April 2012

Anthopoulos meets with the press

Alex Anthopoulos sat down with a group of writers before today’s victory over the Mariners. Not surprisingly, most of the talk centred around Yu Darvish, who is set to pitch against Toronto in Monday’s series opener.

On the main site, you’ll find a game preview for Darvish vs. Drabek and you’ll also find my piece on Anthopoulos denying any interest in making a move for a big bat or frontline starter this early in the season. For the rest of your Yu-mania I’m attaching a full transcript from today’s scrum.

Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB

Alex Anthopoulos:

On what might not gone as expected so far this year…

“Like you said, it’s an eighth of the year. It’s not to defer the question but you know that over six months you expect the numbers to be there for certain players, and you know how fast it changes.

“Remember John Buck two years ago, the first month he had been hitting .170 or something, and then he made the All-Star team. There’s a lot of guys. I remember years ago, Scott Schoeneweis, first two months was getting hit and then he went nuts and then he had a great season.

“Edwin Encarnacion last year didn’ t have his first home run for what, two months in and then he still ended up putting together a pretty good year, close to an .800 OPS.

“You know what, we’re 11-10. Obviously you always look and say, well, we could have won a few more games here-there. But it will balance out. And I don’t dwell on those because I know we’re going to steal some games down the road. We all do that – sit there, these are games we could have won and you forget the games you should have lost.

“So it will balance out. Same cliches I’ll use every year — a long season. It goes with the way you expect it to. I think, once again, after another month, we get through May we’ll have a bit more of a sense where guys are going to be.”

Any player jumped up so far and surprised him in a positive fashion?

“I’ve always though Eddie was going to be a good hitter and player. He has, he’s just been inconsistent. And he’s had a bit of a stronger start than I would have expected. But I’ve always expected him to do well. But it’s one month. But other than that — the bullpen, the starters.  Again, the starters have thrown well but they’re all capable of this.

“I don’t know that I look at anybody and say they’re over their heads. If anything I think there’s more upside, a lot of guys can play better. I don’t think you sit there and say, like when Jose Bautista had that season … no one saw that. But the talent level with the guys that are playing well we don’t sit there and say, ‘Wow, we never thought he had the talent to do that.

“So that’s all the starters as well.”

How concerned are you with McGowan, just because all he’s gone through?

“I’m not because I base it on the trainers and the doctors and so on. I always go off them. We’ve relied on them throughout the process and they’ve done a great job. It’s just like anything else, and I’m probably more at fault with this than anything else, I’m ultra conservative when it comes to the health of our players, especially guys on the mound. That’s why you’ll see us shut guys down, whether it’s prematurely or early. The smallest sign of anything I’ll err on the side of caution, whether it’s DL-ing a guy.”

With Chavez emerging and guys like Carreno, Jenkins, are you content with the depth in the event anything were to happen at the big league level?

“I don’t know that you’re ever satisfied. You can always do better. And the fact that there’s not a lot of experience. Chavez is a little older but it’s not like he’s got a lot of time up here. He’s throwing the ball great. But again he hasn’t proved it here. I give a lot of credit to our staff, to John and Bruce Walton and Pete Walker. It was there idea to put him in the rotation at the end of spring.

“But you’re always looking to get more depth. But every team is and that’s why during the winter you really need to try to build as much depth as you can, whether it’s claiming guys on waivers, signing minor league free agents. I know there’s moves that the fan base or whatever, they don’t look like they’re all that important. But if you need to get that depth during the season it’s hard to get because no one’s going to really give anything up in trade.”

What are you hearing about Darvish?

“It’s early. We’re not really scouting him. He’s not a guy I expect to be available in trades,” he said with a smile. “I’ve just seen the highlights and you see the stats like everyone else. Sounds like he had an unbelievable game against New York. But other than that it’s just, three weeks into the season, four weeks into the season, the same way if you were to ask me about Albert Pujols. We’re just not really scouting him now.”

Was it wrong to suggest that the acquisition of Darvish was risky because he wasn’t a major league player?

“Oh, sure. I think when you’re spending over $100-million on a player, no matter who it is, there’s always an element of risk there. But like anything else, obviously very talented, great stuff, good athlete. From everything that everyone knows about him, the makeup is outstanding. But again, when you’re spending that kind of money, whether it’s a player from here or a player from Japan or anywhere else, there’s always an element of risk no matter how good the players are. We’ve seen it a lot — $100-million plus deals for established players that guys get hurt, guys don’t pan out.

“So no matter how good you are there’s always an element of risk.”

Was it correct that many people started drawing comparisons to a lot of other Japanese players, like Dice-K.

“I don’t think anybody compared…we didn’t scout Dice-K when I was here. I’d never seen him, I don’t think we had anybody in the organization at the time. But even seeing him in North America. I mean it’s like saying two players from California are the same. It doesn’t mean anything. Body types, deliveries, they’re just night and day.

“I think Dice-K was a point of reference because that was another player that went through the same process, the same way that you get a guy in the draft, and a guy that went one overall or four overall or five overall. They may not be the same player whether it be college or high school. But the signing bonuses are about the same because they’re slotted in the same way.

“So Dice-K was at the time the highest ranked player, front-line starter potential. That was going to be the case no matter what. He was the only one.

“It’s the same way when we signed Adeiny Hechavarria Jose Iglesias was the comparable from the Red Sox. They’re not the same player at all. They’re bodies are different, their games are different. But they were two high-profile, Cuban shortstops. How do you come up with a price? It’s all a game of comparisons.

‘For us, we knew that Iglesias was the number going in. We knew we were going to be competing. And if you want him you’re going to have to above it to guarantee you get him. So when I think ultimately that’s what happened with Darvish, that makes all the sense in the world. If you wanted to give yourself the best chance to acquire him, you’re going to have to go over that number. It doesn’t mean you think he’s the same player.”

The cultural differences for players coming over to North America. Is that overstated?

“You know what I can’t say because we’ve never had a Japanese player. I don’t have enough experience with it.”

What about the Cuban players?

“It hasn’t been a topic. At least in our market I’ve never been asked about it. There’s some adjustments but it’s just like any kid coming from Latin America, there is a period. I don’t know that it’s been overblown because I don’t know that it’s been a story so much so. It hasn’t been a problem for us.”

Darvish – what was going through your mind about fans expectations?

“It’s like anything else. I’m following what’s going on, I’m at the winter meetings, I see TV reports on MLB Network and obviously seeing things on the internet that the Blue Jays’ payroll is going to skyrocket, and we’re going to be players for all the big free agents. I think that’s when I talked about payroll and things like that when we did the Santos trade. I think I explained it even after the fact. I felt like the train had left the station a little bit and it had gone too far out of control, and I felt like I needed to come out and say something, just to maybe – I don’t want to say temper expectations – but I always talk about wanting, as best we can, the fans to think along with us.

“That doesn’t mean they’re going to agree with us, but they understand the thought process and why, based on the information that we can give them. So that payroll component I put out there because it was talked about so much that there were no limits on payroll. We were just going to spend like drunken sailors and the payroll was going to skyrocket. That was not the case. That was not going to happen. There were parameters and so on. So that’s why I said that at the time. That was my way of trying to control it to the best of my ability without being specific about a player, because there are other competitive components to all this stuff too – negotiating with other players, trades with teams. And even, I think, at our luncheon at St. Louis, again without laying it out there, I think Paul and I both said it was highly improbable you’ll see us go after big free agents, $100-million-plus contracts and so on.

“Most likely it’ll be the trade route is what we’re going to explore first. You never know if you’re going to make a trade but I think we pretty much said it’s unlikely you’re going to see us in on big free agents. Even though I said that at St. Louis in October or November, even though I talked about payroll parameters at the winter meetings, no one believed me – which is fine. As GMs, maybe not every one is candid at times, I don’t know, but everyone I guess felt I wasn’t telling the truth, or was spinning. I’ve always tried to the best of my ability to say I’d rather not say anything than lie, and I think if I do say something, I’m pretty adamant about it or pretty accurate with it. Otherwise I won’t say anything at all, or I won’t divulge anything.

“I think I did the best of my ability to come out and say it. Whether people chose to believe it or not, that’s their right and I don’t blame them, because there are a lot of examples in sports where GMs and front office executives will send the media one way because they’re doing something else from a competitive standpoint. I haven’t needed to do that yet. I hope I don’t have to do it. I don’t plan on doing it.”

You were thinking fans would be disappointed?

“The same way we’re linked to every player, we’re linked to every trade, I’ve just become numb to it, I just accept it. This is just part of the way we do things. These are the unfortunate things that are going to happen. There are other components that I’mk trying to work through as well from a strategy standpoint – negotiations, trades. We read what every other club is quoted as saying. We try to use that to our advantage. I think clubs do the same with us. So I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want to mislead. Sometimes I’m better off not saying anything at all, because I think lying is worse.

“I tried to say what I could. Maybe I should’ve repeated it 40 times. Maybe I should’ve reminded everybody more often. Maybe it was on me. Maybe I wasn’t emphatic enough.”

Awkward that expectations were high and you knew parameters?

“I had a GM ask me about the Darvish scenario before it was done. I said I don’t see us being really big on free agents, fitting everything into our payroll and so on. I think the comment was, ‘You’re a worse sandbagger than I am.’ I’m not sandbagging. That’s just the way it is.”

On Bautista…

“I wouldn’t say I’m worried because the bat speed is still unbelieveable. It’s just timing, mechanics, he’s hitting underneath balls, just off, but he’s hitting some balls hard too. The guy is so good and you know it’s just the way the game is. You have a lot of good players, you look at what Jeter went through last year, how well he’s doing this year, I remember Paul Konerko years ago through the All-Star Break didn’t do so well, it happens with a lot of great players. If Jose’s skills were eroding, that’s when you have a concern, but they’re not. He’s in great shape, the bat speed is unbelieveable.

“He’s a smart player, he’s going to work as hard as anybody, at some point he’s going to come out of it but I don’t know when. At some point it will click because it’s all there.”

Way you measure bat speed?

“No, I think your eyes. I don’t know. You guys can watch you, you watch him around the cage, have everybody step in and then watch Jose and watch the ball come off the bat, the speed, everything else. He’s in tremendous shape. He had a good spring but it’s like anything, some guys have bad springs and so on. I think even the year he had the huge year, in April he hit .214. There are so many examples, David Wright a few years ago had a rough first month, Mark Teixeira’s first year in New York, the list goes on and on. If there was something with his skills that’s where it would (be concerning). He’ll be fine, I just do’t know when. It’s the way the game is, you wait it out, you wait it out.”

Talk of adding another bat… a priority?

“No, and that’s how something gets blown out of proportion. I was asked on the radio in a hypothetical — which you’re always told not to answer hypotheticals — well I decided to answer it just to be a good guy so they said, you know, it was like two weeks into the season, if you think you had to add anything between now and July, if you had to predict and guess, if you’re going to look at add anything between now and July what do you think it would be?

“I’m sitting there a week into the season, my answer I believe was ‘I want to be optimistic about our rotation because we have a lot of young starters. So, being optimistic about our starters, hoping we don’t have a need for a starter, well if you don’t have a need for a starter maybe you go out and get a big bat to grind out the lineup. It wasn’t, hey we’re out there.

“I’ll give you a great one, I just read this a day ago. That we are actively and diligently out looking under every rock for a front of the rotation starter and a big bat. I’ve had zero dialogue with GMs right now on anything remotely resembling that. That’s no knock against the report but it just goes to show you how many things, it’s beyond way out there.

“That got blown out of proportion but that’s where you take a snippet of what was said and the context of the question. I probably should have just answered and said, you know what, we’re happy with our team, we’ll deal with it in July.”

Trade market stagnant because it’s so early in the season?

“Exactly. I think it’s very hard. Any dialogue that we would have had earlier, first week or two of the season, would have been a carry-over from spring. You always have talks at the end of spring on certain guys. But now until I’d say the beginning of June at the earliest, noone is really motivated. They have their teams, they want to give everybody a chance, unless somebody gets hurt and they’re out for the season for someone. But noone’s really motivated, it won’t really start until after the draft.”

Starting pitching and particular Drabek…

“Yeah, he has and they’ve all thrown really well. But I don’t know that, again, it’s a small period of time and we’ve seen this before with a lot of guys. I’m not trying to take anything away from those guys but I’m not ready to say okay, our rotation’s set. It’s going to pitch like this the whole year, it won’t, it’s just the reality of it. Kyle was top 10 in ERA leaders or top five, something like that, it’s very of hard to maintain that no matter who you are.

“I’m encouraged, he’s made strides, he’s getting a lot better, he’s not all the way there yet, his strike percentage still needs to get better. But obviously the stuff and everything else is outstanding, his composure. He’s made strides and he’s starting to evolve but with all of our starters I don’t get overly excited or overly concerned. Just same thing with Morrow, he had some rough starts, he had a great start last night, it’s going to be the body of work but overall they’re off to a great start.”

Encarnacion continues to impress

Edwin Encarnacion has always been known as a streaky hitter but for the first time in his career the Dominican native is enjoying a prolonged period of success. The numbers this year are impressive but they get even better when you go all the way back to last season’s All-Star Break. Since that time, Encarnacion is batting .294 (94-for-320) with an OBP of .370 to go along with 17 homers, 55 RBIs and 25 doubles.

Since that time, he’s been the clubs best hitter. Need more evidence? Compare those numbers to what Jose Bautista has done since last year’s All-Star Break. The face of Toronto’s franchise is hitting .239 with 15 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .396 on-base percentage over that same period of time. Last year on this exact date, Encarnacion was hitting just .269 with zero home runs and eight extra-base hits. This season, he’s batting .302 with six homers, 19 RBIs and eight doubles.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a player that partway through last season didn’t even know if he would be with the Blue Jays in 2012. Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos liked enough of what he saw from Encarnacion in the second half to pick up the designated hitters $3.5 million option for 2012 and as of right now that’s looking like one of the better bargains in baseball.

Encarnacion believes one of the keys to his recent success has been a revamped swing. In the past, Encarnacion possessed a long swing that took too long to get through the zone and he often had a tendency to try and pull every pitch. This year, he’s  driving the ball to centre and right field more consistently and the quicker swing path is obviously enabling him to get to pitches that he would have been unable to hit in the past.

Below, you’ll find what Encarnacion had to say after Toronto’s 7-0 victory over the Mariners. I’ve also included some other leftovers from today’s post-game scrums and on the main site you’ll find the notebook (items on Jose Bautista, Travis Snider’s wrist injury and J.P. Arencibia’s error from Friday night) plus associate reporter Chris Toman has today’s game story on an impressive outing by Brandon Morrow, who didn’t walk a batter for the first time in his career as a starting pitcher.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB.

Edwin Encarnacion:

Going back to last year’s All-Star Break you’ve had a lot of consistent success at the plate. Is this the most comfortable you’ve felt for a prolonged period of time since being in the Majors?

“Yeah, I feel great from the All-Star Break last year to now. I’ve been working hard in the offseason to have a great season this year. I feel comfortable, I’m going to keep working hard, keep helping my team, keep doing my work.”

What’s been the key to your success?

“I think being consistent. That’s the one thing, concentrate on every pitch, in every inning and every game.”

The new swing must be helping as well…

“That’s No. 1, that’s the key. Working in the offseason to get my swing shorter.

“That’s what happens when you get experience, year after year, you get more experience and I think that has made me feel a lot better at the plate.”

Is that what you felt the previous problem was? Your swing was too long?

“That’s what I think. The guy I worked with in the offseason told me that too, that I had my swing too long. On the outside corner I was pulling a lot so now I try more to the middle and get my swing shorter with two hands, swinging with two hands.”

Brandon Morrow:

“When you get in a rut like that you need something to spark you. Also, I hadn’t pitched well at home this year and didn’t pitch well at home last year, I needed to get it going here at the Rogers Centre, too.”

On mix between breaking balls and fastball/slider…

“It was mainly fastball/slider but in those games where I don’t have my good fastball or my good slider I think the focus in spring training on those other off-speed pitches is really going to help me out. Like last time in Kansas City, I relied a lot on my changeup.”

On confidence with breaking stuff…

“I think once you see the guys two or three times through, especially when they get some guys on, to be able to slow them down a little bit that’s when I started using my changeup more. Seager singled on one but I ended up striking out Smoak on a couple of changeups.”

On change in approach because of stuff…

“I went out with the same game plan that we had before, just today I had my good stuff so we went with what was working. If I was missing location with some fastballs, or if I didn’t have as good of a slider as I did, we probably would have went with some more changeups and some curveballs.”

Focus more on strikeouts today?

“We’re going to with our strengths on that day. Today, obviously, it was the strikeout, in Kansas City it was the ground ball, and really mixing it up and changing speeds.

John Farrell:

On Morrow…

“He has this capability everytime he steps to the mound. When you combine a well-above average fastball with the command that he showed today in addition to three other offspeed pitches, he has the ability to not only take over the game, but dominate the opposition. When the strikeouts come, the pitch count might run up a little bit and that was the case today, but we will take six-shutout innings every time he takes the mound.”

“I thought Brandon came out and set the tone for us today, he was powerful and threw a lot of strikes. He made a number of big pitches to get a strikeout with men in scoring position and less than two outs and kept the game under control and in-check.”

Adam Lind:

On dropped fly ball…

“I was there, (Johnson’s) got priority, he called it so I tried to get out of the way and didn’t get out of the way, he tripped, then I saw him stumble and I was like, ‘Oh God.’ Then he caught himself and I thought he was going to catch it and then I looked back and it popped out, just one of those freak things where he tripped over my leg.

On Encarnacion…

“He’s carried this offence pretty much the whole month.

Bautista reacts to series sweep

This is going to have to be a quick hitter because I need to go back to my hotel and pack for an early-morning flight back to Toronto. But I wanted to pass along a brief interview with Jose Bautista after the Blue Jays were swept by Baltimore for the first time since 2010.

On the main site, you’ll find full details in the game story on Toronto’s offensive woes. There’s also a notebook outlining yet another setback to the oft-injured Dustin McGowan, item on the starting rotation and Brett Lawrie in the No. 2 spot of the order. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB.

Here’s Bautista:

On the offense seemingly grinding to a halt…

“It’s no secret we didn’t score many runs but we’re going to keep plugging away. It’s a long season, we’re still falling right around .500 and the most encouraging thing is that our pitchers are doing a great job so that’s excellent news and hopefully they can continue to do that. I’m not really worried about our offense, I know we’re going to pick it up. I just hope we do it sooner than later.

“It’s a little bit surprising but I’m not going to dwell on it. We have more important games ahead of us and our pitchers are doing awesome. On the offensive side we’d like to give them better support.”

Farrell said there’s going to be a team meeting before tomorrow’s game against Seattle. Anything in particular you need to say during that meeting as the leader of this group?

“There’s always a meeting, we always prepare on the first day of a series. So, I don’t think there’s going to be anything that’s any different than any other series. Other than just playing hard, trying to lead by example and doing things like that I don’t think I have to do anything extraordinary. If I started doing stuff like that when things are not going great, it’s not going to come natural. I’m not going to go out of my way to do anything to try to bring the team up or anything. I just have to play hard, hopefully these guys do too like they have been doing. It has been a tough last three games, I’m not going to lie to you. We didn’t score many runs and that’s the only reason we didn’t win.”

Was this series a sign that the Orioles have improved from last year?

“It’s too early in the season to know that but I know their pitchers are really hitting their spots and they’re getting us to swing at their pitch. From what we played them last year and how we played them this year, they’ve beat us more than we’ve beaten them … But it’s 162 games, we’re not going to dwell on these three lost games and I’m sure they’re not going to dwell on these three wins. There’s a long road ahead of us and that’s what we’re focused on.”

Do you think guys on this team are pressing at the plate?

“Not at all. I think everybody is going out there trying to have good at-bats. We’re laying off a lot of borderline pitches, we’re hoping that some of these calls go our way eventually and just keep grinding. We’ve never given up in any single game this year so I’m very proud of that.”

And what do you need to do to turn things around?

“Keep grinding at-bats and swinging at good pitches. I’ve got myself out three times today by swinging at bad pitches. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, swing at strikes, that’s all I have to do.”

Different day, same result

The Blue Jays offense has gone quiet against the unlikeliest of opponents: The Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore hasn’t been known for its pitching — or winning for that matter — during the past few years but so far against Toronto the club has done a pretty good job. The Orioles are 4-1 against the Blue Jays this season and in those four wins have limited Toronto to an average of 2.5 runs.

The results on Tuesday and Wednesday looked similar but in reality were much different. On Tuesday, Baltimore’s Tommy Hunter should never have been able to limit the Blue Jays to just one run. He left a lot of pitches up in the zone and seemed incapable of locating outside of harms way. But Toronto wasn’t able to take advantage as they consistently popped out or made weak contact and as a result Hunter was able to escape with a seemingly dominant win.

Jason Hammel, on the other hand, was impressive. He located well, mixed in two very solid offspeed pitches with a mid-90s fastball that seemed to overpower the Blue Jays’ offense for most of the game. On Tuesday, Baltimore got away with one but on Wednesday the club earned the victory with an impressive performance on the mound. That will happen from time to time but now the Blue Jays need to bounceback on Thursday to avoid the sweep and salvage what started off as an impressive 4-0 road trip against Kansas City.

Those are my two cents… now here are today’s leftovers. Also, don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB

John Farrell (pre-game):

Thames pressing a little bit too much?

“That’s an ongoing conversation whether it’s early in the day, inbetween innings in the dugout, young players I think a lot of time are going to press maybe a little bit sooner than guys who have been through some spells during the course of their career. Most important thing is we’ve got to continue to express our belief and trust in their abilities and they as players. I think Eric can count on the fact that we’re going to be consistent with him and know that along the way he’s learning, he’s got less than a full season at the Major League level, and he’s learning what it takes to play at this level day in and day out. We haven’t lost faith in him, we know there are areas of work that are ongoing and that’s the case with everybody whether you’re an eight-year vet or a first-year player.”

How would you rate his defense?

“Overall, it continues to improve. His work is certainly committed to doing that and my reference point is a year ago at this time, where he was then and where he is now, and I think he is vastly improved because of the time spent with Torey Lovullo and we fully trust him in left field.”

Teaching opportunities for young players…

“They’re learning what their abilities are in given situations, what’s the energy level either at the plate or from the mound and that comes through experience and the more we can objective with our feedback, hopefully that learning curve is shortened.

“The greatest teacher that any of them have is right out there between those lines. Yeah, there is more of an urgency to win, we feel that, we want that and we’re going to battle with some guys that are on the short end of the experience stick. So there might be some growing pain with that but still they’re athletic, they’re energetic and they’re very talented.”

With all the young starters, can you compete at the same time as delivering those lessons?

“Yes, we can compete. Our challenges are to keep things in their proper perspective … Yeah we feel the urgency to win and compete and that’s no greater than the group that’s in the clubhouse and if we didn’t feel they had the talent and the ability we might not have that same optimistic view but all possess the ability to compete and contend in this division. They’re going to experience some first, there’s no doubt.

“Even coming out of the game the other night, Hutchison faced Chris Getz four times in that game. That’s the first time in his professional career that he’s faced one hitter four times. So a lot of these firsts are going to take place at the Major League level and it also provides teaching opportunities for all of us.”

Difference from last year…

“We’ve gone through a lot of change. Eighteen new names from a year ago at this time with an expanding group of core players, we’ve improved in a number of areas and through 17 games our starting rotation has done what we’ve asked and that’s work deep into games on a nightly basis. Our defense, particularly our infield defense, I think has improved drastically. So defense and pitching wise, we’re still finding out rhythm offensively yet we’re four in the leage in runs scored and we haven’t even yet, I think, clicked for any stretch of games.”

Pressing too much at the plate?

“It ebbs and flows a little bit. I think there are times when guys come to the plate, we’re in a one-run game and one swing of the bat can turn the scoreboard over, you might see that become a little bit bigger with the swing at times. But I think the fact is that we’ve drawn the third most walks in the American Legaue, we’re doing some things to build innings and create opportunities. Runs are still the most important thing and yet I’d like to think when the middle of the order becomes a little bit more consistent in the overall production we’ve got a chance to make some additional noise.”

Does that make you contemplate bigger changes to the lineup?

“I’m not going to say no but I think it’s important to know that we’re roughly 60 at-bats in for all of our regular players. By no means is it looking to create wholesale changes at this point, no. Guys have earned the right to be where they are in the lineup and while some guys creep up a little bit it’s not so much riding the hot hand, it’s looking at matchups and where guys have put themselves in the position to climb in the order somewhat.”

But you really need more from Bautista/Lind…

“It would be great for everyone to play to their capabilities. Sure, you’d like it to all happen all at once for 162 days, for 162 games, I wish it were like turning that microphone on and off but they’re human and things, like I said, ebb and flow.”

John Farrell (post-game):

“Hammel was outstanding tonight. He had three pitches for strike. He located well. We had the one opportunity in the fourth inning and it seems like now when we’ve been able to cash in some opportunities it has been the two-out hit and tonight in the fourth and again in the ninth we’re missing some opportunities but we’re not creating a whole lot either. They pitched very good again in the second game of this series.”

Drabek…

“Two solo home runs, typically you’re not going to say that that’s going to beat you but when you run up against the pitching that we have, it does. But I thought for the most part he threw the ball on the plate.”

Was it a matter of getting beat the pitcher or the bats going cold?

“You get a pitcher that’s 94-95 with two breaking balls for strikes. We’ll tip our hat to him tonight. We’re in a little bit of a dry patch right now, the last two nights. Not going to take anything away from their ability to pitch and how they’ve executed in these first two games.”

Drabek getting around the leadoff walks…

“When he missed, he didn’t try to do too much. He relied on his two-seamer to get a groundball double play on a couple of occasions. Again, he continues to be a work in progress but he’s doing some good things on the mound.”

Kyle Drabek:

“I let them back in the count on some of them and you have to make even a better pitch when you’re behind in the count. They just happened to get enough of them to get it out of here.”

Were you using the two-seamer for the double plays?

“Most of them, yeah. I have to give it to our guys again, they were in the right spots at the right times. Some of them were harder than others and they were able to make them.”

You threw the two-seamer last year as well, right? Did you just refine it in the offseason?

“I threw it last year. I tweaked it here and there in the offseason and it got a little bit better. I tend to use it a little bit more when I neeed it.”

More comfortable wth it now?

“I’m real comfortable with all of my pitches. It’s just trying to make sure you can get ahead and that was a key for me last start against them and kind of just let them back in it this time.”

Lack of offense putting more pressure on you guys?

“No, absolutely not. We have a great hitting club, today just happened not to score any but I’m not worried about them at all.”

Kelly Johnson:

Getting beat by pitching or bats going cold?

“Tonight was pitching. Hammel just had it, sometimes you don’t know what that is but it was coming out of his hand well, he was obviously very confident and feeling good and I think I can say it was his night.”

And last night?

“That was a tough travel. I’m not going to make that excuse all of the time but I think it felt like that a little bit. But, shoot, we won four games in Kansas City, we played really well, haven’t been blown out here just haven’t scored any runs or gotten any hits. But offenses do that and I think it’s just as important to look at positives like Kyle I thought threw the ball great. I think last night our pitching was phenomenal. That’s going to have to be consistent the whole year for us to compete and even when we’re not scoring runs it has been there.”

So you don’t think guys are pressing?

“It’s early in the year so you always want to get some hits and look up there and see good numbers and everything. But I think guys have been around long enough to kind of understand that’s baseball. It doesn’t take much, it takes a really good game, a couple of good games in a row and all of a sudden everything looks better. Batting averages fluctuate, it’s a pretty overrated stat anyways, but we’ll get our hits. “

Back in action

I’m back after booking off the Blue Jays four-game series in Kansas City. A lot of the other beat reporters followed the same schedule that I’m on and during our absence the club managed to go 4-0. We return and Toronto finds a way to lose a tough ballgame. Coincedence? Absolutely, but I’m sure someone out there can start the conspiracy theories.

The big news while I was away centered around Sergio Santos. We found out on Monday that he will be out at least four weeks but the Blue Jays appeared to dodge a major bullet by the injury not being more severe than just inflammation. Sounds like there was genuine concern there would be structural damage in the throwing shoulder but since that has been ruled out the long-term concerns should be alleviated.

Below, you’ll find some of today’s leftovers from the pre-game scrum that mostly talked about Santos. There are some additional items on the Blue Jays’new look lineup, recent winning streak, and the make-up of Toronto’s bullpen. Also on the main site you can find today’s notebook and of course tonight’s game story which is all about Eric Thames and Henderson Alvarez.

John Farrell:

Length of time for Santos…

“We feel like it’s going to be a minimum of four weeks. Ten to 14 days of no throw and as we’ve used the typical rule of thumb it’s going to be at least the same number of days to get back to where he left off. That’s going to take us right up to, probably, a four-week period.”

Would he be ready for a rehab assignment after 14 days or he’d just be ready to throw again?

“I think the best way to outline it right now is that at the end of that 14-day period once he initiates a throwing program we’ll re-evaluate where he’s at, get a full work-up of tests as far as strength is concerned and how we would advance through his throwing program at that point. So that’s why I said, you initiate the throwing program and you start to build back up it’s going to be that minimum of four weeks.”

Did he have any of these symptoms in Spring Training?

“No. That’s why the last outing in Kansas City, this was clearly isolated where even during that outing, unfortunately he felt not quite right but yet he’s 95-97 mph and as the course of that evening progressed through the night and the morning when he woke up there was increased stiffness, increased soreness, and when he came in for some treatment and then did some early light catch he felt okay but then during his throwing program when we started to lengthen him out it was starting to grab him a little bit more and that’s when we decided at that point it was time to get him evaluated.”

Has there been noticeable changes in his delivery since being converted to a pitcher?

“As far as I know there haven’t been drastic changes. I’m sure from the first time he stepped on the mound to the other night there might be some subtle changes but even in talking with Serge two days ago before we made the move he felt nothing last year, he felt nothing at any time while he’s been converted to a pitcher and yet it showed up in that one outing and that’s why we were concerned. If he didn’t have this in Spring Training and he didn’t have anything leading up to that, then all of a sudden in one outing you have that kind of inflammation, we were concerned to the point of not questioning it, putting him on the disabled list and having him evaluated totally.”

Janseen hasn’t pitched in 10 days. Does the injury to Santos open up the door for a possible role as a set-up man?

“Well because there has been a number of days that he hasn’t gotten into a game we’ll look to. One, he has to get back into a game first and foremost. The fact is we’ve gone to some matchups, how Luis Perez has evolved, I’m not going to say has supplanted him or replaced other guys, he’s done one hell of a job for us, Casey’s fully ready to go and he will be in the mix.”

More on Perez…

“Last night, had both Frasor and Oliver hot when we started the eighth we were basically hitter to hitter, we were going to match up and then when Luis went through the heart of their order with a couple of weak ground balls, I was staying out of the way.”

Encarnacion the new clean-up hitter?

“It gives us a couple of other options and the fact that the way Eddie has swung the bat, he has emerged as our four-hole hitter for right now. The fact that he and Adam are one slot apart in the lineup, it’s not that big of a deal but whether it has been against right-handers or left-handers, Eddie has swung the bat very well and has provided more consistent protection behind Jose and I thought throughout the course of the entire series against Kansas City he had good at-bats. That’s the way we’re going to go right now.”

So, he’s earned the promotion?

“Yeah. Ideally that would be the best thing that everybody does. It gives us the ability to push Adam down and a spot and then we can stack the left-handers in the 7-8 hole with Rasmus and Thames. Somebody has to hit four, somebody has to hit eight, so that’s where we are.”

Rasmus has moved up as well…

“He is in a very good place. There hasn’t been a whole lot of swing and miss. The other day, Duffy was a tough left-hander for him but setting that game aside, and even throughout the course of the other 14 games of the year he has done a good job of getting the bat on the ball, he has hit good pitching, he has squared up good pitching and he feels very confident in his overall game right now.”

Four-game sweep a good sign for this ballclub that needs to beat teams like Kansas City?

“We had some things go our way and I think we executed very well within the series in Kansas City. We still know that within our division that those games mean the most and that’s where we have to continue to improve upon and that’s not to take anyone lightly outside of our division but we all know that the 18 games per team in here they mean twice as much just because of the head-up competition. We will be challenged every night we walk onto the field against a team in this division.

“But for us to get where we want to go we’re going to have to go through this teams that are in the East.”

Morrow and the costly homers

Brandon Morrow started off the year on the right note with a dominating performance against the Indians. Since then, though, success has been much tougher to come by against American League East division rivals Boston and Tampa Bay.

The problem — as it often is with starting pitching — comes down to location. In the past two starts, Morrow’s fastball has crept up into the zone and he’s had difficulty getting his offspeed pitches over for strikes. The fastball location will come because he’s shown the ability to rectify that issue in the past but the offspeed pitches remain a work in progress.

One of Morrow’s top priorities in the spring was using his curveball and changeup on a more consistent basis. On Wednesday night, the effective changeup was there but the curveball wasn’t as effective and the inability to go to that pitch on a consistent basis allows teams like Tampa to sit on Morrow’s fastball-slider combination.

Morrow said after the game that he would take a look at some video to see if perhaps there was a mechanical problem that was causing issues with his fastball. If there is, it should be a relatively easy fix and that’s something the Blue Jays have to be hoping for as they need Morrow to establish himself as a bonafide No. 2 starter this season.

Here are today’s leftovers:

John Farrell:

“Tonight, Brandon had powerful stuff … When he made a mistake out over the plate, he wasn’t able to get away with too many mistakes. With first-pitch fastballs they found their way back to the middle and were squared up for extra-bases, particularly with the way Joyce swung the bat tonight.”
“He was up in the zone a little bit more tonight than the first outing over in Cleveland. Again, fly balls in this ballpark can be a dangerous combination.”
“When he went to some secondary stuff, he would fall behind the count at times and they would get a fastball at some point in the count and when they did, it kind of found its way back to the middle of the plate.”
On his mechanics… 
“At times he can get a little quick over the rubber and would start to leap towards the catcher rather than taking that turn and allowing things to catch up the timing of it wise … Sometimes it appears that when he tries to get some extra velocity that’s when he ends up getting a little more flat in the zone instead of maintaining that downhill plane.”
What can Morrow do moving forward…
“It still centers around fastball location … That’s where effectiveness is sustained.”
Jeff Mathis:
“Yeah, he just got behind a few guys and when he messed up they weren’t missing the mistakes.”
On Morrow’s off-speed pitches…
“He was having trouble getting that over. Just trying to mix it up and do whatever we can to get ahead of guys.”
Difference between this start and last…
“Just locating pitches a little bit better, getting ahead of guys. That’s the main thing with anybody. Getting ahead of guys so you can use that secondary stuff. That might have been the issue.”
Brandon Morrow:
What went wrong?
“I wasn’t very good with my fastball at all, poor command and I thought it was flat in the zone. And it found a lot of bats. Tried a number of times to get my curveball over, that wasn’t working for me. Had a decent changeup but when you’ve got poor fastball command like that, things aren’t going to go well.
What now?
“Continue to work on what I’ve been working on, keeping it down in the zone and on the corners. Tonight was pretty poor.
Something mechanically?
“Maybe I’m looking at some things but I don’t want to jump the gun and try to blame anything right now.
Trouble with off-speed? “Definitely. I was getting into some poor counts and then I threw a lot of fastballs down the middle. They found a lot of bats.
Anything reliable?
“My changeup was all right, just didn’t get myself into a lot of great counts to use them in. I started off a few guys with a changeup, but I can’t throw it every pitch.

The overreaction to Santos’ struggles

The level of frustration was palpable during the ninth inning at Rogers Centre on Monday night. Toronto’s closer Sergio Santos had just blown his second save in as many opportunities this season and the 48,000-plus fans in attendance let their voices be heard with a chorus of boos as Santos walked off the field.

Santos said all the right things after his outing about how the fans have every right to voice their opinion and how he himself would have booed in that situation. That’s all fine and good but you have to think there’s a level of frustration beneath the surface that Santos has about the reaction for his first game in a Blue Jays’ uniform. Let’s get one thing straight, Santos isn’t Frank Francisco and he’s not Jon Rauch. He wasn’t around last season as the Blue Jays tied for the American League lead in blown saves with 25. It’s a new season and a new closer — one with an overpowering fastball and devastating slider — who has all the tools required to become an elite reliever in this league.

That little rant isn’t meant to criticize the Blue Jays’ fanbase. I completely understand the lack of patience a lot of people have considering the struggles in 2011, the previous mistakes of Kevin Gregg in 2010 and the lack of a bonafide closer since BJ Ryan’s first season in Toronto. But Santos wasn’t responsible for any of that and before everyone jumps to conclusions about his overall abilities let’s give this at least a few weeks to see how it all plays out. The fact is Toronto has a very valuable commodity under club control until 2017 and even if Santos struggles early there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to turn it around. Afterall, it has only been two games.

Here are some leftovers from today’s interview with Santos and some leftovers from John Farrell’s scrum with the media:

Sergio Santos:

What did you learn about the closer position last year in Chicago that helps you deal with some early season adversity this year?

“You can’t change the past all you can do is learn from it. Looking back, last night after I finished doing my running, I looked at video, sat down and talked with Papi and we kind of went over stuff that we could have improved that inning or what we could have done and I just learned from that. I take that as an experience and maybe it will help me out at some point in the season when that same kind of thing happens and things start to speed up I can kind of look back and be like, alright this happened before, you have to learn from it and I just take it as a learning experience.”

What did you notice in the video?

“I was just trying to do too much. I was trying to be too perfect with every pitch. Trying to locate at 97 and throw at 100 and you can’t really do that. Just have to go back and go back to square one, pound in the zone and attack hitters. If I’m throwing good pitches and they’re still hitting them, I can live with that but when I try to do too much that’s tough to swallow because I should know better.”

Was it a similar pitch to Pedroia that hurt you in Cleveland with Asdrubal Cabrera?

“It was just a bad located pitch to a guy that can hit that pitch. If there’s anybody in their lineup that can hit a fastball up and in it’s Pedroia. I should have stayed low and away or gone with something else but learn from it and move on.”

Happy to have the home openers in Cleveland and Toronto out of the way so you guys can focus on the season without some of the added distractions?

“It’s good, the beginning of the year, because everybody gets excited and it’s a fun time of the year but now it’s kind of like that first week is almost done and now we know the grind is before us. Now it’s important to try to win as many games as we can because we’re playing tough teams every night and any way we can scratch together a win is very helpful.”

You were on a different plan in Spring Training than the other pitchers. Did the lack of innings in Major League games this spring potentially play a factor in the rough start?

“It would have been nice to get more innings but that’s neither here nor there. That’s not a crutch for me, I’m not going to sit here and say look I only threw ‘x’ amount of innings so that’s why I’m not starting off great. It’s a part of the game, it’s baseball, you have good days and bad days so it’s about weathering that storm, not making the bad days too terrible and on the good days not being on cloud nine. It’s just finding that even keel, it’s a long season, and hopefully looking back in August and September if we’re pushing to win the AL East I can look back on this first week and it just be a blip and something I can learn from. I still have the utmost confidence in myself to go out there and get the job done and that’s what I look forward to doing.”

What do you like about your stuff right now?

“My arm’s feeling good, everything feels good. The ball’s coming out of my hand the way I want. I threw some good pitches yesterday and that’s what I take away from it. I leave all of the bad stuff there and I just take the good stuff and build off that and hopefully I can get some momentum and put some good innings together.”

Can’t wait to get back out there again?

“No doubt about it. The hardest part is waiting. It’s tough, I’m a competitor, I love to compete, I want to be out there again and I want them to give me the ball.”

You haven’t had much time to work with J.P. yet and you’re obviously known for that hard slider, which appears difficult to catch. What has the working relationship been like so far with Arencibia?

“It’s going to take some time for J.P. to learn me, for me to learn J.P. It’s kind of tough to do that in the six weeks of Spring Training because he’s got so many other pitchers to work with. We’ll get in synch, we’ll get it together, I’m not worried about that part of it. I would have loved to get off to a better start but that’s in the past now and I can look forward to being here for the rest of the season. I’m looking forward to going out there and I’m sure J.P. and I will get together and start working.”

Lots of other closers around the league have been struggling as well. Can you take any solace in that and know that these type of things come with the territory?

“It happens. It just stinks, that’s the tough part about being a closer is you have all your teammates battle for nine innings and grind it out and for you to get in there and screw everything it’s tough. It’s a tough pill to swallow because you know how hard your guys worked. You see it, I’m not the only one going through it, there are other guys around the league that have blown saves and it happens. I just have to leave that in the past and move on.”

Having the ability to put bad outings in the past…

“No doubt about it. I think about it that night and then literally as soon as I wake up the next morning, the sun came up, I talked to my wife and kids. It was a good day. Now I look forward to having another ballgame, hopefully I get in and this time hopefully I’ll get the job done.”

John Farrell:

“Sergio’s our closer. Anything more than that at this point, there’s no difference in approach being taken today, tomorrow or Friday, he is our closer.”

On the altered approach for Santos in Spring Training…

“We felt like he was in very good shape coming into camp. We did spend some time working on his changeup, we spent some time refining where his hands are set up in his delivery to strive for more consistent fastball command, particularly down in the strike zone. We still got him seven appearances total between sim games, Minor League games and A games and I think typically for a one-inning reliever that’s not too few of outings particularly in the shape he came into camp with.”

Still new to being a closer…

“He’s relatively new to being a pitcher when you look at 28 innings in the Minor Leagues in his pro career before becoming a big league reliever. It’s very clear that’s a quick path to the big leagues and really not a whole lot of developmental time regardless of whether it’s as a one-inning reliever or as a starter. He understanding who he is as a pitcher and how he’s most effective, particularly with his effort level in his delivery and inevitably a pitcher is going to sacrifice command at times when they’re trying to get maximum velocity.

“We’re still learning Sergio. Yeah, we can go back and read reports and review all of the video that we want but through experiences and in the same uniform that’s where we get to learn more about him and what makes him most effective.”

On max effort  versus location…

“You want location first and foremost regardless of velocity. Some guys have that rare ability to combine both. We’re certainly not asking Sergio to throw slower, but at the same time there has to be a balance there with effort and energy in the delivery and commanding the baseball.”

Making history on Day 1

Apparently the Blue Jays and Indians were so excited for the start of the regular season they decided to more or less play two games on Opening Day for the 2012 season.  The more than five-hour marathon lasted sixteen innings and became the longest Opening Day game in Major League Baseball history. It wasn’t until J.P. Arencibia hit the go-ahead home run in the 16th inning and Sergio Santos closed things out in the bottom half of the inning that an outcome was finally decided.

It really was a tale of two games. The first one involved the Blue Jays hitters getting absolutely dominated courtesy of a masterful pitching performance by Indians ace Justin Masterson. Jose Bautista’s solo home run in the fourth and a double by Adam Lind were the only marks against Masterson who kept Toronto’s hitters off balance for eight innings en route to a 10-strikeout performance. Things completely shifted gears when Indians closer Chris Perez entered the game and proceeded to surrender a three-run lead in no time flat and force extra innings.

You can read all about last night’s game on the main site but as you can imagine with a game that goes on for 16 innings there was plenty that couldn’t fit into the recap. Here are a few tidbits from last night followed by lots of leftovers. Apologies for the late post but after spending 11 hours at the ballpark I needed a little time to recover. I think everyone is a little thankful — players and journalists included — that Friday was a scheduled offday for both clubs.

Tidbits:

  • Jose Bautista proved yet again that he isn’t adverse to helping the Blue Jays in the field any way possible. Bautista moved from right field to first base when Adam Lind was lifted for a pinch runner in the ninth inning. It was the 10th time that Bautista has appeared at first base for the Blue Jays and his first game there since 2010.
  • Omar Vizquel also made a rare appearance at first base when he entered the game in the 12th inning. Vizquel technically came into the game as a left fielder as Toronto subbed out Eric Thames to go with five infielders in order to get an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded to keep the game tied. Vizquel came back out in the 13th at first base, which allowed Bautista to return to right field,  and marked just the second time in Vizquel’s career that he played first.
  • Rajai Davis was responsible for the game’s biggest brainfreeze when he attempted to bunt runners over from first and second in extra innings. Davis popped the bunt up towards third base and then inexplicably stood in the batter’s box and watched the play unfold. Cleveland’s Jack Hannahan wisely let the ball drop and easily turned a 5-4-3 doubleplay to essentially put an end to Toronto’s rally. Davis received a lot of criticism — and rightly so — from comments on the site and people on Twitter and while I’m sure John Farrell was beside himself in the dugout after the game he appeared to be understanding. Nobody can question Davis’ effort on the field and even though it’s a mistake that cannot be made at the Major League level this isn’t about a highly paid player being lazy. Davis is a veteran player who likely got caught up in not being able to get the bunt down and had a temporary brain cramp. It’s not the way he normally plays the game and I doubt it’s something we ever see again but the Blue Jays got away with one there.
  • The Blue Jays decision to go with five infielders during the 12th inning with the bases loaded was  a scenario they practiced quite a bit during Spring Training. In many ways, it’s a last resort type of strategy but it paid off against Cleveland as Perez got the inning-ending double play and I bet it’s not the last time we see Farrell make that move.
  • I really liked what I saw from Kelly Johnson hitting out of the two-hole in front of Bautista. Johnson couldn’t get anything going against Masterson but when Cleveland’s bullpen came into the game he proceeded to reach base four consecutive times. It’s the ability to get on base that’s crucial when batting in the No. 2 spot and Johnson has shown a keen ability to do that during his Major League career. I think he’s in line for  a big year.
  • Sergio Santos was supposed to come out of the Blue Jays bullpen to start the 16th inning last night but a miscommunication in Toronto’s dugout momentarily derailed that plan. Santos about to leave Toronto’s ‘pen when Luis Perez darted out of the Blue Jays bullpen with the belief that he was still pitching. Perez crossed the chalk and once that happens he is required to face at least one batter. It’s a new rule in Major League Baseball that was designed to stop teams from buying extra time for their relievers to get ready and further delaying the game. So, Perez stayed in to face one batter before Santos was allowed to enter the game.
  • As a result of that move, Santos did not earn his first save in a Blue Jays uniform. In order to record the save, Santos would have needed to pitch a full inning or come into the game with the tying run on the on-deck circle. Since he began pitching with one out, nobody on and a three-run lead that scenario didn’t apply. He’ll have to wait at least one more day for another opportunity.

Now onto last night’s leftovers…

John Farrell:

“The bullpen did an outstanding job, 11 shutout innings, hopefully we’re not going to look at that too often, and if tonight is any kind of insight into this season, strap in, we’re in for a long ride.”

On J.P. thinking he was supposed to bunt in the 16th when he really wasn’t…

“In that situation against that type of pitcher, right-handers have had good success against Ascencio and we certainly didn’t want to take the bat out of J.P.’s hands. He saw a sign that wasn’t there and fortunately he fouled it off, and he gets the next pitch in the middle of the plate and does some damage with it.”

On Santos in the 16th….

“With the change in rule, as soon as that pitcher crosses the line that’s pitched the previous inning, he has to face a hitter so we tried and made sure that we gave Serge all the time he needed to get loose, Luis kind of bolted from the dugout, so it ended up working OK.”

“I know it’s Day 1, and we’ve seen an awful lot in the first game, but the one characteristic we had last year was a relentless attitude and a relentless approach, and came back a number of times and today was another example. I think that just speaks to the character of this group.

On JP defence…

“He’s made such strides from a year ago. It’s remarkable how far he’s come from this time a year ago. He throws out Choo from his knees, he blocked numerous two-strike pitches in the dirt. I know it’s Day 1, this is a game that makes you awful proud with the way guys continued to battle and grind things out for 16 innings.”

Grinding…

“On Day 1, extremely difficult. We’ve had guys go nine innings one time and suddenly we’re asking them to go 16 in a five-hour game out of the chute. We’re dealing with guys who were cramping up during the game, even though it’s not hot and sweaty it’s still cold, they’ve been on their feet for five straight hours. It’s a testament to their will.”

Rajai…

“Hannahan did a great job. He pops a ball up and he did exactly what you instruct every infielder to do, get a read on it, give the impression you’re going to catch it, he let it drop, Rajai read his positioning, thought he was going to catch it, and kind of backed off instead of running it out.”

Five-man infield…

“It’s a thing we had worked on in spring training. We’re in kind of a desperate situation right there and we’re looking for something on the ground, we had played the infield in trying to cut down the run earlier, but when we got in the situation with that fifth infielder being right at the bag, we felt like we could then look to turn two in the middle of the infield rather than try to cut down the speed at first base. It worked, you kind of roll the dice and it turned up in our favour.”

“Long game? Yeah, but it was a fun game because there were so many different things inside it, whether it was Rajai scoring from first on a ball off the wall, to a dramatic three-run homer, there were a lot of good things.”

Ricky Romero:

“I just got a little off my game there in the second inning and everything started going up, the ball started rising. I wasn’t able to make the adjustment back quick and I ended up with a lot of pitches that inning, but you know it happens and it’s over with. I’m glad we came back, we grinded it out. We wanted to make history tonight, you guys didn’t know that, huh?”

J.P. Opening Day….

“This is the thing about this team. He had some rough at-bats earlier … but he stayed within himself and he came up huge in that inning with that three-run homerun.

“I’ve said it all along, this team is special. I know it’s game 1 out of 162, but I could have easily, after that second inning, folded, but I told myself I’ve got to grind through whatever innings I can get and it turned out to be great. We’ve got to tip our hat to the bullpen – what a great job they did – everyone came in and it just shows you the depth that we have and this bullpen is really good.

“I was here [the whole time] I felt like I pitched yesterday, actually, I came out a long time ago. But like I said it was a great team win and the best thing is we won and that’s all that matters.”

Arencibia’s strong defensive game behind the plate…

“To me, J.P. Has always been a great defensive catcher. He’s always blocked great balls for me and sometimes I know I throw tough breaking balls to where they’re not even close and he blocks them. That guy works his ass off and he wants to be the best at whatever he does and he showed it today. He took a beating. People don’t notice the little foul balls he took off the mask and off the risk. Like I said he’s a grinder and that’s what he’s all about.”

Farewell to Dunedin

My six weeks in Dunedin officially comes to an end today and what a spring it has been. The storylines haven’t been quite as compelling as normal this Grapefruit League season because Toronto entered camp with a relatively set lineup. The only real competitions were found in left field and utility infielder but both spots were more or less locked in to be Eric Thames and Omar Vizquel from the start. The same could be said for the fifth starter role, which was going to Dustin McGowan until a foot injury opened the door for either Kyle Drabek and Aaron Laffey.

Despite the set lineup, there were still some interesting developments in camp. Colby Rasmus’ new attitude even with his continued struggles this spring, Travis Snider’s ability to deal with more adversity in his career, and the continued development of young prospects such as Travis d’Arnaud, Anthony Gose and Drew Hutchison. I hope you enjoyed the coverage both on the blog and especially on Bluejays.com this spring and make sure to keep reading throughout the season.

It’s now time for me to head back to Toronto for a couple of days before the start of the season. I have a lot of catching up to do in the city I haven’t lived in for the past month and a half but in no time at all I’ll be hitting the road again to cover the season opener in Cleveland. Even though I won’t be in Dunedin, MLB.com will have you covered during the final two days of camp. Make sure to keep reading over the next couple of days to find out all the information on the fifth starter, what happens to Luis Valbuena, what John Farrell settles on for his batting order and of course the starting rotation. The blog will be in hiatus until Thursday but BlueJays.com will have you fully covered.

Also in the coming days on BlueJays.com you’ll find some season preview articles from me. There will be a piece on Omar Vizquel looking forward to returning to Cleveland for the season opener in what likely will be his season. Also there will be a feature on Ricky Romero setting the bar high for this season and of course a general season preview looking at how this team might fare in the American League East.

Thanks again for reading the blog and if you’re not doing so already make sure to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB. Before I leave, here are some leftovers from my final day in sunny and delightfully different Dunedin.

John Farrell:

Encarnacion batting cleanup something you’ll go with on Opening Day?

“It’s one possibility. The way Edwin’s been swinging the bat all spring, he’s in a good place, he took some very good swings again (Saturday), we’re going to have to stack some right-handers in there somewhere, so that’s the configuration at the moment. Again, in spring training, we have the benefit of taking a look at different things and this is one of those.

Encarnacion better equipped to protect Jose considering Lind’s recent injury?

“That’s some of the thought right now, I can’t say that’s going to be the case every single game, but we’ve seen throughout the course of last year that teams are going to manage our lineup or pitch to our lineup with the focal point being Jose, we want to make a lineup that’s deep in protection as possible. More than anything, I love our lineup, we’ve got a deep lineup, one that’s going to be capable of doing a number of different things. That’s just today’s look.

“That would be the ideal scenario. I think it’s safe to say teams are going to look to attack the guys before and after him a little bit more readily, and that’s not to take anything away from their abilities, but the thing we’ve established early on is that if one guy in the lineup is not getting his pitch to hit, than don’t be afraid to pass the baton on to the next guy. That’s what you see very good lineups are capable of doing, players trust in the next guy, and you’re looking to build an inning regardless of where you are in the lineup. I think we’ve got a lineup this year more capable one-through-nine, so on-base percentage to me is the key component, particularly with the two guys ahead of Jose.

Being patient at the plate and not being afraid to take a walk… that tougher to teach with younger players?

“It’s a hard message in general because regardless of the age of the player, hitters to me have to earn deep counts. You can’t just walk in thinking you’re going to take pitches for the sake of seeing them and work deep into counts – then you’re behind in the count 0-2. So it goes back to a disciplined strike zone and maintaining that discipline throughout an at-bat or throughout a given game. There’s going to be times when guys think they get a pitch and they don’t quite handle it the way they wanted to, but it’s been more of our daily conversation and value. But by no means should that be interpreted as being passive on their part.”

Do you anticipate needing to use Lind as DH in early stages of the year?

“Probably, and that will just be based on what he might be feeling in a given day. We want to build in that periodic rest. The one side of that, too, though, is that let’s say we get into some cold weather – and the reason why he’s playing first base today – you have two innings between at-bats you can sit and tighten up. So by keeping him active, keeping him in the game, he’s going to stay loose. So those are things we’ll look to manage. When we get back to Toronto or we’re on the road we’ve got a stationary bike to continue to ride and stay loose. We can do that as well. All those things factored in we’ll try to manage it to the best of our abilities.”

Valbuena is last position player in camp … because waiting on Francisco? 

“Yes. Luis being out of options, if he’s not on our 25-man roster then obviously he’s got to be exposed to every other club. If there’s an opportunity out there for him to realize better than a minor-league option here. We’ll certainly try to facilitate that, or Alex will to the best of his ability. He’s had a very good spring; he’s shown a lot of versatility. Luis’s come up to the big leagues as a second baseman, but I think he’s played shortstop well, and he’s made himself more versatile to where he’s a solid utility infielder at the major-league level.”

On Jamie Moyer making the Rockies at age 49 — the same age as Farrell…

“I think it’s awesome. Perseverance, work ethic, I mean the guy has just come back from Tommy John at the age of 49 to make a big league club. I think it’s a hell of a story and whether it’s Omar (Vizquel) in our camp at the soon to be age of 45, they haven’t quite gotten their AARP cards yet but it’s great to see.

“It speaks volumes to the way they keep themselves in shape, their love of the game clearly shines through. You look at guys who come in on Major League contracts that set their ego aside, they’re probably pretty good self evaluators on what their abilities are currently and I think it’s just great for the game of baseball.”

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