Melky Cabrera will make his highly anticipated return to San Francisco when the Blue Jays open a two-game series at AT&T Park on Tuesday night. The reaction from Giants fans should be interesting to say the least considering Cabrera was San Francisco’s best player until he was suspended shortly after the All-Star Break because of a positive drug test.
The ensuing months became somewhat of a soap opera as Cabrera refused to talk about the suspension with San Francisco reporters and never spoke directly to the fanbase about what happened. He essentially vanished overnight and many of the Giants players have gone on record over the past several months about how they used to be close but he no longer returns their messages.
Perhaps in part because of the way things ended, or because the Giants didn’t want the distraction, San Francisco opted not to reinstate Cabrera after his suspension ended during the postseason. He’s only spoke about the Giants on a handful of occasions since then but he held a brief scrum with reporters on Sunday afternoon in San Diego in advance of the upcoming series.
Here’s the Q+A from that scrum with the help of interpreter Luis Rivera:
On going back to San Francisco…
“They treated me really well when I played there and they gave me an opportunity to play every day and I had a great time playing for them.”
“I don’t worry about that, it’s up to the fans, it’s nothing I have control of. I’m just going to play the game. If they decide to boo that’s fine, if they decide to cheer that’s fine with me too. But I’m not going to worry about that, I’m just going to focus on the game and try to help my team win.”
Surprised you weren’t added to postseason roster…
“That was their decision. I was ready after I was suspended, I went down and got ready just in case they needed me. They didn’t need me at the time, they won the championship and I was very happy and glad that they did it with or without me.”
“No, I was fine. I was ready to go but it was their decision. They decided not to use me, nothing I can do about that. I was ready but that was their decision.”
Looking forward to going back to the city…
“I’m going to be in the hotel to just get ready for the two games.”
Slow start in SF and how that compares to current Blue Jays team…
“I hope that’s the case. We have a lot of good players here, as good as the guys in San Francisco and I feel like these guys are going to start getting on and we’re going to finish strong before the year’s over.”
Legs causing issues…
“Everyday I’m feeling a little bit better.”
Biggest difference in play between April and May…
“It’s going to be a long season, every day I continue to play I’ve felt better and better. Games and at-bats are making a difference for me right now.”
“Anywhere in the lineup they use me, I’m fine with me. John is the manager and whatever he needs I’m fine with it.”
On Dickey breaking his nail during last start and how that can affect a knuckleball pitcher…
“He wasn’t concerned about it and said it happens all the time, so we’re not concerned about it.”
Did he throw more fastballs than normal as a result?
“It seemed to me, but again, we haven’t had enough starts with him … Seemed like maybe more fastballs and changeups and things like that.”
On missing Lawrie…
“He’s a really good player and he helps us in so many ways. I don’t think the team’s built on one player though. I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘OK, Brett comes back and all of a sudden we’re going to take off.’ But there’s no question [about] what he does defensively, range, the energy he brings. But at the same time we can’t just rush him back.
“We have to make sure he gets his at-bats. Last year when he came back there weren’t enough rehab games left because the [minor-league] seasons were all done, and he was a little shaky offensively for the first I guess two weeks when he came back. We’re anxious to get him back because defensively, obviously, he’s a plus for us.”
On the seriousness of this year’s injury relative to last year’s…
“Brett’s the one who told us – again, we were going off of him – he said it didn’t feel close to as bad as the first time he had it. He’s taken batting practice now two days in a row. He’s taking ground balls at third base, throwing across the infield to first base, feeling great. So I would think that games are starting to get close now.
“Once we get him the games, we haven’t set a number of at-bats but the thought is maybe 20 at-bats, 25 at-bats, it could be sooner. But he’s getting close. We talked about it internally, maybe the New York series at home, maybe the Baltimore series on the road, that would give him enough time in the minor leagues. If he goes out on a rehab assignment and has 10 at-bats and looks great, we wouldn’t be afraid to call him up then.”
On when Lawrie might rehab…
“I would say Dunedin right now, just because of the weather. They were rained out today. So right now Dunedin. If all of a sudden … we may change that, but if all of a sudden, we haven’t gotten that far, but he would definitely start there.”
Was there a setback at the end of camp?
“I think it was just he came to us and said, ‘Look, I can play’…he
could have played, but he came to us and said, ‘You know what, if we’re
going to be smart about this thing,’ because he’d been through it
before, ‘To make sure it doesn’t nag at me and bother me.’ You see what
happened with Atlanta. Freddie Freeman, he had an issue and he played
through it. I guess he was playing well, but Atlanta just decided let’s
make sure this thing heals.
“Brett could have played, but he still felt something. So, I think it’s him telling us with his body, if I can just get a little more time, I think I’m going to take care of this entirely. It’ll be behind us and then I won’t have to worry about it again.”
Has the defence at third base been concerning? Seems like Izturis has been struggling over there…
“Yeah, just some of the throws, the biggest thing. Again, we’ve talked about it. He’s played so much third base in his career with Anaheim, potentially is it the fact that he played so much second base and obviously a little bit of shortstop this spring. I think we only got him two or three games at third at the end.
“We weren’t planning on him playing a ton of third base. But he’ll end up being fine. He’s been in the league too long, he’s doner too good a job and he’s played a lot of games there. I think it’s just early on, but he’s been a good defender his entire career, so I don’t expect that to change.”
Are the daily questions about pressure, fair?
“I don’t get them, necessarily. We’re in sports, so I think anything’s fair to be honest with you. It’s part of what it’s about. You’re open to be criticized. At the same time players get praised, front offices get praised. You get criticized as well. I think it’s all part of it. I don’t think anything of it. It’s just whether it’s doing media, whatnot, I think it’s all fair, to be honest with you. It’s not fair if you go after someone’s family or something, but I think everything else is fair.”
Not uncommon for guys joining a new team to press and struggle. Has that been a factor?
“I don’t think so. Because Reyes is hitting .430 or whatever it is and he’s new to the team. Encarnacion and Bautista and some of the other guys that have been here aren’t performing yet the way they can. Obviously they’re going to hit some home runs. And they’ve been here awhile. I don’t know. I know we look for reasons why guys get off to slow starts and again you just can’t make too much of it.
“I remember Kelly Johnson last year got off to an unbelievable start the first six weeks of the season and then obviously he hit a little bit of a funk. Likewise we have guys like Colby start off slowly last year and he
really emerged leading up to the all-star break. I know that all we have to report on is what we see each day and it’s going to be a story. You just can’t react to tiny sample sizes at this point.”
High number of strikeouts a concern?
“Guys are in a funk as well. They’re striking out but they’re also hitting in the .100′s and the .000′s. So I think that’s part of it when guys aren’t hitting. Are you grounding out, are you flying out, are you striking out? I think when guys start to get back to their norms, I think that will correct itself. We’re still going to strike out some because we have power.
“We’re not going to eliminate all of the strikeouts and we don’t necessarily want to because with that, most times, comes power. We don’t want to lose our power. I think it’s all part of guys not really being up to, I don’t want to say speed, but not performing up their norms yet.”
Edwin’s sprained finger in spring.. could that be a factor in his slow start?
“I don’t know, it could be. It could the extended period, it could be
trying to do too much, it’s so hard to tell. He was so good last season, even with Jose out, he continued to play well. He has done this before, where he started out slow, even in the past with us. It’s one of those things, you have to just wait. These guys, you believe in them, they’re good players, and you wait until they finally snap out of it and start playing well.”
On signing Miguel Batista to a Minor League deal…
“Batista was a Minor League signing. They needed some innings down there just to have any type of role, long relief, spot start. It’s just depth. You’ll see a lot of transactions on the Minor League side that they do day in and day out. I understand that anyone who is a former big league player is going to be news but it’s just for them to have more innings and have a little more length.”
That part of a commitment to Buffalo?
“No doubt. A lot of it, obviously we’re still active, we want to win here but we also made a commitment to try to put the best team on the field that we could there. That’s part of it as well. We’re always on top of it, but probably moreso than we’ve ever been. The Minor League department, any time they have a chance to upgrade and make the team
better, they’ll look to do it.”
“Right now, he’s throwing live batting practice. I think he has done it
twice now, he might do it a few more times. Once Dane Johnson feels
like the changes they’ve made delivery wise, mechanics wise, are pretty
much in place they’ll progress him into games. We don’t have a date
yet, but I would think it’s coming soon. There are only so many times
you’re going to throw live batting practice so maybe a week to 10 days.
We haven’t talked about that but I would expect it to be soon.”
So he’s facing hitters yet?
“Yes, just in live batting practice. He has been throwing bullpens and
then finally they had some guys stand in. It’s obviously different when
someone stands in as opposed to having just the plate there.”
Will he need to go just two innings, one inning while you stretch him out?
“I’m not sure. It wasn’t so much about building him up, or innings. It
was about making sure we made the changes and they stuck. I guess it
has been about two weeks now, I don’t know that’s even a concern. I
don’t know even if he could go five innings that they would look to do
that. I think it would just be a gradual process overall. I would
expect it to be gradually built up.”
On Romero changing more than just the direct line to the plate…
“They’re doing some little things like he’d do a full wind up where his hands would come over his head; they took that away. It’s more starting his hands at his chest, bringing it down to his belt and separating his hands there. These are small things … that can affect your balance and things like that, so just some minor things they’re doing as well. You know, obviously, there’s the main point of your lines to the plate but there are some minor things too whether it’s taking his hands over his head or starting at his chest, where he breaks his hands, things like that.”
On Romero into a game…
“We haven’t set a yet. We’re waiting on Dane (Johnson.) We haven’t said hey, we need this by this date. I’m just assuming, again, he’s throwing some live batting practices and so on and after a while at some point he’s going to get in to a game. I don’t expect him to throw live batting practice for a month so whether it’s 10 days from now or two weeks from now, he’s moving in the right direction I guess is the best way to put it.”
Psychotherapy for Romero or just physical work?
“From his standpoint, he’s been down this path before when he was in New Hampshire. Three years in a row he had five ERAs and it finally clicked for him. He’s been down this path and I don’t know how confident you can be when you’re getting hit and you’re not performing the way you can. I think once the success comes the confidence will come.”
Concerned about your team?
“No, it’s too early. The same way, there will be a time when we’re playing very well and you’ll ask me how good do you feel about this team and I’ll say I’m not going to make too much of a five-game winning streak or whatever it might be over the course of a season. It’s too long, I’ve been through it enough years now, enough seasons to know the peaks and valleys.
“Again I just brought up some examples earlier, Oakland wasn’t even on the radar in the middle of the summer and they won the division and won 94 games. I guess the Pirates were 16 games over .500 at the trade deadline and, you know, things change so fast no matter how well you’re playing or how poorly you’re playing.
“To me, I’m not really going to start to bear down until August or
September, to be honest with you. Even if you’re playing well, things
can change fast. I mean, we were two games out of a wild card spot at
the end of July and then the last two months we played very poorly.
Again, late August, early September is when you really start to say
okay, that’s how fast things can change.”
With Cecil having more velocity this year has that made you want to look into the weighted ball program more than you might have in the past?
“I know Aaron Laffey has done it and just from what I’ve seen I think
his velocity has been the same as it’s always been, with a guy like
Brett, I remember our trainers felt even a year ago that the velocity
would come back, he’s pitched at this velocity before. If someone all
of a sudden had never shown any type of velocity and all of a sudden
they did, it was newfound velocity, I’d say maybe there was something
“Brett lost all that weight last year, adjusting your body, I’m sure he feels very good about it and that’s great but he’s thrown hard before. To me, I know there are some people who have done it and I’m using Aaron Laffey as an example because I know he worked on it in the off-season as well, if it works for someone, everyone has their own routines and that’s great, but Brett has had velocity before and it’s just a matter of getting it back.”
Minor-league inventory and how offseason trades impacted that…
“New Hampshire last season, we didn’t have a very good season and we
had all those guys, I mean we had all those players in the minors they
weren’t all in New Hampshire, it’s going to be like everything else,
not every team is going to be performing exceptionally well, we’re not
necessarily going to have great prospects on every team.
“I’m anxious to see guys like Smoral pitch, I saw him on the Saturday before the season started in spring training and I hadn’t seen him throw before. He was 96, it was exciting to see what was coming out of his arm, the way the ball jumped, so I’m excited for when he finally gets into a game. There’s obviously when Stroman does come back in the middle of May, that’ll be fun to get him back as well.
“Sean Nolin is getting close, he’s throwing some bullpens so once he gets back in the rotation it will be fun to see him as well. We’ve got some guys in extended spring that aren’t showing up in the boxscores yet. We still feel like we’ve got a pretty good crop of guys, even relative to some other teams, we feel like we have some high ceiling guys, we’re high on Sanchez and Osuna.
“Sanchez the other day was up to 99, Osuna was up to 97 and he’s 18, so they’re pretty exciting high ceiling prospects for us. Antonio Jimenez is looking like he’s coming back soon, so we’ll get a shot in the arm but we always want to win, it’s easier to develop players when you’re winning.”
On why they claimed Edgar Gonzalez…
“We’re always trying to build as much depth as we can. We’re carrying eight guys in the bullpen, that’s not going to continue, he realizes that, that very likely when we go to seven, we’ll have a change there. Once Bush threw three innings, if we’re going to have eight guys in the ‘pen and a guy like Gonzalez can come in and just give us that length if we need it if we’re up a lot or down a lot, someone who could save the bullpen a little bit because we do have some one inning guys, it’s someone who has experience and can pitch and throw strikes.”
On finding a trade for Jeffress…
“We have until Sunday to put him on (waivers), we’re going to see if
there’s a deal there, I don’t think so right now. There hasn’t been any
interest at this point.”
On his early struggles with the knuckleball that included three passed balls…
“I think especially early we were both kind of jacked up. It was just a little different at the beginning but then settled down and felt comfortable again. He was throwing his pitches and we were working well but I think early, with the adrenaline going on, it was dancing in, out, up, down, so that makes it tough.”
More on difficulties of catching a knuckeball…
“If you talk to any knuckleball catcher, guys that caught a knuckleball, it’s going to happen. I think early, too, I was a little bit straight up with him and once I made a turn in my stance I kind of adjusted to him a little bit better. It was more consistent in the zone. But that kind of pitch you just have to brush it off and go to the next one. After that, like I said, we were able to settle down, we felt a lot better and I felt real comfortable behind the plate.”
On Dickey’s knuckleball compared to the spring…
“Early it was dancing a ton and I think maybe in and out of the zone more than it has been. There was a lot more balls than he usually throws, usually he throws a lot more strikes. I think it could be the adrenaline on both sides but it was really darting every way possible and made it tough.”
On whether it’s a frustrating pitch to catch….
“Frustrating wouldn’t be the word for it. I think it’s a challenge. First thing that they told me was, listen, you’re going to miss balls, you’re going to miss balls with guys on third base and they’re going to score, and you have to put it behind you. Because there are going to be pitches that he throws that no one could have caught unless you have a fish net that’s for large fish, it’s not going to be an easy ball to catch. That’s the fun of catching it, I think it’s a challenge and once you’re able to settle in and stuff like that, it was a lot easier. Definitely early the ball was pretty tough.”
On difference between catching Dickey and other pitchers on the staff…
“It’s a night and day difference. He’s a guy that you have to wait until the last second. You can’t anticipate where the ball is going to go because you don’t know where the ball is going to go. Guys that have caught Dickey before a long time, the guys who caught Wakefield for a long time, they say the same thing. You never know where it’s going to go and you really just have to try and be as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately early on it was tough but then we were able to settle in.”
On catching relievers after handling Dickey…
“It looks a lot harder. You change your glove, you change your stance back to your normal stance and you definitely have to make an adjustment. But it’s part of it and I don’t think it’s really tough, it’s just making the adjustment. I’m sure for (the hitters) it throws off their timing and the good thing is tomorrow you back that up with a guy who is low-to-mid 90s and it’s going to tough to hit.”
More adjustments while catching Dickey or just the one about opening your stance behind the plate?
“Just that one. Henry was like, ‘hey man I see you more square than usual and try to open up a little bit more.’ Right away, that inning, I opened up and I was a lot more free. That could be part of it for me, just whatever the excitement, you don’t think about things like that, you’re really trying to concentrate. You creep, creep, creep to where you feel normal and then you notice, okay I understand, and once I turned it opened it up and made it free again. Those are just in-game adjustments you’re going to have to do and everyone is going to do them, especially as you get more experience, you learn to make those adjustments.”
When did that conversation take place? Between the second and third inning?
“It was after the third inning actually. The next three innings I felt great with him and I think that made a big difference. As soon as you open up your right leg, you open up, so you’re more free with the ball instead of if you’re straight on it’s a little tougher to adjust. He settled in, too, and really started throwing strikes consistently which is what he usually is.”
On the early crowd reaction which included some boos…
“I’m not worried about that. It’s definitely easy to play from the stands. That’s being a fan, that’s part of being a fan. There’s no hard feelings in that. Hey, I want to catch it too. They’re screaming, ‘catch the ball’ I want to catch it too. I’ve been trying, you know what I mean? I’m not trying to miss it, it’s a tough pitch. It is what it is, you shake it off and you try to do your best. No one is out there trying to muffle any balls or any of that stuff. It doesn’t really bother you, you just know that’s part of it.”
On the difficulty of losing Opening Day in front of a sold-out crowd…
“What’s tough is that we’re not going to go undefeated this year. Going into it, I thought we had a chance to be the first 162-game winner. But, you know, sometimes you have to look at yourself in the mirror and realize, hey maybe we can go 161-1. So, that’s the plan now. Listen, there’s a lot of games in this season and you definitely can’t be up and down in this game. You have to be as even keeled and consistent as possible. We know what we have in this clubhouse, just go out there, have fun and play. If we do that, at the end of the year, then we can talk about what’s going on. Unfortunately my dream of 162-0 is not going to happen.”
On Masterson’s outing….
“I think the real big pitch was the bases loaded. Lindy hits that ball square on the screws and it turned into a double play and I think he settled in after that. You have to tip your hat to him, he threw some turbo sinkers. He has a really good sinker, he was able to throw the four-seamer for strikes, flip in the slider to try and get people off the fastball. But he’s a good pitcher for a reason and he did a good job.”
Anthopoulos media scrum:
On the decision to option Romero…
“After today’s game we sat down and talked for quite a bit. Myself, Tony LaCava, Pete Walker and obviously John. Ricky was better today, there’s no doubt about it and he’s making strides. You can see it, his changeup was so much better, everything was better but he was not there yet. The more we thought about it, could we have started with him? Sure. Ultimately it may have come in Toronto because he has made strides here but if he’s not ready and he’s not as sharp as he needs to be, we need more time.”
“We thought about where we would send him, we ultimately decided, the other affiliates it’s cold, rain outs, we want to make sure he gets his work in. We’re going to continue to work with him down here where it’s warm, where can get his work in, and really just continue to get the direction of the plate because he’s making strides. Like we told him, we just ran out of time in getting him to where he needs to be.”
On how Romero took the news…
“Ricky, if you ask him, the bar is set so high for him because he has that type of ability. If you ask him, Ricky are you at your best right now? He knows he isn’t. Even if he’s not at his best, he’s still really good but he’s also working on things too. We did this a few springs ago with him, we were able to get it going in time for him to make the team right at the end and that was the hope again that he was going to get it right back at the end and we weren’t going to have to look back.
“Ultimately, the more we talked about it, we saw a lot of good things and he was fine but it’s not the Ricky we know he can be. We can try to just keep going, and when you’re at the big-league level it’s hard to continue working on things, or take a little more time, get him back to where he can be and from his standpoint, he understood, he’s a pro. That goes without saying. It’s always a tough conversation but he knows, he’s not exactly as sharp as he needs to be and he knows it’s going to take a little bit more time.”
Did Happ’s performance this spring impact the decision…
“No. That’s not to take anything away from J.A., this was about Ricky. Obviously we’ve seen what he has done, take away last year, three years in a row he was a horse for us, 225 innings, 2.90 ERA and everything he has done. He has been outstanding. It’s about getting him right and getting him straight. If we didn’t know what his ceiling was and what he can be, it’d be totally different. It’s about getting him right and obviously the sooner the better for us.”
Romero’s outing on Tuesday the final straw?
“No matter what, the entire time, things change in Spring Training so fast. Each year, I’m to the point where I’m almost not even going to watch the first few weeks of spring. You almost just have the watch the last 10 days or so. We sat down, we still have some other moves to make, you’re talking about the roster all of the time but today was one of those things, spring is done for all of the starters, these guys have pretty much all pitched and what’s the best thing to do. We weren’t going to make any evaluations until everyone was done.”
More on Romero’s results…
“It’s not results as much as we see some things he needed to change. You talk about direction and lines to the plate, it’s basically your balance going to home plate and where your front foot lands. It sounds easy but it just takes time when you start repeating it. He has done this before, he just has a tendency to do it. It’s one thing if it’s results, you’re just not getting results and you just have to continue to pitch and get out of it, we have a plan for him.
“We know what we need to address it’s ust not coming as fast as we wanted it to come. It takes time. It could be the next start, all of a sudden it comes, it’s outstanding, he’s sharp, or it’s two starts from now, or three starts from now. He definitely took a step in the right direction today, it’s getting better, he just needs more time.”
Timeline for when Romero will be back….
“We have to get him back to where he was. We haven’t even gotten (to that point). This isn’t one of those things, we need to get him right mechanically. How long that takes, I don’t know. It could be very fast, it could take a little longer, we’re not putting a timeframe on it. Once we get him right mechanically, I think the results are going to follow.
“We’re all going to know and we’re all going to see it. You can go out and throw shutout innings but you can watch certain things, it can be line drives, it can be deep counts, you know someone’s not right mechanically. The performance might have been better than the line or the performance is not as good as the line. For him, it comes down to how does the stuff look, how does the command of the stuff look and how is his balance going towards the plate.”
Romero’s role? Is he now the sixth starter? Is there a place for him on this team?
“I have no idea where we’re going to be at. Obviously we have to move forward but I have no idea what the roster’s going to look like, what’s going to happen. Obviously if he gets back to where he can be, he’s one of the best starters in the game and I think he ends up being on anybody’s team at that point, certainly ours.
“But without trying to forecast what happens a week from now, three weeks from now, a month from now, it’s impossible to say. But I can’t wait for that day to come, when he’s ready and he’s back to what he was.”
Facing low level A-ballers and what can be gained…
“It’s not the results, it’s is he balanced. I know I brought up the example last year against the Yankees he was really good, I remember the second inning against Philadelphia earlier this spring he was really good. He was right where he needs to be, when he’s doing that, he’s on, he’s there. The problem is we’re getting it in spurts, we need to get it over six innings, seven innings, eight innings and then to do it over again each time. It’s there because he is showing it in flashes. We just need to get him back to the point where he’s doing it night in and night out, start to start, and then he’ll be back.”
Progression through the minors, will he go through every level?
“I don’t know. We haven’t gotten to that point. We’re open to anything. We’ll just see how things go but we haven’t gotten that far. Right now, if this was June or July, I don’t think he’d be in Florida. The problem is, is that it is cold, we miss a lot of games and also it’s a good time to continue working on some things especially with the Florida State League, that’s our affiliate.
” If he needs time to work on things, he can throw more bullpens, more sides, doesn’t matter if you’re playing short. For whatever reason if he needs to throw more sides you can work on things. That’s a big part of it, but we may change course a week from now.”
But eventually he’ll need to face better competition…
“Absolutely. But there have been times where we’ve had guys that have some success and you can call them up at any time, from anywhere. It certainly can be from here.”
On whether outing versus Pirates could have changed the club’s mind…
“Obviously if he was right back to where he was, Ricky and his delivery was right, sure, he’s outstanding. We were hopeful that at any time he was going to be right and we were going to continue until we ran out of time, continue to work with him and believe in him. We certainly do, we just need a little more time. If spring had gone on a week or two more maybe things change.”
Who will work with him in Dunedin…
“Dane Johnson is going to be the point man and obviously Rick Langford has worked with him in the past. They’ll be the guys to work with him day in and day out.”
Were Romero’s knees a factor…
“Obviously we’ve talked about that as well and we don’t see any correlation. It’s as much balance as anything else so it’s not drive, it’s not power, it’s none of that. Way back in 2008 or 2009, he was doing a lot of drills because he would spin off and fall off at times and throw a little more across his body and cut himself off. That’s your direction to the plate. When you’ve been doing something for so long, it just takes time to get back into a routine and do it inning by inning.”
All physical or is it mental as well…
“You can see when he’s right. I even find there are times when he’s going through his delivery and you can say okay, even before the ball crosses home plate you can tell that was good. It just takes time. We have to get him right.”
Comparable to Halladay?
“I don’t think so at all. I wasn’t here but that was a total overhaul, arm slot, delivery, this is more lower half and getting his body direction on line. It’s something we have done with him in the past and he just reverted back a little bit.”
Spent all winter and spring saying he’s in rotation. Does this affect your credibility in clubhouse?
“No, because Ricky knows. I can easily ask Ricky, and I did, are you exactly where you need to be? And he said no. In a lot of ways you’re doing this together. We can continue and you can get by, and do what you’re doing, he made it through six months last year, he made every start, he battled, but we knew he wasn’t at his best. We can sit idly by and just let him continue to just grind through it or we can get him right. I think that’s ultimately what it came down to.
“This isn’t about results as much as, obviously, the delivery impacts the results. He knows he has something he needs to address and fix and he’ll continue to work on it. It’d be different if he didn’t agree he had to make the changes. He completely agrees, he said I know I have to make these changes and I know I have to get them down. He’s working on something that he hasn’t completed yet. We just didn’t have enough time to get him to complete it. He’s certainly on his way, he’s making progress and he’s starting to get close.”
Expectations on team speed up this decision to send him down?
“No, because ultimately, we’ve said this many times, it’s hard to work on things at the big-league level. If there are no changes to be made and you just need to get through some things, fight through slumps, but when you need to make mechanical changes whether you’re a pitcher or position player, it’s hard to do that in an environment that’s results oriented.
“If we need him to throw five changeups in a row down here, it’s hard to do that against the New York Yankees because he needs to feel that extension on his front side just to make sure he gets it. It’s hard to do that when the games matter so ultimately what has to happen, we need to get these three outs, do whatever you can do to get those three outs.
Last week’s Minor League start, was that when this move was really considered strongly?
“You can save a lot of breath and a lot of conversations when you give yourself more time because your opinions can change. The one thing we knew was that he was working on things. How did he look? ‘Great, it’s coming.’ And that’s it. It’s now a matter of carrying over his bullpens into games and that takes time. It’d be one thing if Pete Walker and Pat Hentgen were coming back and saying it’s not coming back in the bullpen. But at times they’d come back and say, he looked great today … Is this the day it’s going to finally come? But we’ve been down this path in 2009. We just needed to stick with it, be patient, and we were finally rewarded with it. This time, it’s going to take a little more time.”
“We did it together. Ultimately, it falls on me to make the decision but Gibby and I ultimately make the decision together but Pete is very involved and obviously Tony LaCava’s in there too. We talk about it and say, where do we think he’s at. We talk about things that we saw and you’re starting to take the entire body of work. But really it comes down to delivery wise, is this the right thing. We debated it. Is he better off being in Toronto and is it going to come there? So, that’s part of the discussion.
Was it unanimous?
“Yes. Ultimately you come to that but it takes time. We were talking about some other spots on the roster, you start talking and you go one way. Then after five minutes of talking it out, we went a completely opposite way. Guys we thought were going to be on it, all of a sudden we’re going to change it. We’re going to sleep on things but that’s how quickly things change and that’s why you have to give yourself as much time as you can and you can’t make snap moves.”
Happ’s performance make this easier?
“I don’t look at it that way. This is about Romero. We have to get him right. It’s a matter of, the right thing for him is to get him back on track and we need more time to do that. If we didn’t have anybody, I’m sure we would have done something.”
But it’s a nice luxury to have…
“That was by design because you always want to have depth. We’re going to continue to try to add depth no matter what. We still need people to stay healthy and perform. Depth, we’re still going to continue to look for that the entire year.”
Described as minor tweaks. Expectation this will resolve itself sooner rather than later?
“I don’t know. It’s not a major mechanical change but it takes time. If I asked you to write with your left hand rather than your right hand, it doesn’t seem like it’s a big deal. We’re not changing the way your arm moves but it would take time to end up doing that. Just changing the way you land on the mound is not a big thing but it takes time and it takes repetition to do it, to do it with every pitch and to do it over and over again. We’ve been down this path before, it took some time then. Maybe if we had started a little bit earlier, a week earlier, would he be 100% right now. Those are all things you can look back on.”
Confident if and when this gets solved it’s a permanent solution?
“You have to be. I haven’t really thought that far ahead. He has been great, he has been great for a long time. He was a horse for us for three straight years when we got him ironed out. He was an All-Star and we’re very confident we’ll get him back to that.”
In Minors as long as it takes?
“Until we can get him right, sure.”
Talked to Happ yet?
“I called him after we told Romero, I told him ‘We optioned out Romero, wanted to call you directly. You’re going to be the fifth starter. I wanted you to hear it from me first before we announce this tonight.’ “
How much was yours and Gibby’s public backing in recent weeks was for Romero’s benefit?
“It’s what we ultimately believed because if we hadn’t been through this before it’d be very different. I remember in 2009, I think he walked four in an inning. We were getting ready to send him out. Same thing your coaches are telling you in the bullpens, don’t worry about what you’re seeing in games, it’s coming, it’s getting there, we’re working on it. The exact same thing happened. Since we’ve been through this before and it was a success and it worked out, there was no reason to change or deviate from that at all. Especially when you saw flashes of that too.”
On Romero’s Minor League outing…
“At times the stuff was good but inconsistent again. A lot of the same type of things that we’ve seen. At times you’d see good curveballs and changeups and a good sink. I think in the first inning he was pretty solid, balls weren’t hit really hard … It has been similar. We just obviously need to try to get him back on track and be right.
“We’ve seen that over the course of spring and there are other times he has been in the zone and stuff is good. We’re working to get him back on track, we’re going to keep going.”
More on Romero’s struggles…
“I think the performance last year, we’re trying to get him back on track. That’s always been the game plan. Obviously he wants to get back on track as well. You can never dictate when it’s going to happen, when it’s all going to come together.
“You’ll see flashes, you’ll see glimpses but it’s just for him putting it together from a consistency standpoint. We’ll just continue to work at it.”
On Romero’s adjusted mechanics and whether they carried over into the game…
“I thought the first inning, delivery, he was being on line, things were a lot better. These aren’t major, it’s more his lines to the plate, his balance, his delivery, there are times you can see he’s trying to guide the ball and he’s not really letting the ball go. It takes time to repeat it, to get back on track.
“Overall, the first inning, I said his lines looked better, he wasn’t falling off as much, there wasn’t a whole lot of hard contact and his stuff was still good. Balls up in the zone, you walk a guy or two, that’s when things get out of whack for him.
“It’s all about command. With Ricky, it has never been stuff. We’ve all seen it. He sinks the ball, does all of those things, it’s just the walks, the stats, that has been the issue. It’s a matter of trying to get him back into the strikezone, when he’s in the strikezone his stuff can play with anybody’s.”
Is it possible that Romero would work through those issues in the Minors or does he still have a guaranteed job?
“We haven’t talked about it at all. Obviously we evaluate it start by start. We’ve said we have our five starters, he’s one of our five starters. As we go through it, the first conversation I’ve had about it is right now.
“I’ll talk to Gibby, talk to Pete, we’ll talk to the player as well. We haven’t had any change of plans, the plans are still the same but just like anything else you’re constantly evaluating.”
Sounds like you’re saying the Minors is an option for him…
“I’m not because we haven’t even talked about it. Right now, our plans haven’t changed. I just got done seeing the performance and just giving my first thoughts but we haven’t even talked about it yet. Right now, everything is still status quo, we’re still on course to have the team we were planning to have.”
On going into the dugout to talk to Arencibia and Walker after Romero’s outing…
“I can’t do it during the game, but in a Minor League game it’s easy to do it. You’re asking about the action, the lines, this and that, what did they think and so on. We’re not getting into it, it’s just really quick, two seconds, how did he feel? He felt good. That’s pretty standard. The first question is how does he feel. He feels fine. You want the results to be better, that goes without saying, that’s all you’re doing at the end of the game.”
On whether it’s possible the changes will just ‘click’ and Romero will find himself again…
“I think the fact that he has done it three years in a row, it can be back at any time. He can be back in the zone. Even last season, as rough of a year that it was, it was late in the year, the start in New York in July, he was great. That’s what I would have thought, it’s clicking, it’s back, it was an outstanding outing for him and then obviously he reverted back. I think it’s shown that at any time it can click.”
On whether he’s had a sit down with Happ…
“I’ve talked to J.A., he knows he doesn’t need to request meetings. It’s one of those things, we talk all of the time. Talked to him in the offseason. I’ve talked to J.A. plenty. I think with J.A., we talked at the beginning of Spring Training, said look this is the game plan. Obviously we’ll see what happens at the end of spring training but this is what the game plan is.
“Like anything, until the roster is final, because we told him, right now it could be long guy, it could be optioned, it could be anything. I think it’s like any player at this stage that’s competing to make the team, where do I stand and do I have a shot? Until we make the decisions we don’t really have clarity one way or the other. I’ve talked to J.A. on and off a lot of times. He’s fine.”
So you’ve talked to him this spring…
“Yeah. I know it was made to be a story like there’s a big sit down or something but it’s not like that at all. J.A. knows his circumstances. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t really have a choice in it. He has options remaining, it’s the way the rules work.
“Like I said before, the day J.A.’s happy to pitch out of the bullpen or pitch in the Minor Leagues something’s wrong. Same thing with any one of our players, if they’re an everyday player or if they’re happy to not have the greatest role that they can, those aren’t the types of guys you want. That’s standard, that’s completely expected.”
Thoughts on the competition at second base…
“It would not surprise me if at the end of the day those guys share the role. I think it’s going to evolve. One thing we’ve talked about, you’re going to get more defense some Izturis, maybe when you have someone you think is going to put the ball on the ground a little bit more maybe Izturis plays.
“Depending on who’s on the mound, who you’re up against, you’re going to mix and match. Lawrie’s going to need a day, Reyes is going to need a day and with some of the left-handers as well. I think there will be enough playing time for both guys. I don’t believe at this stage one guy is going to have the job 140-games plus. It can evolve, someone could run away with it, but they’ve both played well.”
March 19 vs Houston:
Mark Buehrle (five innings)
Sergio Santos (one inning)
Esmil Rogers (two innings)
Justin Germano (one inning)
Minor League Game:
Darren Oliver (three innings)
R.A. Dickey (two innings)
Josh Johnson (five innings)
Work — J.A. Happ
March 20 @ Baltimore:
Jeremy Jeffress (three innings)
Dave Bush (four innings)
Guilllermo Moscoso (two innings)
Minor League game:
Steve Delabar (one inning)
Aaron Loup (one inning)
Work — Brandon Morrow
March 21 @ Tampa:
Claudio Vargas (three innings)
Ramon Ortiz (three innings)
Brett Cecil (three innings)
Minor League game:
Ricky Romero (five innings)
Work — Darren Oliver, Justin Germano
March 22 vs Boston:
J.A. Happ (six innings)
Sergio Santos (one inning)
Esmil Rogers (one inning)
TBD Minor Leaguer (one inning)
Minor League game:
R.A. Dickey (seven innings)
Work — Josh Johnson, Darren Oliver, Steve Delabar, Dave Bush
March 23 vs Atlanta:
Brandon Morrow (six innings)
Aaron Loup (one inning)
Esmil Rogers (one inning)
Guillermo Moscoso (one inning)
Work — Ricky Romero
On what it has been like with the Pirates so far…
“It has been great. We’ve been working hard and adjusting into the new facility, new city. Been able to see a few of the guys back up in the Dunedin area early on and settling in nicely with the team, the organization and what we’re trying to do each and every day.”
On joining some the Blue Jays players at a Leafs-Lightning game a couple of weeks ago in Tampa…
“Hockey definitely grew on me the last few years playing in Canada and it was good to see the group of guys, even got to see some of the reporters hanging out by the concession stand. It was just good to see some familiar faces and say what’s up to the boys that were in the suite or up in the box area.”
More on his new experience in Pittsburgh…
“That first time putting on a different color uniform is something you won’t forget. But spending the last couple of months of the season, the offseason, Spring Training, been able to develop some good relationships with not only the players but the coaching staff. The goal here every day is to get better as a whole unit and looking forward to seeing how things play out.”
On similarities between Pirates and Blue Jays over the past few years…
“A lot of great talented players that I had a chance to come up with in Toronto and seeing a lot of these guys who got to come up together in the Minors and now playing together in the big leagues it’s a familiar setting for me. There’s a lot of guys in a similar age bracket with a good mix of veterans, A.J. (Burnett) knowing him, Rod at the end of last year. It made the transition easier knowing some guys and being familiar with the guys’ careers that are around the same age as me and have followed similar paths.”
On going through Spring Training in a similar location in Florida but with a different team…
“Just get your bearings. Try to figure out where the good restaurants are first of all. If I could make any adjustment, it would probably be closer to Sarasota next year because I found some good places to eat down there. Just getting familiar with Pirate city, the first couple of weeks as we would with Toronto, over at the Minor League complex and now transitioning into the big league stadium. We have a great stadium, they’ve made a great addition to the batting cages and hopefully some more to come to. We’re fortunate to have a good facility to work in every single day and a good group of guys to go with it.”
On reflecting and moving past his time in Toronto…
“Really remaining with the focus in the present and learning from those experiences in the past. I’ve spoken numerous times through different articles and it’s really about taking the next step of my career in a new scene, new situation, new group of guys with the same focus and the same mindset I’ve been developing for the past five or six years.
“Really putting each and every day in front of me and making the most of each and every single day that I’m here instead of worrying about what happened four or five years ago or how I could go back and change the past.”
On how the expectations are different between Toronto and now with Pirates…
“Different in the sense that when you don’t come up with this organization, I came up with the Blue Jays, and being a young player, getting to the big leagues and experiencing what I went through, there are different kinds of emotions that you go through as a young man, trying to understand and mature through that process. Coming over here, a lot of that stuff is gone. You just show up to the ballpark every single day, you lace up your spikes, you have a list of things to get done and that’s your focus.
“There were times, as I’ve spoken to before, my focus was outside of things that I can control and things that I could have done better. But as a young man maturing in the game you have to learn by experience. You can be as mature off the field, deal with the things I dealt with in my personal life, but until you go through baseball adversity that’s what molds us into young men and hopefully makes us stay around this game for a long time.”
On no longer having to worry about options remaining on his contract and the possibility of being sent down…
“The option thing is something that every player has to go through at some point of their career. Some guys are fortunate to play well enough in their first couple of years you don’t have to deal with it. As I realized, the No. 1 thing is that you play better you don’t worry about that kind of stuff. To play better you have to focus on each and every day. Not having that situation from a business standpoint but I don’t look at it as an advantage per se. Because as soon as you rest your hat on not having any options left you can be in Triple-A.
“I’ve seen a number of guys, the first one that comes to mind is Edwin Encarnacion. I remember when he got optioned three years ago and you look at what he has been doing, same with Jose. Those guys who have been through that kind of adversity in their careers and now they’re making their strides as Major Leaguers on the big-time scale. You just keep that stuff in perspective and not get caught up in, ‘oh I think I’m going to make the team because I don’t have any options.’ I still have to go out there and play, I have to validate my job in whatever my role is going to be with the team and make sure that I’m doing everything I can to prepare myself.”
On his role in Pittsburgh…
“I think it’s something with more time will be defined. There’s an opportunity in right field to get some at-bats and play. But it’s something that I have to continue to earn and something for me not worrying so much about who has a job and who doesn’t have a job, who has options and who doesn’t have options, my focus remains on what I control, what I have to do.
“That stuff with play out how it plays out and as long as I’m handling stuff on my end I’ll just go out there and be prepared for whatever role comes my way. In the past, I didn’t deal with those changes whether it was being a platoon guy, batting low in the order, that stuff is so far behind me, whenever you put on a big league uniform you have to embrace whatever role you’re in and go out there and play the game.”
On playing right field…
“I feel really good. That was a transition beginning last year when I was traded. I played a lot of right field growing up, in the Minor Leagues and even some in the big leagues so that transition from the corner wasn’t a big deal.”
“Gose has an unbelievable ceiling. I’ve seen some unbelievable flashes of his talent and what he can do. Getting at-bats on a regular basis, spending time with him and Chad Mottola and some of the veteran guys we had there last year benefitted all of us. Seeing Anthony mature last year as a young player, he could be in a tough situation going into the season this year but he is a guy that I still touch base with from time to time and share a laugh with and understand that there’s a lot of things in this business that you can’t control. As long as he can keep playing the way he has been playing, I’ve been watching him this spring and always hope for the best with him.”
On Mottola being hired as hitting coach…
“Yes. I think having Chad and Murph there is going to benefit a lot of those guys. Murph has done some great things with a handful of guys there and Chad spent a lot of time with a handful of the younger players so I think the mix between those two, and knowing Chad and Murph for so long, how well they work together I think is going to benefit not only the players but also both coaches because they are great guys, they both have quality stuff that they’re featuring for the players. I’m excited for Chad to see what he has gone through the last couple of years, how successful he has been and seeing him get this opportunity I think is fantastic.”
Question from Dirk Hayhurst…. Travis, obviously the Canadian food is vastly superior. Meat is better, dairy is better, fish, chicken, all of it. Have you felt, since coming back to the States, that you’ve had to elevate your game to overcome the adversity set forth by the FDA?
“Yeah, I don’t know if I would say the adversity has been there. Growing up there on American USDA food, I felt pretty confident in my ability to overcome any adversity in the kitchen or in the restaurant. It’s just something I look forward to keeping putting my time in one day at a time and see what I can do on a grill and in the kitchen.”
March 10 vs NYY:
J.A. Happ (four innings)
Brett Cecil (two innings)
Ramon Ortiz (two innings)
Alex Hinshaw (one inning)
Extras — Mickey Storey, Tyson Brummett, Evan Crawford, Juan Perez
Work — Josh Johnson, Darren Oliver, Steve Delabar, Esmil Rogers
March 11 — Offday
March 12 @ BOS:
Justin Germano (three innings)
Claudio Vargas (two innings)
Chad Beck (two innings)
Mickey Storey (one inning)
Juan Perez (one inning)
Extras — Tommy Hottovy, Evan Crawford, Tyson Brummett, three Minor Leaguers
Minor League game: Brandon Morrow (four innings)
Work — Ricky Romero, Esmil Rogers, Brett Cecil, Dave Bush
March 5 vs BAL:
J.A. Happ (three innings)
Darren Oliver (one inning)
Brad Lincoln (one inning)
Esmil Rogers (one inning)
Jeremy Jeffress (one inning)
Neil Wagner (one inning)
Extras — Tommy Hottovy, Evan Crawford, Chad Beck, Tyson Brummett, Mickey Storey
Work — Josh Johnson, Claudio Vargas, Justin Germano
March 6 @ DET:
Brandon Morrow (three innings)
Aaron Loup (one inning)
Brett Cecil (one inning)
Ramon Ortiz (one inning)
Dave Bush (one inning)
Tommy Hottovy (one inning)
Michael Schwimer (one inning)
Extras — Evan Crawford, Tyson Brummett, Mickey Storey, Juan Perez
Work — Ricky Romero
March 7 @ BAL:
Mark Buehrle (three innings)
Justin Germano (two innings)
Evan Crawford (one inning)
Claudio Vargas (one inning)
Alex Hinshaw (one inning)
Juan Perez (one inning)
Mickey Storey (one inning)
Extras — Neil Wagner, Tyson Brummett, Chad Beck
Work — J.A. Happ, Brad Lincoln, Darren Oliver, Sergio Santos
March 8 @ ATL:
Josh Johnson (three innings)
Steve Delabar (one inning)
Esmil Rogers (one inning)
Jeremy Jeffress (one inning)
Tyson Brummett (one inning)
Chad Beck (one inning)
Extras — Juan Perez, Neil Wagner, Tommy Hottovy, two Minor Leaguers
Work — Dave Bush, Brett Cecil, Ramon Ortiz
March 9 @ DET:
Ricky Romero (three innings)
Darren Oliver (one inning)
Sergio Santos (one inning)
Aaron Loup (one inning)
Brad Lincoln (one inning)
Michael Schwimer (one inning)
Neil Wagner (one inning)
Extras — Alex Hinshaw, Mickey Storey, Tommy Hottovy, Evan Crawford
Work — Brandon Morrow, Claudio Vargas, Justin Germano
On his outing…
“I felt good today and I feel like where I need to be. My strike percentage again was pretty high and I was ahead of just about every hitter. So mechanically I felt pretty good and these first two or three outings that’s what it’s about for me.
“It’s about getting my body prepared to be able to grow from here. I still have to settle in to about three or four miles an hour in velocity and that should come over the next two weeks.”
On whether he’s where he needs to be…
“Yeah a little bit at a time. It’s hard to make sure that you don’t get ahead of yourself. Being a little bit older I have to be smart and make sure that my body is where it needs to be. So far it has been very cooperative and I feel like I’m going to be able to take the next step. They were just aggressive early in the count and got some balls up in the air. “
More on outing versus Philly…
“Today, if you got the ball up in the air it was probably going to go somewhere. That was the case early on but I was throwing a lot of strikes, getting ahead of a lot of hitters. When you see a lot of groundballs like I did today that means the ball is moving late around the plate and that’s even a step from last time. I feel like I’m going forward the way I need to. It can be. It usually plays with the ball a little bit.
“I was getting a lot of late movement, especially around the last 20 inches before the catcher’s mitt and that’s always a good sign when they’re hitting the ball into the ground. But the last two or three outings before the spring is over, are the outings I’m going to be concentrating more on results than the process. That’s for me right now, where I am.”
On whether he’s ready for WBC and the added intensity that will bring…
“I think for me, because I felt good today, I know I can step on the gas a little bit more and it be okay. It’s good timing because I’m going into a very competitive situation. I’m probably going to be starting on March 8th so it’ll be nice to be able to go to those three extra miles per hour and feel like it will be alright.
“Today was a big stepping stone towards that. I went down and threw another inning in the bullpen. I’m going nights in Toronto when I give up two or three in the first or second inning and I still have to fight through six or seven innings. It’s a good exercise even mentally for me. “
On working with Arencibia…
“He knows that as the spring goes along, it’s going to get better and better, but he has been great. I’ve been really pleased with the way he has been receiving the ball, he’s not mishandling very many.
“A good one is a hard one for anybody to catch so you have to have some grace when it comes to that but he has done a heck of a job. It doesn’t matter because all of the guys we have in camp can do it. That’s the beauty of my situation. The only guy that doesn’t have any experience catching me is one of the guys that probably won’t be on the team. So it’s a non-issue really. “
On whether he needs to stick with one catcher…
“No. Because they’re all learning my nuances, they know what to look for. I’m comfortable with all of them so it gives Gibby a lot of latitude to be able to put in there who he thinks would be the best fit for that day.”
Input on who the catcher might be?
“I think one of the beauties about being on a team like this is the manager wants you to be involved. He’s talked to me about it, we’ve had conversations and dialogue about that. It’s nice to live in a culture where a manager respects what you say, wants you to be comfortable but I told him the same thing I told y’all. It doesn’t matter to me, it’s just about throwing good knuckleballs and everybody on that side can catch them just fine.”
Will Arencibia catch you at the WBC?
“I anticipate him catching me and I’m pretty sure that’s what Joe Torre is thinking. I don’t want to speak for him but he knows we’ve been working hard together and that first game I’m sure he’s going to want me to feel comfortable and throwing Mauer or Lucroy having not had any experience with me doesn’t seem like the smartest decision but that’s up to him. “
On whether he needs a personal catcher picked after WBC…
“The last couple of outings before the spring concludes, it’s important to work with the guy I’m going to work with on Opening Day. That’s logical. Whoever that is, that’s a hint to you guys it’s probably going to be the guy that catches me during the year, at least to begin with. It’s a real organic thing, a season. It changes and we’re really fortunate to have a lot of guys that can handle it well.”