until the ball dropped and stayed at first with a single, but Johnson scored. A pop-out later, Yunel Escobar worked another walk to load the bases for Omar Vizquel, who deftly bladed a soft line drive over shortstop for a base hit that cashed a pair.
The other Jays’ run came because they won a bunch of lefty-on-lefty battles in the second inning. Against rookie Taiwanese southpaw Wei-Yin Chen, the Jays sent three lefties to the plate in the frame, and they all reached base. Johnson singled with a hard line drive to left, then stole second before being cashiered by Rasmus’ RBI double down the right-field line. Snider walked to continue the inning, but Chen struck out Jeff Mathis – Jays’ righties were 0-for-10 against the portsider, but he never got a lefty out.
Vizquel added to his defensive legend with a pair of highlight-reel plays. In the second, the crowd gasped as one when he bare-handed a ball out of the dirt in front of the third-base bag and threw on to first to retire Scott Beerer, but the best was yet to come as in the next inning, Vizquel ranged far to his right to snag a Robert Andino grounder, planted and made a great, strong throw all the way across the diamond to get the out. That’s the throw the Jays needed to see from him when camp began, and he provided it easily.
Deck McGuire retired all six hitters he faced to earn the save – his first since high school, he said – but I didn’t see any of his work because I was collecting the following audio in the clubhouse, for your listening pleasure:
First, here’s a one-on-one I did with Snider after his 1-for-2 effort:
Here are Morrow’s reflections on his performance:
And here’s a lengthy chat Jeff Blair and I had with Vizquel, along with a reporter from the Associated Press:
Tuesday, the Blue Jays send their main squad to Fort Myers to take on the Minnesota Twins, but a few big guns will stay back and head over to St. Petersburg for what they’re calling “Canada Day” – a B game against the Canadian National Junior Team. The inaugural game last year was a blast, with John McDonald and Aaron Hill coming over as well as most of the Canadians in the Jays’ system, and I’m expecting just as good a time this time around. It will be amazing to watch these kids, the under-18s, take on some big leaguers, and the Jays are bringing a few.
Brett Lawrie will make the trip again, of course, and he’ll be joined by Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia. Scott Richmond makes the start for the Jays, and fellow Canadians Trystan Magnuson, Michael Crouse, Marcus Knecht and Dalton Pompey will be there as well, along with Chris Woodward, whose wife is Canadian, so he almost counts.
The other members of the St. Pete travel squad will be Chad Beck, Jesse Chavez, Danny Farquhar, Ryan Tepera, Brian Bocock, Chris Hawkins, K.C. Hobson, Jack Murphy, Carlos Perez, Gustavo Pierre, Kellen Sweeney, Dickie Thon, Jr. and John Tolisano.
Brett Cecil will make the start against the Twins amid rumours that concerns over his spring are leading the Blue Jays to seek rotation help in the person of Joe Blanton or Gavin Floyd (reports that Alex Anthopoulos basically laughed off when I brought them up to him). Cecil is expected to throw three innings, and will be backed up by Luis Perez, Rick van den Hurk, Evan Crawford and Robert Coello. The others on the 7:30 AM bus to Fort Myers will be Travis d’Arnaud, Yan Gomes, A.J. Jimenez, David Cooper, Jonathan Diaz, Adeiny Hechavarria, Mike McCoy, Mike McDade, Luis Valbuena, Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra, Travis Snider, Eric Thames, Ruben Gotay, Jake Marisnick, Danny Perales and Andy Burns.
Follow me on The Twitter for all the updates from the Team Canada game – you can find me @wilnerness590.
Also, tune into Sportsnet590 The Fan or listen live on this very website Monday night at 9:20PM Eastern when I join Jeff Sammut to talk all things Blue Jayic.
Comments are welcome – I read them all and respond to most, and promise that I’ll catch up to the ones in the queue soon.