March 2007

Game #20: Phils at Jays

Philadelphia (7-13) at Toronto (7-10-2)
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

PHILLIES
Michael Bourn, LF
Shane Victorino, CF
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Chase Utley, 2B
Wes Helms, 3B
Karim Garcia, 1B
Aaron Rowand, DH
Ron Calloway, RF
Carlos Ruiz, C

PITCHING: RHP Freddy Garcia

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Troy Glaus, 3B
Alex Rios, RF
Gregg Zaun, C
Aaron Hill, 2B
Jason Smith SS

PITCHING: RHP Josh Towers

NOTES: SS Royce Clayton sat out on Wednesday due to flu-like symptoms. … RHP John Thomson has a sore right shoulder and he will undergo an MRI. He’ll miss his next scheduled turn in the rotation. … CL B.J. Ryan played catch on Wednesday and could be back on the mound by this weekend.

Game #19: Yanks at Jays postgame

DUNEDIN, Fla. — John Thomson could’ve easily just headed out the clubhouse doors. Instead, he walked over to where Tomo Ohka stood, surrounded by reporters, and Thomson gave the Japanese pitcher a pat on the back — the universal baseball sign for "Good job today."

With that, Ohka gave a nod and Thomson made his way toward the exit. The two pitchers are in direct competition with one another for a spot in Toronto’s rotation, and over the past two weeks, Ohka has been cruising, while Thomson has been slipping.

On Monday, Ohka turned in another five strong innings — this time against the Yankees in a 9-1 win at Knology Park. The right-hander gave up one run on three hits and three 64 pitches, including 37 strikes. Ohka allowed four runs in his first inning of the spring four outings ago, but he’s yielded just one run in his last 13 frames.

Thomson, meanwhile, started in a Triple-A game on Monday and gave up six runs on four hits with three walks and four strikeouts in five innings. In his last two starts, the right-hander has given up 12 runs on nine hits over 8 2/3 innings.

After Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun was done speaking about Ohka’s performance, he learned about Thomson’s outing.

"They always say these things sort themselves out," said Zaun, referring to the competition. "But you hate to see it sorted out like that."

Ohka has been very impressive, though. He and Josh Towers appear to be the current leaders for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. On Monday, Ohka wasn’t entirely pleased with his performance, but Zaun was raving about it.

"He’ll come in the dugout every once in a while and talk about a pitch or rag on himself a little bit, saying, ‘Oh, that was terrible,’ or whatever," Zaun said. "But he’s rolling right now. He’s got a pretty good idea of what he’s doing."

Against New York, Ohka wasn’t able to use his sinker much because of the windy conditions. Instead, the righty turned more to his cutter and was extremely effective with it. During one at-bat against Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, Ohka even snuck in a slide step, which caught the hitter off guard.

"He actually did a slide step changeup on his own and ended up jamming A-Rod," Zaun said. "There wasn’t any chance the guy was going to try to steal with A-Rod at the plate. But he used a quick move to the plate to be a little bit more deceptive to mess up his timing and it was really effective."

After discussing a few of Ohka’s pitches, Zaun was asked how many different pitches the Japanese starter threw. Zaun chuckled and began to rattle them off.

"Let’s see, sinker, four-seam fastball, cutter, slider, curveball, split, change — that’s seven," Zaun said. "We try to make things simple. I don’t have seven fingers on one hand, so I had to let him throw two pitches off of one sign."

One other thing that Zaun likes about Ohka is his ability to reach back for a little more on his fastball when he needs to. The pitcher tends to stay in the high 80s with his fastball, but Zaun said he can dial that up to 91 mph if the situation dictates it.

"He does what I wish more of our pitchers would do, which is to save a little something to reach back for when they need it," Zaun said. "Most of our guys are max effort all the time. You see five, six straight fastballs at 93, and when it’s time to put somebody away, they have to go to the offspeed stuff instead of reaching back for a little something extra on the fastball."

Ohka is providing an easy decision for Toronto, which dished out $1.5 million for a one-year contract to sign the pitcher this past offseason. But there are still two weeks left this spring, and Towers, Thomson, Casey Janssen, and to a lesser extent, Victor Zambrano, are all in the running for starting jobs. It’s more likely that Zambrano either begins in the bullpen, or begins in the Minors to stretch out more as a starter.

"It’s going to be a tough decision. I can’t see the decision being easy for anybody," Zaun said. "They’ve got a nice luxury. It’s been a great camp and everybody’s throwing the ball well and I don’t envy the decision they have to make at the end of camp."

We’ll all just have to stay tuned…

Game #19: Yankees at Blue Jays pregame

New York (11-6-1) at Toronto (6-10-2)
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, DH
Melky Cabrera, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B
Todd Pratt, C
Bronson Sardinha, RF
Chris Basak, SS
Miguel Cairo, LF

PITCHING: RHP Jeff Karstens

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Alex Rios, RF
Gregg Zaun, C
Aaron Hill, 2B
Jason Smith, 3B
Royce Clayton, SS

PITCHING: RHP Tomo Ohka

NOTES: Closer B.J. Ryan has been sitting out this week due to a sore lower back, but it’s not considered too serious, according to pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. … RHP Pete Walker is taking a few days off to consider his future with the Jays. Toronto informed the reliever that there wasn’t going to be room for him in the bullpen with the Jays or with Triple-A Syracuse to start the season, but that Walker could begin with Double-A New Hampshire or Class A Dunedin. Walker is coming back from surgery on his throwing shoulder. … Arnsberg said the Blue Jays are leaning toward having reliever Brandon League start the season on the 15-day DL.

Game #18: Jays at Astros

Toronto (6-9-2) at Houston (10-6)
at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, LF
Jason Smith, 3B
Alex Rios, RF
Kevin Barker, 1B
Jason Phillips, C
John McDonald, SS
Jeff Duncan, CF
Ray Olmedo, 2B
A.J. Burnett, P

ASTROS
Craig Biggio, 2B
Adam Everett, SS
Lance Berkman, 1B
Carlos Lee, LF
Morgan Ensberg, 3B
Luke Scott, RF
Chris Burke, CF
Brad Ausmus, C
Roy Oswalt, P

NOTES: Burnett is scheduled to pitch five innings, followed by Geremi Gonzalez, Casey Janssen and Brian Tallet out of the bullpen. … Tomo Ohka is slated to start against the Yankees on Monday, while John Thomson will pitch in a Minor League game. … Brandon League may throw in a Minor League game on Toronto’s off-day on Tuesday. … Here is the police report from Gustavo Chacin’s arrest.

Rained Out

Toronto’s game against Cincinnati in Sarasota was rained out on Friday afternoon. Roy Halladay was scheduled to start, but he’ll pitch in a Minor League game on Saturday now. Lefty Gustavo Chacin’s regularly scheduled turn is also on Saturday, when the Jays host the Tigers. Toronto plans on holding Chacin back, though, since he’s slated to start the third game against Detroit in the season’s opening series.

Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Chacin will start the Jays’ first three games. A starter for the fourth game hasn’t been announced, but Halladay is scheduled to pitch in the fifth game of the year on Saturday, April 7 at Tampa Bay. That means the Jays won’t need a fifth starter until April 8. That also means Burnett would be the starter for Toronto’s home opener on April 9.

UPDATE: Blue Jays pitcher Gustavo Chacin was arrested early Friday morning for driving under the influence in Tampa, Fla.

Toronto confirmed a report on SI.com that said the left-hander was stopped by Tampa Police at 3:43 a.m. ET and booked on the misdemeanor charge. Police reports indicated that Chacin’s blood alcohol level measured .150, which is much higher than the legal limit of .08. The pitcher was released on a $500 bond.

"The club is aware of the situation, but for us to say anything at this time would be premature," a team offifical said Friday night.

Game #16: Jays at Phils postgame

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Sometimes us sportwriters get so caught up in our lives working around the game that we forget why we got into it in the first place. Tonight provided a great opportunity to remind myself why I cover baseball.

Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater is a great spring training stadium, but its fatal flaw is its pressbox, especially for us visiting scribes who are forced into the second row. It’s difficult to see the field with the thick dividers between each window. So, a few of us writers grabbed our notepads, pens and score sheets and headed outside. It was fun to actually sit outside and take in a game — much like I did back in the days of simply being a fan.

Robert MacLeod of the Toronto Globe and Mail actually went down into the stands to sit with his son behind the Phils’ dugout and he nearly got taken out by a flying bat. Philly outfielder Pat Burrell lost the grip on his bat on a swing and the lumber bounced off the top of the dugout and into the row in front of MacLeod. The bat injured one woman’s hand, but Rob escaped unscathed.

INJURED LIST: Third baseman Troy Glaus received a cortisone shot in his left shoulder and is expected to miss a couple games. Toronto manager John Gibbons and a team official each said the injury wasn’t serious. … LHP Davis Romero, on the other hand, is out with a torn labrum. He had surgery on his shoulder on Thursday and will miss all of ’07. … After a brief visit to Minor League camp this morning, I learned that Travis Snider — Toronto’s top pick in last year’s draft — is out with a stiff lat muscle. He’ll sit out of workouts and Minor League games for about a week.

THE RACE CONTINUES: RHP Josh Towers had another strong start on Thursday, giving up just one run over four innings against the Phils in an 11-6 win. He said he felt strong in the first two innings, when his slider was working well, but his command faltered in the third and fourth. Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said Towers felt his mechanics were slightly off, and they’d work on correcting the issue this week. Still, it was the third strong start in a row for Towers, who is in the mix for a rotation job.

HE SAID IT: "It’s starting to define itself just a little bit. … Hopefully, it comes down to the wire and it comes down to the last couple days. You always want your decisions to be tough decisions, because that usually means you’ve got four or five guys throwing the ball pretty well." – Arnsberg, on the rotation competition

TAKE A LOOK AT: MLB.com’s Lisa Winston stopped by Toronto’s Minor League camp this past week. I sat down with Travis Snider this afternoon at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin.

GO GREEN: My Michigan State Spartans "upset" Marquette today, 61-49, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Tom Izzo is leading his troops into the Thrilling 32! OK, so there’s no fancy name for the second round, but with UNC looming, I have to soak in this round-one victory while I can. I took some abuse for wearing my MSU hat to work today, too (whistling the fight song probably didn’t help my cause).

CHEERS: Near the end of the Jays-Phils game, those of us in the pressbox were drawn to a TV for the end of the Duke-VCU NCAA tourney game. VCU hit a clutch shot at the end and the whole press corps burst into loud cheers — loud enough that fans in the stands below were turned around, looking up at the pressbox to see what the heck was going on. Hilarious.

YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: While sitting outside during the Jays game, struck up a conversation with a former NYPD officer who once upon a time worked Yankees home games. He said there was one game where he was stationed in the tunnel between the home dugout and the clubhouse, and Roger Clemens kept walking by him throughout his start. So, after Clemens strolled past him during one particular inning, the policeman thought it’d be nice to simply say, "Hello." Well, shortly thereafter, Clemens gave up a hit to ruin a no-hitter and he blamed the cop’s mid-game greeting. The policeman was then forced to move to a different part of the stadium.

TAKING A BREAK: I won’t be traveling to Sarasota for Friday’s Jays game against the Reds. Roy Halladay will be pitching for Toronto, and the game update will be on bluejays.com. I’m taking the day off to try to shake this cough that keeps bugging me, and so I can pick up my wife from the airport. I’ll also be taking Saturday off as well, but someone will be filling in for me for the home game against Detroit. I’ll be back at it on Sunday for the Toronto game in Kissimmee versus Houston.

Stay tuned for more…

Game #16: Jays at Phillies pregame

Toronto (5-8-2) at Philadelphia (6-7-1)
at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Vernon Wells, CF
Alex Rios, RF
Gregg Zaun, C
Aaron Hill, 2B
Royce Clayton, SS
John McDonald, 3B
Josh Towers, P

PHILLIES
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Shane Victorino, RF
Chase Utley, 2B
Ryan Howard, 1B
Patt Burrell, LF
Wes Helms, 3B
Aaron Roward, CF
Carlos Ruiz, C
Cole Hamels, P

NOTES: Prior to Thursday’s game against the Phillies, Toronto optioned RHP Dustin McGowan to Triple-A Syracuse. … LHP Davis Romero has a torn labrum and was scheduled to undergo surgery on the shoulder on Thursday. Romero will be out for the season.

UPDATE — 10:20 pm: Jays manager John Gibbons confirmed that Troy Glaus received a cortisone shot in his left shoulder and will miss a few games.

Under the Weather

I wanted to apologize for the lack of posts here the past few days — only putting the lineups and not having any postgame notes on the blog. Apparently, all this warm weather and sunshine has taken its toll on poor ol’ Bastian. I’ve been battling a cold and sore throat the last few days and have been taking it as easy as I can. Let me tell you how it isn’t much fun trying to conduct interviews when you’ve lost your voice.

Anyway, I’ll try to pick up the slack here this week. I’m at Toronto’s Minor League complex today, taking in some action before heading to Knology Park for BP, and then to Bright House Networks Field for the night game against the Phils. I had a nice chat with Minor League prospect Travis Snider today, and will be writing about that shortly.

For now, I hope you can forgive this ailing sportswriter for taking a few days off from the blog. I’ll be updating more soon.

Game #13-14: Indians vs. Blue Jays

Cleveland (8-6-0) at Toronto (5-7-1)
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

INDIANS
Josh Barfield, 2B
Franklin Gutierrez, LF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Ryan Garko, 1B
Shin-Soo Choo, RF
Andy Marte, 3B
Mike Rose, C
Michael Aubrey, DH
Trevor Crowe, CF

PITCHING: Adam Miller

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Vernon Wells, CF
FranK Thomas, DH
Troy Glaus, 3B
Alex Rios, RF
Gregg Zaun, C
Aaron Hill, 2B
Royce Clayton, SS

PITCHING: Tomo Ohka

The Jays and Indians also have a split-squad game in Winter Haven, Fla., but as you can see, Toronto’s starters stayed home on Wednesday. Right-hander JohN Thomson started for the Jays on the road against righty Paul Byrd.

Game #13: Red Sox at Blue Jays

Boston (7-6-1) at Toronto (4-7-1)
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

RED SOX
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Alex Cora, SS
Eric Hinske, 1B
Manny Ramirez, DH
Wily Mo Pena, LF
Brandon Moss, RF
David Murphy, CF
George Kottaras, C
Joe McEwing

PITCHING: RHP Kyle Snyder

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, LF
Matt Stairs, 1B
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Alex Rios, RF
Jason Smith, SS
Jason Phillips, C
Russ Adams, 2B
John McDonald, 3B

PITCHING: RHP A.J. Burnett

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