Results tagged ‘ Blue Jays ’
ARLINGTON — Jamie Evans has helped a countless number of pitchers over the years with his Velocity Program and it has now resulted in a job with the Blue Jays.
Toronto officially hired Evans this week as a consultant to the organization. He is one of the originators of the weighted-ball program which has been used by the likes of Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Casey Janssen and most recently Dustin McGowan.
Evans has worked with a lot of athletes from other organizations as well but the Blue Jays appear to be getting ahead of the curve by securing a position for him within the organization.
“I’m excited to join the Blue Jays, they have an unbelievably knowledgeable staff who care about their players and I’m hoping to help in any way that I can,” Evans told MLB.com
The program involves the use of weighted balls to strengthen muscles around the shoulder. As part of the process, pitchers use various holds and also go through their throwing motion without actually releasing the ball.
The workout routine seems to have the ability to increase a pitcher’s velocity while it is believed to help avoid injuries as well. Cecil began using the program during the offseason and went from throwing in the mid-to-high 80s to now consistently reaching 93 mph.
Delabar brought a lot of attention to the program when he credited it with helping him return from a fractured right elbow. Toronto’s right-handed reliever was out of the game and working as a substitute teacher in Kentucky when he began using the program with student athletes he was helping coach.
The strength and velocity returned and the next thing Delabar knew he was being asked to workout for the Mariners. He eventually signed a contract and is now one of the more reliable relievers in the American League as evidenced by his 1.85 ERA in 34 innings this season.
“As far as my professional baseball career, it was basically over,” Delabar said earlier this year. “There wasn’t much I could do at 26, 27 years old. ‘Hey, guys, I’ve never been above high [Class] A. Do you want to give me a Major League job?’ It doesn’t work like that.”
“I did the program because I was going to teach the program. With a broken elbow, I didn’t know if I was going to play again. I just wanted to teach this program and help these kids at our academy, and sure enough, it helped me.”
Evans has tailored his program over the years to each athlete’s individual needs. There is an offseason workout program and a different one that can be used during the season which serves as more of a method for maintenance and recovery.
For a while there was a stigma associated with the program that it might be some sort of fad but that has been begun to change in a hurry. With more success stories continuing to pour in from around the league it opened the eyes of a lot of pitchers, including Janssen.
“The toll of a Major League pitcher compared to high school teenagers is different, but after I saw some results from some friends, I thought, ‘What the heck?” Janssen recently said.
“I wasn’t going to do it initially, and then obviously with the shoulder injury, you’re looking for ways to feel better. From watching some of these guys play catch and how good they feel day in and day out, you’d be crazy if it didn’t interest you.”
The Blue Jays’ personal connection to Evans began in earnest last season when he was brought into the clubhouse to explain his program. That was what originally piqued the interest of Cecil while former Toronto manager John Farrell had his sons begin the work this offseason as well.
Other players who currently use the program include Rangers right-hander Jason Frasor, top college prospect Tyler Beede and countless others.
(Article will be updated early Sunday afternoon with today’s reaction of Blue Jays pitchers on the news)
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 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 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.”
On Reyes and Melky at the top of the batting order…
“People with high on-base percentage and low strikeout rates at the top of the lineup is always good, especially when they can run like Jose and Melky can. They’re going to set the table for us. The better they do, the better that Edwin and Adam and I will be able to drive runs in, and that’s going to lead to more runs, and that should lead to more wins. It’s not solely on them, though. We can get going one through nine because we’re pretty solid. The first half of the lineup and the second half of the lineup are different styles, but there’s still a capability of scoring runs.
“J.P. can drive a lot of runs in and he can hit home runs. So can Adam in the five-hole if that’s where he ends up. Brett’s got speed. Bonifacio’s got speed if he ends up being the starter. Colby’s got speed and Colby can hit home runs. It’s a good mix. I get excited when I talk about the offence because I think that we’re going to be able to score a lot of runs. We did that for two months last year. We were at the top of the league in offence categories when we were all healthy and performing, and we have a much better and accomplished lineup now than we did last year.”
Reyes as leadoff hitter…
“We haven’t had a true leadoff guy here since Scutaro left and even him, he wasn’t a true leadoff guy. He did have some good leadoff hitter characteristics like getting on base and not striking out but he didn’t steal bases. With Reyes, we have the whole package which is going to be huge.
“With Bonifacio we’re basically going to have a second leadoff guy. If you look at his career stats, they’re in percentages they’re pretty similar to Jose’s with stolen bases and getting on base. He might strike out a little bit more but if he ends up being the starter and he hits ninth, that nine, one, two combination, even without getting hits, tough ground balls, high choppers, hit and runs, bunts, they can create some havoc too without even having to hit the ball in the gaps or get some hard base hits.
“That can actually get you excited too because you see a pitcher when they’re dealing and you have three guys in a row that can bunt, get jammed and beat out a ground ball, and also hit a high chopper and get a base hit, then we get to the plate. That’s not bad either.”
Versatility of lineup…
“We’re pretty balanced left to right and we definitely have more depth. When you talk about Izturis and Bonifacio battling for the second-base job and the other guy is going to be on the bench that’s going to give you a Major League starter on your bench. So does Rajai, the guy steals 50 bases a year and he’s going to be on our bench. You feel for those guys because you know they can start on any team but at the same time they’re trying to win and they’re trying to have that depth so those are weapons we can use later in the game in case we have those close games.
“We’re pretty balanced left and right. I wouldn’t worry about our versatility too much even though it’s there. Hopefully we can just play in our basic positions without having to move around too much, especially up the middle.
“So whoever gets the second base job hopefully they get handed the job and they can play every day. Because we’re going to have J.P., whoever ends at second, then Reyes, then Colby in center. We can build around those guys. I think Melky and I are pretty much set to be in the corners and then Lawrie’s entrenched at third. So, whoever is at first the other is going to be at DH. Everything is pretty set except for second base and I don’t think we’re going to have to be moving around which hopefully we don’t get. But in case that does happen, we do have the versatility because Izturis can play everywhere, so can Bonifacio.
“If I have to move around, hopefully I don’t, but I’ll volunteer myself. Edwin can actually play third whenever it’s needed. Adam used to play outfield, he can play first, he can DH. We can move around, Melky can play in any spot in the outfield, so can I, so can Colby, so we can move around.”
Bonifacio even more valuable during Interleague Play…
“Especially because of the double switch. Izturis too, he can play the outfield if needed. We have a good bench. DeRosa can play everywhere, first, third, outfield. Name it, even if shortstop or second if needed. Especially in a National League game, double switch, late in the game, we’re going to have to do whatever it takes to win each particular game. We’re not going to just sit back and rely on people stepping up to the plate and driving the ball. Whatever it takes, maybe we need to make some moves and we’re going to be able to plug guys in, in different positions on defense in the aftermath when we have to go back.”
Chemistry tough with so many new guys?
“It depends on the guys. If you have a group of guys that are kind of pulling the rope their own way and not the team way, it could happen. But the sense I get from meeting all of these guys is that’s not going to happen. They’re all Major League established players. They’re not out to make a name for themselves, they’re not prideful players where they’re going to take their personal stats over team wins.
“I think everyone here has the same goal in mind and that’s winning games and hopefully going to the World Series and being world champions. Because of those reasons I don’t think team chemistry is going to be an issue at all.”
On having so many Dominican players and what that brings to the club…
“We’re just like any other Latin american from the Caribbean, close to the equator. We’re just high energy, warm, passionate people at anything we do. We bring that to the table when we play baseball and these guys have seen me play for awhile and Edwin and maybe a lot of other Dominicans that have been through Toronto.
“We play with our emotions on our sleeve and that’s usually a good thing. It can be negative in certain situations but hopefully we don’t take that to the negative side and we can keep it on the positive. Because of the skill set that a lot of these guys have, high energy, high speed guys, we’re going to have a loose clubhouse with a lot of happy people with people running in and out and keeping the energy and the emotions running high at all times and I think that can drive a team to be always in a good move, be happy and when people are happy and we do what we love for a living and getting paid for doing, it gets you excited to get out of bed everyday to go to work and when that’s the energy around you’re going to do the best you can every day.”
It’s from the culture…
“It’s from a mix. Demographics don’t lie, they’ve been studied for a lot of years in social and cultural qualities and characteristics. That’s just how our people and our race is as a whole. We have those traits because that’s where we’re from.”
Expectations do they bring added pressure…
“No, at least not for me. I can’t speak for everybody but expectations for me are usually good because they make you feel that people think you’re capable of doing it. I have no problem with people holding me accountable for my job. If I didn’t feel like I was good enough, I probably wouldn’t be here and I probably wouldn’t be doing this for a living.
“Just because people expect me to play good, that’s not going to add any more pressure on me. How would you feel it your editor told you that you had to put in a good article by noon. You’d probably not have any pressure because you do it all the time. You just sit down and do it and that’s what you get paid to do. Same with us. At least for me. I don’t feel any added pressure. I don’t think anybody individually has to do anything outstanding here in order for the team to succeed.”
What’s it like taking hacks with R.A. Dickey…
“I’ve only hit off him once. He was a different pitcher back then but it still wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun hitting off Wakefield and he throws way harder than that and more pitches. But luckily I don’t have to worry about that anymore because he’s on my side. I don’t have to worry about hitting off him.”
Fastest workers in Buehrle and Dickey does that help…
“Of course it does and hopefully Ricky can go back to doing that because that’s what he was really good at his first two years. I can’t really speak for him and the reasons why he changed. I can guess but I’d rather not do that now. Hopefully having those examples in front of him it will get him back to his own ways which allowed him to be successful in the past, that was working quick, inducing ground balls, working off the sinker and throwing a lot of strikes. It does help a lot on defense because it keeps you on your toes, plus it keeps that momentum going your way.
“That’s why I think some of those guys stay away from the big innings because they throw a lot of strikes, they work quick, and even when they have runners on base, just because they work quick means they can’t steal bases, can’t certain things, which keeps them out of the big innings so that’s going to be huge.”
Did you mention that to Ricky?
“A lot of stuff was mentioned to Ricky, from my end, to the manager but after awhile you just kind of felt like he was just adding too much pressure on himself and you just wanted him to get out of it and do as good as we know he can. After awhile, we just let him go to work and let him figure it out on his own. It was just one of those odds years. I’m not worried about him, though, I think he can get back. But last year was definitely tough for him and tough for us to watch him go through it. I’m a big believer that he’s going to be back to being the pitcher that we all know he can be and he has shown in the past.
Surprised he was hurting physically?
“No, not at all. I could kind of tell from the way he was throwing and the velocity dip a little bit and the movement of his ball and the fact that he couldn’t really have the control that he showed in the past. But those were just guesses, I couldn’t tell you for sure but in my head maybe there was something going on. But pitchers pitch through that at times. He’s not going to blame his lack of success on that either.”
He doesn’t, but he also acknowledges more than he did before…
“Of course, but he’s competitive and he’s going to give it his best no matter what. When he’s out on the mound, he’s not going to think, his elbow’s hurting, his shoulder, his knee, whatever. He’s going to go out there and do his job as best as he can given his condition on that particular day. He battles his ass off and I think that’s something to be admired. Even so, he had a tough year, but he had the bad ending of the year.
“His first two months, even though his ERA was up and he had a lot of base runners, he was still like 8-1 or something, he was giving us a whole lot of chances to win games. I’m a big believer in Ricky, I don’t think the Ricky last year is the real one and I think the real one is going to be back this year and hopefully we’re going to keep him on that note for the rest of his career.”
Doubted that the time would come this team would spend?
“It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you don’t see any hints. But they had a plan and they’re not the type of people that operate on telling people what they’re going to do first. You guys know that they keep their cards close to their chest but they do have a plan and I don’t think it’s really the players or anybody else’s responsibility to kind of be a step ahead of them and really think or be proving anything that we’re going to make any moves.
“They’re the ones running the show for a reason, they’re good at it, they have a plan and they executed it when they thought the moves were needed and the timing was right to do them. It was one of the promises that was given when I signed here and they definitely came through.”
Alex bounce ideas off you?
“He always bounces stuff off all of us. He doesn’t ask for permission or he doesn’t seek approval but he wants to know everybody’s feedback. Most of the time it’s not about the physical ability or the baseball player that he is acquiring but the person. He wants to know what type of guy some of these players are. If they’re good in the clubhouse, if they’re good people outside of the stadium and how they’re going to gel in the clubhouse and if it’s going to be an issue and stuff like that. It’s more on the personal side more than anything, I think the baseball analysis is done by him and his team and they’re the people who make those types of decisions.
“But if questions are asked about guy’s personalities and stuff, we’re honest and that’s important for a clubhouse because we don’t want to acquire someone that’s going to be a black sheep or a rotten tomato and kind of ruin the whole atmosphere in the clubhouse or the team chemistry. I think he does a good job, trying to not only figure out who the player that he’s going to get but the person as well.”
Melky different player now?
“I played with him in three different levels in the Minor Leagues and he was an All-Star in all of them. I thought he was a Major League caliber player back then. He’s a great person, he is not perfect, he made a mistake and has admitted it and that’s in the past. But I thought his baseball skills have always been way above average and he has shown that year after year. I can’t say why he didn’t have success in New York, I can guess a couple of reasons but I don’t like to guess too much especially when I’m talking to you guys.
“I don’t think we’re going to see anything different. He’s a great hitter, he’s going to make contact here, he’s not going to strike out too much. He’s going to steal bases, play solid defense and hold runners, which I think a lot of people are overlooking in what he’s going to bring to the table on the defensive side. He has a great arm and knows where to throw the ball in certain situations which is going to prevent runs. It’s almost as good as driving in runs, preventing runs. We’re going to have a lot of fun, he’s going to bring a lot to the table for this team on the field and off the field. He’s a Major Leaguer with a lot of success in the past so we’re happy to have him.”
AA said you’d be willing to go to his press conference and they said it wasn’t necessary…
“I watched the whole Escobar thing from afar and I think there were a lot of things that got lost in translation and lost in the cultural differences. Personality of the player, which when you’re put under the microscope in the public’s eye, everything is under scrutiny and people’s personalities are not taken into consideration. People are very judgmental when you’re put in that type of situation, especially after you made a mistake.
“I think his situation could have been handled better by having a good liaison, a good person translating and kind of just letting the public know exactly what the player was feeling at the time. I think I could have brought that to the table with Melky, they chose to address it in a different way and I think it was a good way to address it. I volunteered, they passed and I don’t have a problem with any of that.”
To the surprise of pretty much nobody, Chad Mottola was hired to become the Blue Jays’ new hitting coach when John Gibbons was brought on board in November. It was a natural promotion considering Mottola spent the past four years as a Minor League hitting coach and review rave reviews from some of the club’s top prospects and struggling veterans.
Last year’s hitting coach, Dwayne Murphy, is still on the staff but will spend the majority of his time in charge of baserunning and outfield defense. In some ways it’s a perfect mix because Murphy has already established strong working relationships with the likes of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. So some of the veterans will be able to continue their work with Murphy while Mottola seems better suited to deal with the younger players on the team.
Here’s what Mottola had to say about his overall coaching philosophy and working with Murphy…
Process taking over as new coach, what are things you look to establish…
“What’s nice is that I’ve had a lot of the younger guys early on in their careers so kind of getting them back to where they were and letting Murph continue with the guys he had success with.”
Is it tough, though, having your predecessor still on the coaching staff?
“Not a shared position but having Murph makes it different than most… I wouldn’t say it’s shared but I’m going to let the guys lean on Murph when they need him. Murph’s going to be here for outfield and base running which is a priority and I think was needed at times last year. Going into camp, he’s going to have those guys more often than being in the cage and being around the cage. When he’s needed, he’s going to be used, if not when the younger guys, I already have a pretty good relationship with we’re going to go with what we had in the past.
“Murph’s nickname is pro and it’s for a reason. We have a pretty good relationship where there’s no ego with either of us. Going into it, having that established relationship makes it easier.”
Inherit team that has last two NL batting champions..
“Yeah, for sure. I’m getting to know those guys the first couple of weeks, find out what their philosophies are and build off what they’ve done in the past.”
Approach or philosophy how is it different from Murph…
“There’s not going to be much change with the guys who have had success. There are plenty of guys that had success under Murph and then I’m going to kind of work with the younger guys and see what they need to change to be what they can be.”
Getting guys in proper head space (ex Lind)…
“One thing about baseball is everyone has hit, everyone has their own opinion and everyone feels like they can fix everybody. One thing is that everybody has good intentions but one thing we’re going to concentrate on this year is having one message. So there is no mixed message, there’s not anybody trying to sneak in and be like hey I know you’ve done this.
“With Adam, I played with him, I coached him, we’ve done everything so we kind of know his personality and how to get him in the right position mentally to hit and I think that’s where he was at in the past, it was kind of mental.”
Being up with the big league club the past two Septembers must help…
“It makes really simple. Murph and I know eachother, I’ve sat in the cage hours upon hours and watched him work. He allowed me to work with guys which you don’t see in baseball of a big league coach allowing someone to come up in September and say go ahead have at it. So going into it, we have the same thing going, if a guy hops into our cage, my cage, or his cage, there’s nothing personal. There’s no worries about what he’s saying, we know how to work together.”
Past years coaches have tried to impart their own philosophy on hitting…
“I work individually. I think that’s what’s important about this game is that everybody has their own personality and their own style. They’re going to strike fear into their own team yet they’re going to let different guys have different approaches.”
Approach with Lawrie, priorities…
“We have a relationship in the past just getting him to slow down. He gets himself in trouble, the same thing that makes him great is the same thing that gets him in trouble. So just slowing down and quit trying to get the ball at 40 feet, let it travel a little bit.”
“The talent in him is unbelivable. The things he does, the way he gets to the front of the box and we’re just going to get his quick hands to work in his favor rather than going through swing changes all year. I think we have a pretty good base going into the year and we’re going to try and keep it there.”
Rasmus made transition to front of the box last year… sticking with that?
“We modified it a little bit but it’s one of those things where as time goes on we hope we’re not going to see five different stances after an 0-for-4. We’re trying to get a consistent base and then we’re going to stay there.”
What are you trying to modify?
“We’re still doing some things, getting his hands a little bit lower and getting him in a better position to hit.”
Newcomers does it take time to get familiar with them…
“I think more getting to know their personalities. I think their track records speak for themselves. More than getting them comfortable here, the sooner that happens the better off we are. Guys that have the track records, kind of stay out of their way.”
Been with Gibby before…
“Yeah, I actually was in camp for a couple of years, had about a month and a half up in the big leagues with him. As far as our personalities, they’re great. Let the guys play and when they need us we’ll get involved. But with the talent we have now, it’s a good mix.”
Hitters facing live pitching Sunday…
“That’s all for the pitchers. Spring Training in the first week is for the pitchers. It’s one of those things that hey guys, get what you can get out of it, let the pitchers get their work in.”
Looking for specific things who are coming back from injuries…
“Just make sure they’re healthy. Early on, it’s a longer spring this year with the Classic going on, not necessarily numbers for sure, just make sure we’re healthy and then worry about the last week getting ready for the season. ”
On expectations following the club’s busy offseason…
“I think I’ve come to realize that making expectations or putting stuff where we’re going to get to isn’t a good thing because every year I feel like we have a good team. The last couple of years we haven’t gotten to where we want to get to. Coming into a new team, on paper we look good, we have to stay healthy obviously.
“I think that’s with any team, we need to stay healthy and keep guys on the field and I think if we do that then I think we have a chance to get to the playoffs. From there, anything can happen.”
On having to leave family behind in the U.S. because of Ontario’s ban on pit bulls (Buehrle owns four dogs, including one American Staffordshire terrier which is banned in the province)…
“I think we’ve wrapped around it. At the beginning it was, just realizing the family wasn’t going to be there. Miami, we were able to live out in a different suburb so they’re there. But I think the biggest thing on that was we’re trying to bring awareness to the breed ban. Some families aren’t as fortunate as we are to be able to maintain two houses and be able to live away. She’s going to come see us, it’s not like we’re not going to see eachother.
“I’m not going to see the dog for awhile but we’re trying to bring awareness for the breed ban and help out those less fortunate than us. I don’t want to make it a big story all year, it does suck that the family’s not going to be there. But guys go through it, guys deal with it. We’re going to deal with it, we’re going to make it work and I’ll see my dogs whenever I can.”
Any success with people in Ontario on having the ban lifted…
“To be honest, that’s mostly my wife. I’m going to do what I can when I’m there. The last four or five years we’ve done some stuff with the teams that we’ve been with, doing rescue stuff, she has kind of spearheaded it and has been the leader of it. I’ve done what I could but obviously with going to the field every day and playing. She’s not going to be there, we won’t be able to do as much but if she has some stuff I can do in my off time I’m going to do everything I can to try and help out.”
On impact teammates will have without family being around…
“Obviously you’re around these guys a lot so we have a lot of time down here to gel together and get to know everybody. A lot of new faces obviously but yeah, just having these guys around, I know a couple of the guys getting traded over from Miami, playing against some guys, I know Sergio from Chicago. It’s good to know a couple of people over here and it’s going to be fun getting to know everybody and hanging out with guys.”
Been without family before?
“No. We’ve been lucky, this is our first time having to go through this. Kids are just getting into school this August so we haven’t had to go home for school, we’ve had them together. The last three years of this contract are going to be away and it’s something we’re going to deal with. It’s going to be tough in the beginning and not seeing your kids but people deal with it and we’ll make it work.”
Hard feelings about Miami after the club broke its word and dealt him during the offseason…
“We took the chance going in, with a no-trade clause. That was one question my wife and I kept asking, knowing what (Miami management) had done in the past and what the plan was , if it was going to be a long-haul thing or just one or two years. From what we got told, we decided to sign there.
“I don’t want to talk too much on it. I wasn’t too happy at the time and still not too happy with those people down there obviously being lied to. It’s in the past and I’m looking to move forward.
“It took me a couple of months and I think I got over it a little quicker than my wife. I think she holds onto a little more. We both realize there’s nothing we can do about it. From what we were told, it’s kind of hard to let it sink in.”
Did anyone from Miami reach out after the trade…
“(Marlins president David) Samson called me on the trade and then when the article came out where I said that they lied to me, he tried to reach out again and I pretty much said ‘I’ve got nothing to say, I don’t know if you want to hear from me right now. It’s not going to be the friendliest thing.’ I haven’t talked to anyone since then and I don’t really intend to.”
What did Samson say?
“He told me they didn’t see the kind of season we were going to have and the attendance was low. He kind of went that route. He apologized and said that ‘I know we told you these things, but unfortunately we have to do this.’ “
On what he’d say to people who don’t have pets and don’t understand why he is so upset about the ban…
“Being a responsible pet owner, you can’t just dump your dog on somebody else or take a chance of breaking a law and taking him up there. We’ve had people say ‘Oh, you can bring him up here and knowing you have money, no one is going take your dog because they know you’re going to fight against it.’
“But the thing is, Slater will have to sit in a cage until that court date gets there. It could be two weeks or it could be three months. People who don’t own dogs are not going to understand that you’re leaving your family, your kids, behind over a dog. We just feel that all the training we’ve done with our dogs, it’s better they stay with my wife.”
On the supposed myths surrounding pit bulls and what he would say about the breed in general…
“They’re real loyal to their owners. Obviously everybody thinks they’ve got the locking jaws and they’re strong and mean but the way his temperament is, he’s awesome with our kids. He’s awesome when we have parties at our house and kids run in and ask where slater is. Every kid wants to go right to him.
“That’s the shame. Just because the way he looks is kind why we’re going to be separated. I know people are scared of them and freaked out by them but it’s mostly the owners, not the dogs. If you’re going to tie your dog up out back and treat it bad, it’s going to treat you bad right back. If you tie up any dog and don’t show them love and abuse them or don’t show them attention, I think any dog is going to be aggressive and have bad behaviour.
“Often the news stories you see on TV about a pit bull-type dog biting somebody and you look at the dog and it’s not even a pit bull. People just throw that name out there.”
More on Slater…
“We adopted him from a shelter. He was going to be put down the next day. We do a lot of work with Hope Rescues in Illinois. It just happens to be the week she was coming home (to Chicago) from Spring Training that she got returned and she was ranting and raving about this dog and I told if if she felt like that, to adopt it.”
On the upcoming season and the hype surrounding the team…
“You can obviously say we have a good team on paper but that’s why we have to go play 162 games. You don’t crown the winner in spring training off what they did in the off-season. All the experts pick who’s going to win the World Series and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody have the two teams who actually end up in it.
“I like our chances, but we have to come out here and gel together and everybody has to stay healthy.”
Distractions in Miami last year… Johnson said the new stadium caused a lot of issues…
“I’m pretty laid back and don’t let stuff bother me. I like to have fun on the mound. I’m out there laughing. Good start, bad start, I just throw it out the window and get ready for my next one. Obviously I’m down to No. 3 or No. 4 in the rotation, so that’s always a good thing.”
On the Blue Jays getting Dickey and how it changed his outlook on the team…
“When you get a guy like that. The last couple of years he’s been dominating games. I faced him three or four times and two or three losses were courtesy of him. He was fun to watch. He’s a great pitcher.”
On his pitching style…
“I throw four pitches in any count. Obviously I’m not the hardest thrower so I have to go out there and keep guys off-balance. I just know I have faith to throw a changeup in a fastball count. I feel like I can throw any pitch in any count.”