March 2012

Upcoming pitching schedule

Here is the upcoming pitching schedule for Toronto’s Spring Training games:

March 15 @ Astros:

Dustin McGowan (Three innings)
Kyle Drabek (Three innings)
Jesse Chavez
Jerry Gil
One more pitcher still to be determined

March 16 vs Tampa:

Ricky Romero (Four innings)
Chad Jenkins (Three innings)
Jason Frasor
Drew Carpenter

March 17 @ Phillies:

Brandon Morrow (Four innings)
Luis Perez (Two innings)
Rick VandenHurk (Two innings)
To be determined

March 17 @ Atlanta:

Drew Hutchison (Three innings)
Deck McGuire (Three innings)
Jesse Chavez
Robert Coello
Chad Beck

Debunking the latest Blue Jays’ rumour

Another day and another rumour surrounding the Blue Jays’ supposed interest in adding starting pitcher into the mix. On Monday afternoon, Foxsports.com reported that Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos has “had dialogue with the White Sox” about right-hander Gavin Floyd.

Why this is actually news, I’m not sure, but since every time one of these reports surface south of the border it garners a lot of attention it becomes necessary for the Toronto media to respond in some way. This is what we know, Anthopoulos is one of the most active GMs in Major League Baseball and it’s a point of pride for him to know exactly who is available from other teams and what the asking price is. That way he won’t be caught off guard if any major moves are made and if there’s a bargain to be had you can be sure he’ll be exploring the possibility of adding more talent to his roster.

Anthopoulos kicked the tires on right-hander Doug Fister last year and according to a source he also was in on Michael Pineda before the promising righty was dealt to the Yankees for top prospect Jesus Montero. In both cases, the Mariners asking price was too high and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Seattle was after third baseman Brett Lawrie — who isn’t going anywhere — because of his high-ceiling talent and the fact that he grew up in nearby Langley, British Columbia, while his sister became an NCAA softball star in the state of Washington.

The search for a front-line starter continued throughout the offseason as there were multiple reports Toronto had serious interest in the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos. Ultimately, the club decided to stick with the status quo because of the high demands and now that Spring Training has rolled around there’s no immediate reason to suspect that will change before Opening Day.

The fact that these reports are coming out now should suggest nothing other than that Anthopoulos is once again doing his due diligence. He was spotted at the Phillies ballpark late last week to watch an outing by right-hander Joe Blanton. Philadelphia’s complex is a short 10 minute drive from the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and it just makes sense for Anthopoulos and his scouting department to make the short drive to get a first-hand look at a pitcher who reportedly is on the trading block.

Think about it, though, how many times have the Blue Jays made a move that previously was reported first by an American outlet — or anywhere in Canada for that matter? The Colby Rasmus trade came out of nowhere, so did Brett Lawrie, Sergio Santos, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, Jason Frasor and even free agent signings such as Francisco Cordero and Darren Oliver. The only move I can remember in the past two years that was really exposed before it became a reality was the signing of set-up man Octavio Dotel in December of 2010 — not exactly a blockbuster kind of deal. Anthopoulos has a cone of silence over his organization, doesn’t leak anything to the press and he ensures that not only do his co-workers strictly abide by that but the organizations he deals with as well.

There’s a general rule of thumb Toronto’s GM likes to use in these type of situations. If a report gets out that a deal is done then it very likely is done. If a report comes out that two teams are discussing something, or that a team and agent have begun serious negotiations, more often than not it’s false. Has Anthopoulos spoken to Chicago’s Kenny Williams about Gavin Floyd? I wouldn’t bet against it. Have the talks reached a point where the deal is even remotely imminent? I highly doubt it.

One other thing to keep in mind throughout these reported rumours is that the Blue Jays starting rotation is pretty set at this point in camp and there are no obvious jobs up for grabs. Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow are firmly entrenched in the top two spots and No. 4 starter Henderson Alvarez isn’t going anywhere because he has become a favourite of not only the front office but by manager John Farrell. In the No. 5 spot, Dustin McGowan has been one of the biggest storylines in all of Spring Training and an organization that normally likes to keep expectations in check has been over the moon raving about his potential for a comeback season. The Blue Jays are going to give McGowan — who is out of options on his contract — every chance the rest of this spring and the early stages of the year to prove he deserves a spot on the big league team.

That leaves left-hander Brett Cecil as the only remaining question mark in terms of his standing within the organization. Right now, he appears to have the job as the No. 3 starter and while he ended last year without a guaranteed role he rededicated himself during the offseason by dropping well over 35 pounds. “In the best shape of my life” is a cliche used way too often during Spring Training baseball but when it comes to Cecil there’s very little debating that it’s actually true. There are still questions about whether Cecil can regain his velocity and it remains to be seen whether he can consistently keep the ball down in the zone but after a grueling offseason it would seem like the organization would at least give him the rest of spring and the early part of the 2012 season to prove his worth. Adding another arm at this point in camp would be akin  to giving up on Cecil’s future with the organization and that does not seem like a believeable scenario at this point.

If Cecil falters or McGowan goes down with an injury would that open the door for an upgrade to the starting staff? Of course it would because the next wave of pitching prospects Drew Hutchison, Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins would be best served by having a little more time in the Minor Leagues to refine their craft. Those are all reasons why Anthopoulos will continue to monitor the market for another starter because it’s just the smart thing to do. But pulling the trigger on a deal when there’s still three weeks to go until Spring Training is another matter entirely.

Upcoming pitching schedule

Here’s the Blue Jays’ pitching schedule over the next few days:

March 8 vs. Yankees:

Brett Cecil (Two innings)
Chad Beck
Drew Carpenter
Nelson Figueroa
Jason Frasor
Jerry Gil
Jim Hoey
Scott Richmond (Two innings)

March 9 @ Astros:

Henderson Alvarez (Two innings)
Jesse Chavez
Evan Crawford
Danny Farquhar
Luis Perez (Two innings)
Rick VandenHurk (Two innings)

March 10 vs Astros:

Dustin McGowan (Two innings)
Aaron Laffey (Three innings)
Carlos Villanueva
Francisco Cordero
Casey Janssen
Sergio Santos

March 11 vs Atlanta:

Ricky Romero (Three innings)
Chad Beck
Jason Frasor
Darren Oliver
Chad Jenkins (Three innings)
Jim Hoey

March 11 at Atlanta:

Kyle Drabek (Three innings)
Joel Carreno (Two innings)
Drew Carpenter (One-to-two innings)
Nelson Figueroa (One-to-two innings)
Jerry Gil (One-to-two innings)

March 12 vs Baltimore:

Brandon Morrow (Three innings)
Deck McGuire (Two innings)
Drew Hutchison (Two innings)
Casey Janssen
Sergio Santos
Francisco Cordero

Another one in the books

Quick intro with lots of leftovers from today’s 7-0 loss to the Phillies. On the main site, you can find a feature on Brett Lawrie putting a year of transition behind him with the hopes of avoiding a sophomore slump. Also, there’s a notebook with items on Ricky Romero refining his cutter to left-handed batters, Dustin McGowan throwing 25 pitches in a simulated game and Toronto adding advance scout Kevin Cash with the hopes of improving the club’s woefull Interleague Play record.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB for all the news out of Toronto’s Spring Training camp. Here are today’s leftover items:

Ricky Romero (2 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB — all six outs recorded on ground balls):

“I made some good pitches, started a little off at the beginning but I felt great. Felt great in the bullpen and felt smooth again and was out there just trying to pound the zone with my fastball more than anything and I was able to do that

“Right now, it’s working on that fastball command and getting it down. Changeup was a little off, other than that good cutters in the second inning. Made good pitches.”

On stranding a runner at third with just one out because of back-to-back ground balls…

“That’s when you slow the game down and you don’t try to do too much, let your defense work. Made some good pitches and kept the ball in the infield, which is important in that situation. You do that kind of stuff, you slow it down, and everything else kind of works out.”

On facing an opposing team for the first time this spring…

“It’s exciting, any time you see that visiting team with a different color uniform you get that adrenaline going and I couldn’t wait to get out there. To see that team in the opposite dugout, it definitely felt great.”

On what’s different between 2011 and 2012 for the Blue Jays…

“I see a lot of determination this year. If you look at the vibe inside of this clubhouse, I think we’re all ready to take it to the next level, to take it to that next step. We all understand that we have a lot of work to do but when you see the confidence and the way we carry ourselves from position to position I think it’s great. It’s the best I’ve ever seen it and I think we’re ready to do some good things with this team and it’s going to take a lot of hard work but I think this team has the right mindset.”

More on today’s performance…

“It was kind of hard to throw all of your pitches out there today. Some guys swing early, you’re only able to throw fastballs but I think that’s a great thing. It’s all about spotting that fastball, everything works off the fastball, if you’re able to do that, it makes everything else a lot easier.”

John Farrell (post game interview):

On Jenkins and McGuire in depth chart…

“In our internal conversations those are guys that we envision contributing at some point, second half of this year if not before depending on need, but to come in in his first spring appearance like he did today was very encouraging.”

On Romero’s left-right splits and why they favor lefties…

“Against right-handers his cutter and his changeup, to be able to spread the plate with velocity and action going two different ways presents a lot of challenges to a right-handed hitter. As his curveball becomes more consistent, both for a strike and something he can sweep away from a left-handed hitter, I think you’ll see those come back into a little more balance.

“He uses his changeup probably more frequently against right-handers than a left-hander. And those are things that we’ve discussed and looked at with him.”

“Anytime you can create depth going away from a left-hander, that’s the one that’s going to slow some left-handers down. They’ll look out over the plate against him know they’ll probably get something hard away for the majority of the at-bat, but I think as he creates more consistency with the curveball against them, that’s where he’ll slow them down.”

On Kelly Johnson’s triple: example of aggressive base-running trying to be implemented?

“He knew who the left-fielder was and he knew Juan Pierre has a below-average throwing arm. The play was right in front of him. With two outs and Bautista behind him, you might not press as much during the season, but in that situation, he knew exactly who was in front of him, so he took the extra base.

On Johnson’s underrated speed…

“He can run. There’s no doubt about it. He’s had upper teens in stolen bases in the past so he’s a good athlete and I think most importantly it’s encouraging to see him staying in the middle of the field even though he had a base hit also through the 3-4 hole. When he’s on, he’s driving the ball to left-centre.”

John Farrell (pre-game interview):

On the potential for a breakout season by a number of guys…

“I think when you look at the age group that’s by design. Because we don’t operate like a couple of other teams in this division, we’ve got to time things as well, so when you look at the window of opportunity and the maturing of a roster with a number of guys 24-27 years of age that is clearly by design. That’s what has driven a lot of Alex’s trades, on who he targets, not only are they talented but they fit the model of what we have in place.”

Can Morrow step up to be a special guy?

“On a given night he pitched as an elite starter in this league. Carrying that out to 32 or 34 starts, that’s where he found the right effort level in his delivery to maintain, rather than try to pace himself or pitching as a closer. So I think he’s settled into that effort level that works best for him. He’s realized that his curve ball is important for him to create that separation in velocity. Those are things that are part of him maturing as a pitcher.”

Delivery different when pacing or going all out?

“The radar gun shows it pretty obvioiusly as well. When he’s trying to sink the ball at 91-93, that’s probably pacing himself too much, as opposed to stepping on the gas to 97 or 99 as he can on occasion, is probably too much. Like he said, he’s found that optimal level of effort to maintain over the course of a game.”

More of a premium in AL East on guys who miss bats?

“Ideally, we’d all take strikeout pitchers. But it’s important to keep the ball on the ground, particularly with the lineups in our division. This division has more hitter-friendly ballparks in it, top to bottom than any other division. That combination can be tough on some pitching. That’s where you look at a young guy like Hendersin Alvarez who has the ability to put the ball on the ground and get two outs with one pitch.

“If you’re a flyball pitcher, hopefully you’ve got the ability to strike some people out.”

Not get a lot of guys in this division chase …

“That’s why starters earn the money they do. You can’t hide. You’ve got to get people out in the strike zone, with late action and a lot of confidence. On days when it’s not going your way, how do you grind through to get deeper into the game and save the bullpen rather than have things blowing up on you and forcing the bullpen to wear it. That affects not only tomorrow but potentially the next three days.”

Alex seeking power arms …

“It’s even more true when you compete and contend for a World Series. Power stuff wins in the postseason. You don’t get a lot of chase out of the strike zone that you might get during the course of the regular season because guys are so much more focused. That’s where power wins out the later you get in the year.”

Cordero and Vizquel as mentors…

“Not only (Cordero’s) personality but as good of a pitcher he’s been and the experience he has. More importantly to that, their personalities. They’re team players, they’re good teammates, they like to have fun, but they like to win, too. And they’re also very willing with their knowledge and experience they’ve obtained over the long run.

“There’s a reason why guys are here. The background and due diligence that is done on individuals, the type of people they are, the type of teammates they’ve been over their careers. They didn’t get here by accident.”

Several local games in a row allow you to use the regular lineup more?

“Yes, I’ve even laid it out to guys, talked to them individually. For example, Jose plays RF Tuesday, DH Wednesday and RF on Thursday. That gives him a good run of 10 or 12 at-bats over the next three days.

“Just the way the schedule has worked out it gives us a chance to see some young guys, get 3-4 at-bats in a given game. Some of our regular guys a chance to get into spring training a little but and now we’ll run them out there consecutively.”

Judging how Minor Leaguers are doing…

“The environment they’re playing in here, even though it’s Spring Training, is different than they’ve played at Double A or Class-A ball level. They know they’re playing in front of the Major-League staff and the front office so that in and of itselft creates another dynamic that they haven’t had to contend with, day in and day out. You see how they react to that, you see how they react to make decisions within the game, regardless of who they are facing on the mound. You see their thought process, you see their game awareness, you see how they respond. That’s probably the area we focus on more right now than anything fundamentally: their ability to maintain their composure and control their emotions in certain situations.”

Blue Jays drop their first game of the spring

Well, the Blue Jays weren’t going to remain undefeated forever and on Monday afternoon in Lakeland, Fla., that inevitable first loss came. Despite the club’s record dropping to 2-1, there were still plenty of positives to take away from today’s game. Colby Rasmus continues to drive the ball to right-center field with authority and appears to have much better mechanics compared to when he arrived in Toronto last July. Edwin Encarnacion appears to have lost weight during the offseason and finally has put the previous wrist injuries behind him. That has resulted in being able to drive the ball more consistently this spring as evidenced by today’s ground-rule double to left field.

Henderson Alvarez got the start for the Blue Jays and as a result I ended up doing a feature on him for the main site (link will be posted when it goes live). Alvarez is looking to build upon the 10 starts he made during a rookie campaign, and while his well-above average control on both his fastball and changeup combination has been well documented, it’s the development of a third pitch that will be crucial during his second go around with the club. Alvarez didn’t throw his slider/cutter combination on Monday but said he will next time out when his outing is expanded to two innings. For more information on today’s result, check out the game recap on bluejays.com and look below for lots of leftover quotes.

Other coverage today included a notebook with an injury update on Carlos Villanueva, a little piece on the club’s pitching depth, and another on Evan Crawford a strong early impression in camp. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB for various news from around Spring Training.

Here are today’s leftovers from manager John Farrell:

 

On Alvarez’s performance…

“He picked up where he left off last year. He attacked the strike zone, had some quick outs, we had him go down and throw another 15 fastballs just to get him up and down in his work day today but he threw some good changeups and put the ball on the ground. I know it’s one inning but he came out and threw the ball with good arm strength and a positive day for him.”

 

On Gose almost throwing out runner at home plate…

 

“Very good arm strength. He’ll load it up, he knows he has a good throwing arm, if the ball gets hung onto at home plate that’s an out. I think he learned a little bit too about some strength of the opposing hitters. The double over his head, he’s playing at solid average depth, but ball right at him, little bit of a tough read, he broke in and that ended up being the difference in today’s game.”

 

On Rasmus…

“I think the thing we’re most excited to see are the mechanics adjustments that he’s made with his lower half are being maintained and when he hits the ball into right-center field he can backspin it with the best of the hitters that we’ll see. It’s good to see him staying with a consistent approach.”

Pre-game interview with Farrell:

Alvarez’s third pitch…

“He’s got a slider and the way he finished last year, I think he got a better feel for shortening up and creating a little more power to it, where it gave it a little bit more of a later action when it approached the strike zone. It’s a pitch that he felt more comfortable with as the year went on and it gives him three distinct pitches.

Last year Alvarez called that pitch a cutter…

“To me when you get into cutters and sliders, you’re starting to split hairs a little bit. With him, if the mindset is cutter it’s still got a true slider type of break to it. So it’s not adding any pressure to his elbow or his arm and it’s a pitch, that at this level, the later the action, to get quality big league hitters out, I feel like it’s a pitch that will give him that opportunity to do that.”

Doesn’t seem like he gets fazed by a lot on the mound…

“No doubt about it. He, Luis Perez, Joel Carreno, put those three young pitchers in the same description or category coming up for the first time. They handled this environment very well. Henderson, he’s not afraid to pitch to contact and he has that unique ability to get two outs with one pitch, which we saw a number of times last year. His overall athleticism, you’re talking about a conversion guy that repeats his delivery very well, he’s very athletic and he’s very confident that he can throw strikes. I think the numbers bare that out.

“There will be some situations that will arise this year that will be the first for him at the Major League level and again it’s about how he responds and handles those but the early read is very positive in that area.”

How much of an impact can adding one player make in a lineup? (ie: Fielder or Pujols)

“It can have a huge impact. You’ve named two of the best hitters in the game and the most productive bats that were available. Any time you can lengthen out a lineup, particularly in our league where offense is a premium, they make a huge impact. It alters how you pitch accordingly to a given lineup and that was a very good lineup to begin with. They’re going to miss Victor Martinez a tremendous amount but to have the ability to go out and add Prince Fielder, not many teams are capable of doing that and they’re very noticeable when their names are in the lineup I can tell you that.

Adding a Pujols/Fielder versus a guy like Jose Reyes…

“Guys impact the game in a different way. Here, what we feel like, in this league or you look at the other lineups in our division, and that’s not to take anything away from anyone else, the ability to score quick is important and probably a greater emphasis on that than a guy who relies a lot on his speed and hits for average.”

Greater impact — elite pitcher or elite hitter?

“You have to pitch regardless how potent your lineup is, you still have to pitch night in and night out. It’s a great question and a great debate, what’s a more valuable contract. A guy that you’re going to have for 152 games or a guy that you’re going to have for 32 starts. But I do know this, any team that you look that goes into the postseason they can look at the rotation as being a strength. A fact that a team can add both of those is a clear luxury.”

More bad luck for Litsch

Right-hander Jesse Litsch received more bad luck this week as it was revealed on Sunday morning that he will not be able to throw for the next six weeks because of an infection in his right shoulder. It’s the latest setback for Litsch, who in the past few years has also had to deal with a shoulde impingement and Tommy John surgery. On the main Blue Jays website you can find my article on Litsch, explanation of the platelet-rich plasma injection he received that caused the problem and a timetable for his return.

Also on the main site you can find an article on left-hander Aaron Laffey, who is competing for a spot in Toronto’s rotation. It doesn’t appear as though Laffey has much of a shot at a starting gig but if injuries play a factor at some point in camp then that could change. Laffey got the start in today’s 8-5 victory over the Pirates and allowed one run in two innings of work.

The Blue Jays, who have started the Grapefruit League season, will head to Lakeland on Monday to take on Prince Fielder and the Tigers. As usual I’ll have all the coverage on the main site and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB for various tidbits on Spring Training. If you’re not following me that means you didn’t get the play-by-play of a rather fat cat running onto the field during today’s game –riveting stuff or what!?!?

Here are today’s leftovers with lots of stuff from the Blue Jays’ bullpen, Travis Snider and John Farrell:

Travis Snider (2-for-4, 2B, 1 R, 1 SB, 3 RBI):

Good day today. Had a variety of opportunities in the field, on the bases and at the plate. Just getting out there and competing against somebody other than guys on your own team. You go through the first two weeks and you’re just practising.

“Batting practice, it gets a little monotonous but you put the work in, get the drills done, so when game time comes, you’re able to make good decisions and get back into game shape.”

On the competition between Thames for the job in LF…

“On the field and even away from the field, I’ve got to concentrate on what I can control. I don’t ever go out there rooting for Eric to do bad. It’s a spirit of competition that drives both of us. When you get a chance to start a game or come in off the bench and make some plays, that’s what Spring Training is about.

On throwing out former teammate Rod Barajas at second base…

“It was funny because he almost got thrown out at home (in the second inning) so he said something about being safe. I told him he had the wind at his back and that was the only reason why he was safe.

“(In the third inning) the guys ahead of him on the bases were all burners. I knew McCutcheon was going to be on third base, no problem and Rod was going to be dumptruckin’ around first base, so I was able to backdoor him and catch him sleeping a little bit. He had a nice comment for me when I got up there the next time.”

Sergio Santos (1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K):

“I felt good. I would have liked a little more control over my slider. I kind of found it at the end and was pleased with the changeups I threw. It was a good Day 1, good first inning, just getting everything back together in game-speed.”

“My main thing is to get a good feel for everything. Not necessarily the boxscore but just kind of how I’m feeling, how the pitches are coming out, if I’m getting better day by day. Once we get closer to the season, I’ll critique myself a little bit harder, knowing that I’ve got to be ready for the start of the season.”

Darren Oliver (1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K):

“It was good to get out there, man. It’d been so long. It was good to get out there and finally get some game action in, game speed.

Takes no negative stuff out of the inning…

“No, no. Even during the regular season I wouldn’t. There’s going to be times when you do well, and sometimes you don’t. That’s just how baseball goes.”

Pitch effectiveness…

“I don’t take too much into it like that. I was just trying to get out there and get some action in and get the first one out of the way. “

Even after all these years, it’s still kind of new in the first spring game?

“Oh yeah, especially when you don’t play for so long. It’s been four or five months. I’m sure it’s like that for everybody. I don’t think anybody’s going to be on point the first day of spring training. Nobody’s that good. You don’t want to peak too soon. (laughs)”

Casey Janssen (1 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB):

“I had two quick outs and wanted to work on something, so it wasn’t the end of the world that the inning got extended a little bit … I had to work a little bit, which was nice.”

“Just get out there, get the heart rate up again and compete. And to throw up a zero is always nice.”

Francisco Cordero (1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB):

“I didn’t even throw a bullpen in the off-season, just long toss on flat ground. To come out today and throw one inning and throw strikes and have a quick inning, that was fun.”

Impressions of new bullpen…

“Coming in my first day of Spring Training, everybody made me feel like I was here before. Everybody welcomed me, they opened their arms and say hi and embraced me and just made me feel at home.

“When I said yes to the Blue Jays, I thought it was a good decision. Now that I’m here, for sure it was a good decision. It was the right decision to make. From the front office, the coaches, players, clubhouse guys, everyone has been really nice to me. I got no regrets.”

Excitement of first game…

“I was thinking about it since yesterday. What am I going to do tomorrow? How is it going to be? I hope it’s a good inning, quick inning, get out of there and call family and say, ‘I pitched my first spring training inning with the Blue Jays. It was fun. It was quick.’ And it was today. I know it’s early, but you want build something from the beginning and take that to the regular season and maybe play for a World Series, you never know.”

What’s it like not being the closer?

“I am a closer. I just got to close the eighth inning. I got to to a good job in the eighth inning so Sergio can do his job in the ninth. I think everyone in this group is a closer because you’ve got to get the seventh inning, the eighth inning and then the ninth inning.”

John Farrell:

So who’s in the lead for the starting spot in left field now?

“You know what, both guys are playing well, getting their hits. I thought Travis did an excellent job of running the bases today. Overall, I thought we took care of the baseball on defense and it was good to get a number of guys back to the mound. I thought Cordero was very sharp with the three pitches that he had. Casey picked up right where he was a year ago, crisp, clean. But still, we were able to manufacture some runs and took advantage of some defensive miscues.

Head to head competition bringing out the best in Snider and Thames?

“I’d hope so. We’d hope that as young, talented players continue to make their way to the big leagues, that internal competition is a healthy thing and I think that’s the case here.”

Have you seen a difference in Snider’s mechanics from a year ago?

“He’s made some adjustments, he’s lowered his hand set, he’s eliminated some of the wrap in his early approach to generating his swing and it has allowed him to stay through the baseball. I thought in his third at-bat he was a little late getting started but he has simplified his lower half and the movement that was giving him some issues a year ago. So, he’s doing a good job.”

First game is in the books

The Blue Jays opened the Grapefruit League season with a victory over Pittsburgh in front of 4,059 fans at Florida Auto Exchange in Dunedin. Brett Cecil was almost flawless — albeit in just one inning of work — while the Blue Jays coaching staff also got a first-hand look at Kyle Drabek‘s new mechanics.

On the offensive side of things, Brett Lawrie picked up where he left off with a pair of two-run doubles. Perhaps of more interest to fans was  that Eric Thames hit an opposite field home run off Chris Leroux. Thames and Travis Snider are in a heated battle for the starting job in left field and  that shot gives Thames the early edge. Snider  will get his chance to counter on Sunday when he gets the start in left in a rematch against the Pirates.

Below this post you can find tomorrow’s travel roster, on the main site you can find today’s notebook with items on Farrell, Henderson Alvarez, Chad Mottola, Carlos Villanueva and Toronto’s batting order. Also on the main site you can find a recap of Toronto’s win over the Pirates in Game 1 of Grapefruit League action.

Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I’m posting daily photos and varios tidbits from around Spring Training. Below, here are the leftovers from today’s Blue Jays’ camp:

Brett Cecil:

Step one in the books?

“Step 1 was underway in November (he says while laughing). It felt good to get out against a different team other than our own and facing different hitters, and getting a little excited. I didn’t get out of my delivery, but a few of the balls were up. I don’t mind mistakes as long as they’re good mistakes. If they’re going to be up in the zone, I want them to be up-up in the zone, not where it was last year most of the time. So as far as today went, you couldn’t really tell much from one inning but it was good. It felt great.”

Looking for different signs this spring in terms of response and endurance?

“Not really. I’m just taking what they give me. I feel like I could go six if they let me, but obviously that’s not going to happen until later in spring training. So I’m just taking what they give me right now.”

Feel like you wished you had more than one inning today?

“Yeah, for sure. I think they got us slated at 25 pitches or one inning, whichever comes first. I would’ve loved to go out there for a second inning, third, fourth, to however long the game was going. But it’s kind of a hold-back position right now. I feel like there’s no reason to stress it any further than it needs to go. It’s just Spring Training. The games don’t mean anything. It’s just for us to get our work in.”

Did you think about going into the bullpen to get more work in?

“No. I don’t think they would have minded if I threw 15 more pitches in the bullpen, but in a weird way that’s really not necessary either. We throw bullpens, no real hitter up there. I’m really not working on anything specific than the generalization of staying with my delivery and keeping the ball down. It’s hard to simulate just throwing a bullpen.”

Kyle Drabek:

On refined delivery…

“With the new mechanics, I was probably on 70%. I caught myself falling off, which is the thing we’re trying to prevent but I was happy with it.”

The 30% you were off your mechanics what was the problem?

“It was really just on fastballs, I was trying to either be too fine with it and would fall off, or just try to gas it up. But I felt good.”

“Trying not to think about just mechanics. When I was out there, it was all game and we’ve been working hard on them that it kind of became a usual thing.”

John Farrell:

On Cecil’s velocity…

“Where it ends up four weeks from now remains to be seen but separating the velocity aside, the fact he’s gotten himself into much better condition, his body control and ability to repeat his delivery is much more consistent, so we would think that’s going to translate into better execution at the bottom of the strike zone, the home run ball was an issue for him a year ago, and by being down in the strike zone, he might be able to naturally make an improvement in that area, and we’ll see that process start today.”

Did you specifically bring up the weight issue with Cecil last year or did he decide to drop it on his own…

“We talked more about core strength and body composition. He has dropped the weight. He’s dropped 30 pounds, yet he’s done a great job
with getting himself in much better shape. We didn’t set a number on it: you’ve got to meet this target.What we talked about was making sure he gets in overall better condition for the purposes of repeating his delivery.”

Cecil changed his delivery a couple of times last year. Where did that stand going into this Spring Training?

“When he went over his head with his hands, it kind of got his hands moving a little bit earlier, more on time. I think most importantly, because maybe the body wasn’t as explosive and the hip drive wasn’t there, we’re seeing that now with the revamped body style. More importantly, it’s where he executes pitches in the strike zone and he’s doing that. He’s getting to his front side a little more regularly and no blocking himself off as was the case for a large part of last year.

On Mottola filling in for Dwayne Murphy, who is away from the team because of a personal family matter…

“Chad has stepped in and the fact that Chad spent last September with us, he’s familiar not only with Murph’s program — which is an
organizational program — but more specifically the check points in guys swings and he has got a repoire with a number of guys either
being in camp or guys that were in Las Vegas with him a year ago.”

On liking having a left-handed hitter in the two-hole of the batting order…

“As we got through the midpoint of last year we were able to get a little bit more balance in our lineup. That’s not to say that we’re locked into a left-hander in that spot, but the fact is with Yunel in that leadoff spot, and then Jose in the three-hole, both of those guys hit right-handers well but you’re just trying to create a little contrast to who the matchup might be at various points in the game.”

Blue Jays’ travel roster to Bradenton

The Blue Jays will travel to Bradenton, Fla., on Sunday afternoon for a rematch against the Pirates in Grapefruit League action. Toronto manager John Farrell has opted to give the majority of his every day players the day off but there are still a few regulars making the trip. Here’s the list:

Infielders:

Brian Bocock
David Cooper
Jon  Diaz
Ryan Goins
Adeiny Hechavarria
Brett Lawrie
Michael McDade
Luis Valbuena

Catchers:

J.P. Arencibia
Travis d’Arnaud
Yan Gomes
Jeff Mathis
Carlos Perez

Outfielders:

Rajai Davis
Ben Francisco
Anthony Gose
Ricardo Nanita
Moises Sierra
Travis Snider

Pitchers:

Aaron Laffey (starter)
Chad Beck
Jesse Chavez
Robert Coello
Francisco Cordero
Evan Crawford
Casey Janssen
Darren Oliver
Sergio Santos
Rick VandenHurk

Intrasquad game in the books

The Blue Jays took part in their first “game” of Spring Training on Friday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Team Grey defeated Team Blue 2-1 in the five-inning affair that featured Brandon Morrow (grey) versus Ricky Romero (blue) on the mound. Both starters remained in the game for just one inning each as they slowly build up arm strength for the start of the Grapefruit League season.

Speaking of the Grapefruit League, that officially gets underway on Saturday afternoon when Toronto hosts the Pirates. For a full preview you can find today’s feature on the main site and for those looking for in depth information stemming from the intrasquad game you can find all of that in today’s notebook.

Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I’m posting daily pictures and various tidbits from around Spring Training. In the meantime, here are today’s leftovers from a busy morning/afternoon at the ballpark:

John Farrell:

On Crawford’s delivery that involves a little hesitation in the wind-up…

“I think it causes some uneasiness to the hitter when they’re trying to get their timing down. The one thing that we have to monitor from a pitching side, that extra movement, does it affect the timing in his delivery. Just talking with some people in player development, when he does get a little erratic it’s because that hitch might get a little violent at times. But there’s no denying his stuff, he has two quality pitches.”

On Vizquel…

“He made a great play up the middle. For many years, you took for granted that he would make those. That’s the one thing — as we’ve
talked about Omar, him coming in and what he can provide for us — we don’t want to short sight the skills and today was evident of that.”

Going with your set lineup on Saturday?

“We would look to start with, as best we can say, what a set lineup would be. And yet, there’s still some jobs to be won. Through the
first 4-5 days of Spring Training, everyone is going to get to the field and you could expect the guys that will start tomorrow to try
to get three at-bats and then we will fill in behind them.”

On Snider’s double and Thames’ hard contact in intrasquad game…

“I know that’s going to be the daily watch but it was good to see the guys come out and swing the bats with some aggression. Not only with the swing that Snider put on against VandenHurk, but you saw Colby at least get some early positive results for the work he has put in this winter and that’s important.

On Romero’s learning experience as an ace…

“With respect to Ricky I thought he did an excellent job of that a year ago. I think there was a lot made of a game down in Atlanta a
year ago, where we ran into a very good pitching staff in Atlanta and runs were hard to come by. As he has channeled his emotion in the right way, it’s allowed him to execute on a consistent basis in those tight games and I thought he handled that extremely well and that’s what’s allowed him to evolve into the pitcher he is now.

“He has pitched his way into an elite group in the American League — as evidenced by the number he put up a year ago. We’re seeing that maturation continue and going up against another team’s front of the rotation type of guy, he’s going to find himself in that same
situation game.”

How much of a learning experience was that controversy in Atlanta…

“We want all of our players to be able to speak their mind. I think we saw from early mid-May on, he’s a fierce competitor. With every player, there’s a level of energy inside of their swing or their delivery that works best for them. That emotion is what you want to come out of a player, to a certain extent, and I think Ricky really found that level of intensity to make sure he executed on a consistent basis and I think that’s one of the reasons that really allowed him to elevate his overall performance.

Ricky Romero:

Escaping jam in the first inning…

“You hate situations like that but I feel like that’s where you’ve got slow the game down and make good pitches and one pitch at a time and that’s what I did. I know it’s pre-season and everything but I’m a competitor man and I take it serious, I don’t want that guy to score, no matter if it’s a practice game or whatever it is. My job is to leave that guy on third and make good pitches.”

Hadn’t been comfy?

“Bullpens weren’t as good as I wanted them to go, live BPs weren’t that good, but I was able to slow it down with a hitter there, with an umpire there, you get back into that game mode, and slow everything down.

On bullpens not providing true test…

“That’s the good thing about scrimmages like this, you’re able to see hitters’ swings and what they see, and I was able to talk to some of the guys and what they saw, if stuff was moving, just get a little feedback, it’s early and I’m going to continue to build off of this.”

Colby Rasmus:

Solid swing on homer…

“No doubt about it. Got a good pitch out over the plate and took a good hack on it. Got lucky.”

Feel completely comfortable about the lower leg kick?

“I wouldn’t say entirely, it’s still pretty early but I feel good. I felt confident at the plate, I think that’s all that matters. And I’m seeing the ball good, that’s one thing I want to do, is just see the ball good. If I’m seeing it good, then my hands will get there.

Changes natural?

“One thing I tried to work with myself on this off-season was not going out there in my at-bats and changing things. Work on my swing in the cage, work on my swing in BP, but when it gets out there in the game, just see the ball, hit the ball. Just relax, see the ball and hit it, run it down and catch it. Don’t think about nothing that’s going on, my mechanics, whatever. Just go out there like I’m 10 years old having fun playing a baseball game.

Evan Crawford:

Hitch in delivery … deception?

“I’ll take anything that’ll trick a batter. I kind of started last year a little bit. It kind of helps me stay on top of the ball. That’s really why I started doing it. Just going to keep riding it out for a little bit.”

On potential of making the bullpen…

“I’m just aiming to be on the field, anywhere I can be. Anything I can do to help the team, a team, is what I want to do, just to be out on the field and pitch, wherever they want me.”

Breaking ball effective v LHB…

“Very important. I learned last year at Double-A, you have to be able to throw that pitch for a strike. You’re not going to come out here and throw fastballs by everybody, so obviously a very important pitch for me.”

How are you feeling in camp this year?

“It’s great learning from these guys. I’ve been working out a lot with Janssen. He’s kind of helped me out a lot in the weight room and working out and just watching him, and watching Oliver and these older guys – who else better to learn from? These guys have been there, done it and done it well. I’m just trying to soak it all in as much as I can.”

Was it difficult transitioning to a role in the bullpen?

“No. Having a chance to pitch every day is fun for me, not knowing, just trying to be a bulldog every day. That’s something the kind of fits my personality. I didn’t have too much trouble. Pitching is pitching, I think.”

Travis Snider:

On missing homer by a couple of feet…

“I didn’t see where it hit, it felt like a good swing. One day at a time, one swing at a time, there are some things to take away from it, there are some things to work on. I’m looking forward to it.”

Blue Jays set pitching schedule

The Blue Jays announced their pitching schedule for the next few days on Thursday afternoon. Pitching coach Bruce Walton posted the schedule through Tuesday in advance of tomorrow’s intrasquad game at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

More information on the intrasquad game — which is open to the public — can be found in today’s notebook along with items on the potential for an extra Wild Card team and John Farrell‘s reunion with Terry Francona. Also on the main site, you can find my feature on veteran left-hander Darren Oliver who was run out of the game in 2005 but came back one year later and has since recorded the best five seasons of his career.

Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I’m posting daily pictures and various tidbits from around Spring Training.

Pitching schedule:

March 2 — Intrasquad game

Team Blue:

Ricky Romero
Jason Frasor
Rick VandenHurk
Robert Coello
Chad Jenkins

Team Gray:

Brandon Morrow
Nelson Figueroa
Drew Hutchison
Evan Crawford
Deck McGuire

March 3 vs Pittsburgh:

Brett Cecil
Kyle Drabek
Jerry Gil
Jim Hoey
Danny Farquhar
Luis Perez
Ryan Tepera
Joel Carreno
Scott Richmond

March 4 @ Pittsburgh:

Henderson Alvarez (Two innings)
Aaron Laffey
Chad Beck
Jesse Chavez
Francisco Cordero
Casey Janssen
Sergio Santos
Darren Oliver

March 5 @ Detroit:

Drew Hutchison (Two innings)
Robert Coello
Evan Crawford
Nelson Figueroa
Jason Frasor
Jerry Gil
Jim Hoey
Drew Carpenter

March 6 vs Phillies:

Ricky Romero (Two innings)
Chad Jenkins (Two innings)
Chad Beck
Luis Perez (Two innings)
Rick VandenHurk
Jesse Chavez

Worth noting: RHP Dustin McGowan is not included on this list because he is being skipped first time through the rotation in Spring Training. This doesn’t have anything to do with a recent injury — the club is just being cautious and bringing him along more slowly because of his previous shoulder surgeries. He will eventually take Hutchison’s starting spot in Spring.

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