March 2007

Game #12: Jays at Reds pregame

Toronto (4-6-1) at Cincinnati (8-2-0)
at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Royce Clayton, SS
Aaron Hill, 2B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Troy Glaus, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C
Curtis Thigpen, DH
John-Ford Griffin, LF
Chad Mottola, RF
Jeff Duncan, CF

PITCHING: LHP Gustavo Chacin

REDS
Ryan Freel, CF
Alex Gonzalez, SS
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Adam Dunn, LF
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
Jeff Conine, DH
Scott Hatteberg, 1B
Javier Valentin, C
Chris Denorfia, RF

PITCHING: RHP Matt Belisle

Game #11: Twins and Jays postgame

YAWN:

Roy Halladay 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 11 BF, 7 GO, 36 pitches (23 strikes)

Halladay is a baseball writer’s best friend. The guy is about as steady as you can get, and works so dang quick. On Sunday, he threw 11 pitches in the first (man, he was struggling — sarcasm), and then 8 in the second, 8 in the third and 9 in the fourth. Halladay is also an infielder’s best friend:

"I love it. It keeps me in the game," said shortstop Royce Clayton, who scooped up four of the seven grounders Halladay induced. "It keeps everybody sharp and you’re ready. His pace is great. He doesn’t take a lot of time. He gets the ball, makes his pitches, and tries to get contact early. That’s the key to getting deep into the ballgames."

Clayton couldn’t have been more dead on. Over the past five seasons, games that Halladay has started has lasted an average of 2 hours, 37 minutes. That’s the second-fastest average by any Major League over that span. Only White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle ranks better.

Halladay stuck mainly with his sinker and changeup again on Sunday. He also threw four curves. Halladay said he’s confident in the break and the location of his curve, he just wants to build up more arm strength before throwing 20 each time out. He threw another six curves in the bullpen after his start.

No cut fastball yet, though. Excessive use of that pitch wound up sidelining Halladay in September with a right forearm strain. So he’s holding off on using it much right now. He’s started throwing it in the bullpen during side sessions, but it might be another start or two before he works the cutter into a game.

Game #11: Twins at Jays pregame

Minnesota (3-8-1) at Toronto (4-5-1)
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

TWINS
Denard Span, CF
Jeff Cirillo, 3B
Joe Mauer, C
Michael Cuddyer, RF
Jason Kubel, LF
Glenn Williams, 1B
Matthew LeCroy, DH
Luis Rodriguez, 2B
Alexi Castilla, SS

PITCHING: LHP Glen Perkins

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

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay

Game #10: Jays at Braves postgame

Josh Towers looked sharp in his second outing of Spring Training:

3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 10 BF, 27 pitches(18 strikes)

Jays manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg both say that Towers has looked nothing like the pitcher that went 1-9 with a 9.11 ERA out of the rotation last season. They see a much more relaxed, confident pitcher — and, honestly, I’d have to agree. Towers isn’t let bad pitches affect his mindset, and that was one of his major issues a year ago.

If he keeps up his current pace, Toronto will have a big decision to make at the end of Spring Training. Towers is scheduled to make $2.9 million in 2007, and he’s a guy who logged 200 innings and won 13 games just two years ago. So far, he’s done nothing to show he doesn’t deserve a spot in the rotation, but it’s still very early in Spring Training.

Dustin McGowan, on the other hand, did not look as sharp. The right-hander yielded three runs on four hits in two innings and saw his spring ERA jump to 10.80. Geremi Gonzalez pitched two scoreless frames, and Pete Walker allowed one run on two hits in one inning of work.

OTHER NOTES: Brandon League is scheduled to throw a fourth bullpen session on Sunday, when he’ll begin working on breaking balls and splitters, too. He’ll then have a 30-pitch BP session on Wednesday, followed by a Minor League game on Saturday. He still might not crack the Opening Day roster because of the time he’s missed due to the lat injury, but he probably won’t have a long stay in the Minors, either. … Josh Towers and Jeff Duncan each had bunt singles against Braves pitcher Mark Redman in the third inning on Saturday. Gibbons told his pitchers not to swing at any pitches after seeing Atlanta hurler Mike Hampton injure his oblique during BP recently. … When asked on Friday about the bullpen situation, GM J.P. Ricciardi said Casey Janssen could be an option: "I think we’re just going to be really open-minded in putting our team together, and we’ll break with the best guys who can give us a chance to get off to a good start."

OVERHEARD: "Hey, Frank Thomas! Someone over here wants your autograph. Hey, Hurt! Frank! Come sign this autograph over here." –Gibbons, sarastically yelling over to Jays reliever Tracy Thorpe in the dugout after Saturday’s game when a fan mistook the pitcher for Toronto’s DH

Game #10: Jays at Braves pregame

Toronto (4-4-1) at Atlanta (6-2-1)
at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex
Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Jeff Duncan, CF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Matt Stairs, 1B
Alex Rios, RF
Jason Smith, SS
Kevin Barker, LF
Jason Phillips, C
Ray Olmedo, 3B
Josh Towers, RHP

BRAVES
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Edgar Renteria, SS
Chipper Jones, 3B
Andruw Jones, CF
Brian McCann, C
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Scott Thorman, 1B
Matt Diaz, LF
Mark Redman, LHP

Game #9: Astros at Jays pregame

Houston at Toronto
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

ASTROS
Orlando Palmeiro, DH
Chris Burke, 2B
Mike Lamb, 1B
Morgan Ensberg, 3B
Luke Scott, RF
Jason Lane, CF
Hunter Pence, LF
Eric Munson, C
Eric Bruntlett, SS

PITCHING: LHP Wandy Rodriguez

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

PITCHING: RHP John Thomson

NOTES: Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi told reporters Friday that he is not looking to trade Rios, especially for Phillies starter Jon Lieber. "You can blame Jeff Blair for all those Rios-for-Lieber rumors. You can write that," joked Ricciardi, giving the Globe and Mail writer a hard time. The Phillies covet Rios, but a deal might only be realistic if Philadelphia was willing to part with pitchers Cole Hamels or Brett Myers. Said Ricciardi: "They won’t trade those guys." So, for now, you can put those rumors to bed. … Outfield prospect Ryan Patterson did break his right forearm, and he could miss more than three months. … For the first time, Toronto unveiled its projected regular-season lineup. … The Blue Jays are high on infielder Ray Olmedo, who has a realistic chance of breaking camp with the big-league club.

FLAGGED: During batting practice, Toronto outfielder Matt Stairs, who is a native of New Brunswick, launched a baseball deep to right-center field. The ball hit the Canadian flag on a fly before disappearing behind the fence. "Pride," laughed Stairs afterward.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more…

Game #8 Jays at Red Sox

UPDATE — 9:38 pm: Ryan Patterson, one of Toronto’s top outfield prospects, broke an arm when hit by a pitch during the game against Boston on Thursday. Last season, the 23-year-old Patterson hit .277 with 25 home runs and 89 RBIs in 133 games between high-Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. He’s Toronto’s fourth-best prospect, according to Baseball America. There will be more details on Friday.

————————————————————————————————

Wait, there was a game in Fort Myers today? And it counted in the Grapefruit League standings? Huh, that’s funny, because Toronto kept it’s "A" squad back in Dunedin for a "B" game against the Phillies on Thursday. Neither myself, nor the majority of the Toronto press corps, made the trip to City of Palms Park. So, here’s what went down at Knology Park instead:

Philadelphia at Toronto
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

PHILLIES
Michael Bourn, CF
Danny Sandoval, SS
Gregg Dobbs, LF
Jayson Werth, RF
Ron Calloway, DH
Jason Hill, 1B
Andrew Beattie, 2B
Michael Costanzo, 3B
Ryan Budde, C

PITCHING: Adam Eaton

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

PITCHING: A.J. Burnett

Thomas made his unofficial debut for the Blue Jays, going 1-for-3 with an RBI single in the first inning. Following an eight-pitch at-bat, Johnson led off the first with a single. He then moved to second on a base-hit by Rios, moved to third on a 6-4-3 double play, and then scored when Thomas roped a single up the middle.

"Hopefully it’ll be over 100 [RBIs] for him, and over 100 [runs] for me. That’d be awesome," Johnson said afterward.

Johnson and Rios were also making their debuts in the field this spring. Johnson has been out with a sore lower back, which in turn was causing strain on his right oblique muscle, but he’s been cleared to play. Rios has been bothered by a sore right shoulder, and has been serving as a DH. Now, he’s cleared to play, too.

Burnett gave up three runs in three innings, and admitted to having trouble locating his fastball early on in the outing. He began mixing in a handful of curveballs, but the righty was focussing on his fastball and changeup in the start.

HOW HEAVY IS IT? You’ve probably read somewhere already about the piece of rebar that Thomas uses to warm up before each at-bat. It’s a steel rod that is normally used to reinforce concrete. It’s been estimated to weight anwhere between seven and 60 pounds.

An assistant trainer for the White Sox found it on a construction site in 1991 and brought it to Sarasota, which used to be Chicago’s spring site. Thomas took to swinging it before at-bats and has used it over the last 17 years. When asked today how much the steel rod weighed, Thomas smiled and said, "Man, I don’t know. It’s heavy — real heavy. Maybe 30 or 35 pounds?"

GOOD IMAGE OF THE DAY: Toronto outfielder Adam Lind grew up roughly four hours away from Chicago and he used to make trips to the Windy City to see Thomas play for the White Sox. Now, the 23-year-old rookie gets to share the locker room with the 6-foot-5, 275-pound slugger.

On Thursday, while Thomas signed autographs outside, team trainer George Poulis picked up the Big Hurt’s bag to bring it into the clubhouse (he dropped the rebar in the process, causing Thomas and the crowd to let out a big laugh). Lind scooted over to pick up th rebar and carried it inside.

Later, Thomas sat in front of his locker, getting ready for his workout, and Lind stood nearby, striking up a conversation with the slugger. Lind was fidgeting back and forth, and he couldn’t stop smiling while he talked with Thomas — one of his childhood heroes. It was just a nice moment between a future Hall of Famer and a young up-and-comer.

THAT OTHER GAME: So the Jays did play that game against Boston after all. Tomo Ohka struck out two and gave up just one hit over three shutout innings. Utility man Jason Smith homered in his second straight game.

On deck: John Thomson is scheduled to pitch three innings and Victor Zambrano two against the Astros Friday afternoon in Dunedin. It’ll also be Thomas’ official debut.

Whispers in the pressbox, plus Game #7 pregame

The rumors have been flying ever since Phils GM Pat Gillick popped into Toronto’s spring training site before the Grapefruit League schedule began. They picked up momentum when Gillick showed up at Knology Park last week. Now, the rumors have a full head of steam here at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater.

The rumor is that Gillick is extrememly high on Jays right fieleder Alex Rios, who isn’t in attendance at today’s game against the Phils. Possible scenarios being churned are Phils outfielder Aaron Roward and pitcher Jon Lieber for Rios, or for Rios and an unknown reliever. Phils are trying to get some more bullpen help.

Rios is under contract for $2.535 million this year and isn’t eligible to be a free agent until after the 2010 season. Lieber and Roward are under contract for $7.5 million and $4.35 million, respectively, and both are free agents after this season.

Keep in mind, these are merely rumors at this point. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi has said that he’s not interested in dealing Rios, so it’d take a significant package to change his mind. But, when writers from both teams are saying they’ve heard things about the rumor, it makes you wonder how much validity there is to it.

Stay tuned for more…

Toronto at Philadelphia
at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Royce Clayton, SS
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Vernon Wells, CF
Troy Glaus, 3B
Matt Stairs, RF
Gregg Zaun, DH
Jason Phillips, C
Russ Adams, 2B
Jeff Duncan, LF

PITCHING: LHP Gustavo Chacin

PHILLIES
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Shane Victorino, RF
Chase Utley, 2B
Ryan Howard, 1B
Pat Burrell, LF
Wes Helms, 3B
Aaron Rowand, CF
Randall Simon, DH
Carlos Ruisz, C

PITCHING: RHP Brett Myers

NOTE: DH Frank Thomas will likely make his first spring appearance in Thursday’s 10 a.m. B game (A.J. Burnett is pitching) against the Phils at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla. Thomas will make his first Grapefruit League start on Friday at home against the Astros.

Game #6: Jays at Tigers pregame

Toronto at Detroit
at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Gregg Zaun, C
Aaron Hill, 2B
Vernon Wells, CF
Alex Rios, DH
Adam Lind, LF
John Hattig, 3B
Michael Vento, RF
Kevin Barker, 1B
John McDonald, SS

PITCHING: Roy Halladay

TIGERS
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Placido Polanco, 2B
Gary Sheffield, DH
Carlos Guillen, SS
Magglio Ordonez, RF
Craig Monroe, LF
Brandon Inge, 3B
Chris Shelton, 1B
Brandon Watson, CF

PITCHING: Mike Maroth

Game #5: Pirates at Jays postgame

Blue Jays tie! Blue Jays tie! Blue Jays tie! Ah, the sweet sound of the P.A. blaring from the speakers at a Spring Training game, telling the crowd that the game will end in a tie. Only in March. Toronto and Pittsburgh played to an 8-8, 10-inning deadlock on Monday afternoon.

No wins or losses, but Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells did smack his first homer of the spring and Jays starter Josh Towers looked solid in his spring debut as well. Towers went two innings, giving up one run on one hit with two strikeouts. The one hit? A solo homer by Pirates 1B Brad Eldred.

"We had an idea of what we wanted to do and I kind of got ahead of myself a little bit," said Towers, referring to the errant pitch to Eldred. "My left shoulder opened up, my right hand stayed behind, and it just went right down the middle."

Other than that, though, Towers looked like a pitcher in control — much different that the guy who "was pitching scared" last season with Toronto. Against Pitt, Towers threw 27 pitches, including 19 strikes. Three of his outs came via grounders.

Last season, when Towers went 1-9 with a 9.11 ERA in his 12 starts, he said he was overthinking all the time. He was worrying too much on his mechanics and his mind raced at an increasingly rapid rate before every pitch as the losses began to pile up. Also, Towers said that he was trying to impress the new players on Toronto’s roster at the time.

"Looking back on it a little bit, I wanted to impress the new guys. I wanted to impress Troy [Glaus] and Lyle [Overbay]. I wanted to throw with Bengie [Molina]," Towers said. "Maybe [my contract] was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t think that. I wanted to look good for those guys I had played against — that’s so stupid."

LEAGUE UPDATE: Brandon League threw fastballs off a mound for about five minutes at Knology Park on Monday. It was the right-hander’s first time on a mound in 10 days, and he said afterwards that the right lat injury that’s sidelined him so far this spring wasn’t an issue. In fact, League said he has no doubts that he can be ready by Opening Day.

League — the leading candidate for Toronto’s setup man role — will play catch again on Tuesday and said he’d back on a mound in a couple days. League estimated that he’d throw two or three more bullpen sessions before throwing to hitters.

ON DECK: Roy Halladay will head to Lakeland, Fla., to start against the Tigers in a 1:05 p.m. ET tilt at Joker Marchant Stadium. Until then, stay tuned for more…

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