TAMPA, Fla. — Casey Janssen’s outing against the Yankees on Saturday was marred by one pitch. The right-hander ran a fastball inside on New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who promptly deposited the misplaced offering over the wall in center for a two-run homer.
The moon shot came on a four-seam fastball — a pitch Janssen has been working on this spring. Typically, with a right-handed hitter at the plate, Janssen would turn to a two-seamer, which breaks in on the batter. A four-seam fastball runs on a straight path without darting left or right as it gets near the strike zone.
"It’s just to give the hitter another look — keep them honest," said Janssen, when asked why he’s adding the four-seamer. "They see inside and they’re probably thinking it’s going to run off the plate. To give them a different look, and something that stays straight, it’s only going to help me."
It might also help his cause that the Blue Jays are well aware the allowed homer came on a pitch the 25-year-old has yet to master. It was the only significant flaw in a four-inning performance. Janssen allowed two runs on four hits in four innings. This spring, including a two-inning outing in a "B" game on March 5, Janssen has a 1.98 ERA with 18 strikeouts and one walk in six appearances.
Janssen has pitched his way into the running for a bullpen job this spring. After his outing on Saturday, Toronto manager John Gibbons said the righty had "pitched well enough to make the team." Shaun Marcum has also received Gibbons’ vote of confidence.
With that in mind, the projected bullpen appears to include B.J. Ryan, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Marcum and Janssen. That leaves two open spots. Brandon League won’t be in the picture to start the season. Brian Tallet and Francisco are out of options, so Toronto will consider them for jobs — Tallet appears more likely, and the Jays will probably try to move Rosario via trade to avoid losing him to waivers. If Tallet does make the bullpen, that last spot could have Victor Zambrano’s name on it. Jeremy Accardo appears to be on the outside, looking in, and Geremi Gonzalez was in the running, but now seems to be a long shot destined for Triple-A.
On Saturday, Zambrano also gave up two runs on four hits in four innings against the Yanks. He flew through the first three innings, but then appeared to hit a wall in the fourth, when he worked slower and needed 38 pitches to get through the frame. Still, his performance this spring has been impressive, considering he’s 10 months removed from major elbow surgery.
Gibbons said Toronto still hasn’t ruled out using Zambrano as a starter when the season opens. That means he’s in the competition with Tomo Ohka and Josh Towers. It appears to be a three-horse race as John Thomson has struggled on the mound and with injury. Both Janssen and Zambrano would be starters in a perfect world, but there’s a need in the bullpen and Toronto insists it’s taking the best arms north. Janssen and Zambrano have definitely pitched well enough to earn jobs, that’s for sure.
The decisions will be coming soon.