One more spot in the bullpen may have been wrapped up on Monday afternoon. In the seventh inning, lefty Jesse Carlson entered the game against the Tigers.
“It’s good to be back out there,” Carlson said with a smile.
That may have been all it took.
If the Blue Jays believed there was a serious chance that Carlson needed to open the season on the disabled list, it’s most likely that the team would have continued to have the southpaw test his left knee out in Minor League games.
It marked Carlson’s first Grapefruit League appearance since March 5, giving the Jays time to backdate a DL stint if necessary. Now, if Carlson is as healthy as it he seems to be, he will likely break camp with the big club.
“It felt good,” Carlson said. “My arm felt good. My knee felt great. So, overall I’m pretty happy.”
Carlson threw 17 pitches (12 strikes) and mainly stuck with fastballs. The lefty gave up two singles and faced five batters in all. A fielding error on a would-be double-play grounder forced him to fire off a few extra pitches. He threw a couple breaking balls, one that resulted in a broken-bat bloop single to center field.
“Nothing you could do there,” he said with a shrug.
The final Detroit hitter to face Carlson, third baseman Brandon Inge, worked through a seven-pitch at-bat, driving the lefty’s pitch count a little higher than he probably would have liked. After two foul balls, though, Carlson was able to induce a lineout to third baseman Edwin Encarnacion.
“That’s what I need,” Carlson said of the 17-pitch outing. “I’m sure I’ll be a little tight tomorrow, but it’ll be a good tightness. This time of the year, your arm shouldn’t feel too good — as good as mine does — because obviously I haven’t been in there. I’m looking forward to the body starting to get there and getting ready to get back out there in another day.”
It says here that Carlson makes the Opening Day bullpen. The only relievers deemed locks to this point are Jason Frasor, Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg. Behind them, I’d put money on Shawn Camp and Carlson making the team. It’s the final two slots that will likely consume more debate behind Toronto’s closed doors.
Ask me, and I’d say Casey Janssen deserves to be in the bullpen in light of the strong spring he has had. He has options, but there’s something to be said for loyalty and honoring someone who has put up results in a competition. That would leave one spot for either Dana Eveland, Merkin Valdez, Jeremy Accardo, Josh Roenicke or David Purcey.
Eveland and Valdez are out of options and know that the Jays will definitely take that into consideration. Eveland is trying to make the rotation, but could wind up in the ‘pen due to the pile of starting candidates left. Roenicke and Accardo (both with options) will likely open the year at Triple-A. That leaves Valdez and Purcey. In an effort to maintain depth, Valdez may have the edge if it came down to those two arms.
THE ROTATION: Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said on Monday that the only locks for the rotation are Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero. After a spring-long stance that Brian Tallet will likely be in the rotation, Gaston finally changed his tune some and said there’s a chance Tallet could wind up back in the bullpen.
“The way he’s pitched, he’s still a guy you could put in the bullpen, too,” Gaston said of Tallet. “Right now, you can bank on those two [Marcum and Romero], but we’ll see what happens in the next few days on the rest of those guys.”
That altered view on Tallet might have had a little something to do with the six shutout innings that Eveland spun against the Tigers on Monday, lowering his spring ERA to a tidy 1.23. Toronto has also handed Eveland a team-high 22 innings this spring. So they’re taking a good, hard look at him.
Right now, Eveland looks like he has made the club.
“He’s pitched well enough to pitch on this club,” Gaston said. “We just want to wait and see where we’re going to put him, if he’s going to be a starter or if he’s going to be someone that you bring out of the bullpen.”
Much depends on the health of Brandon Morrow, but he worked through a 52-pitch simulated game on Monday and came away pain-free and still confident that he’ll be ready for Opening Day. He’s down to start Saturday in Houston. Barring a setback, he appears poised to break camp in the rotation.
Where does this leave Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil? Maybe at Triple-A. On Friday, Cito said, “Anything’s possible,” when asked if the pair of young lefties could both open the year in the Minors. Unless Rzepczynski is just lights out on Tuesday against the Yankees, there’s a good shot he winds up at Vegas and not in Toronto.
Why start the two youngsters in the Minors? Well… why not? The Jays want to get out of the practice of rushing players to the Majors. Developing properly takes priority and this is a season more about developing than contending. When there are guys like Tallet and Eveland to buy time for younger arms, why not use them and make sure the kids are good and ready?
Opening Day Predictions: Part 6
Based on the above analysis of the current bullpen and rotation situation, here is an updated projection of who I believe will be on the Blue Jays pitching staff come Opening Day:
PITCHERS — Starters: RHP Shaun Marcum, LHP Ricky Romero, RHP Brandon Morrow, LHP Dana Eveland, LHP Brian Tallet. Relievers: RHP Jason Frasor (closer), LHP Scott Downs, RHP Kevin Gregg, RHP Shawn Camp, LHP Jesse Carlson, RHP Casey Janssen, RHP Merkin Valdez.
A TWITTER POLL: Following today’s game, I tweeted this question, “Behind Marcum & Romero, who’s in your rotation? Choices for 3 vacancies: Morrow, Rzepczynski, Cecil, Eveland, Tallet.” I stopped counting the votes at 5:45 p.m. ET.
If it were up to my followers on Twitter,
here is who would occupy the Nos. 3-5 slots:
3. Morrow — 45 votes
4. Eveland — 42 votes
5. Rzepczynski — 37 votes
Others receiving votes:
6. Cecil — 13 votes
7. Tallet — 5 votes
8. David Purcey — 1 vote
9. Johnny Mac? — 1 vote
LATE SCRATCHES: First baseman Lyle Overbay was in the starting lineup for the Blue Jays on Monday, but was removed at the last minute. Overbay’s left knee — banged up in a collision with Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford on Friday — is still sore and the first baseman was not ready to resume game action.
“He was a little sore,” Gaston said. “So we didn’t want to run him out there. He’ll be in there tomorrow I’m pretty sure.”
Also scratched from the original lineup was catcher Raul Chavez, though nothing is wrong with the backup catching candidate. Chavez has not caught Rzepczynski in a game this spring, so he switched places with Jose Molina and will now start on Tuesday night, when Zep takes the hill against the Yankees.
BIRD FEED: Let’s get something straightened out really quick. Earlier this week, Gaston said he is leaning toward handing the closer’s role to Frasor. Gaston did not declare that Frasor has already won the team’s closer’s job. It’ll likely come down to Frasor and Gregg, and Frasor will probably have the primary job come Opening Day. That said, Gaston has not officially named a closer. … Former Jays ace Roy Halladay is scheduled to pitch against his old buddies when the Phillies host Toronto on Wednesday. On Thursday, former Jay A.J. Burnett will face Toronto when the Jays host the Yankees. … The Blue Jays were no-hit through five innings on Monday. The streak was broken by a single from John McDonald with one out in the sixth. Jose Bautista then doubled and Aaron Hill drove home both runners. … After nine innings, the Jays and Tigers agreed to end the contest in a 2-2 tie. Both teams had enough pitchers to go another frame. I guess they figured 63 innings between the clubs was plenty this spring. … Following Zep on Tuesday will be Camp and Janssen for the Jays. Scheduled to make the trip to Tampa for Tuesday’s nightcap against New York are John Buck, Chavez, Edwin Encarcnaion, Alex Gonzalez, Hill, Mike McCoy, McDonald, Overbay, Randy Ruiz, Bautista, Adam Lind, Jeremy Reed, Travis Snider and Vernon Wells. … Cecil is slated to work six innings against the Phillies on Wednesday. Frasor, Downs, Carlson and Roenicke would follow him. Marcum is down to pitch a Minors game on Wednesday.
POP THE CORKS! Even with a tie game ending the epic, seven-game spring series between the Blue Jays and Tigers, Detroit came away the 2010 Grapefruit League Series champions of the world. The Tigers went 4-2-1 to clinch the title.
I’ll award the first-ever Grapefruit League MVP Award to Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera, who hit .467 with two homers and seven RBIs.
GAME ONE: Tigers 7, Blue Jays 6 (March 3)
GAME TWO: Blue Jays 9, Tigers 7 (March 4
GAME THREE: Blue Jays 8, Tigers 5 (March 7)
GAME FOUR: Tigers 10, Blue Jays 7 (March 15)
GAME FIVE: Tigers 8, Blue Jays 2 (March 22)
GAME SIX: Tigers 5, Blue Jays 1 (March 25)
GAME SEVEN: Blue Jays 2, Tigers 2 (March 29)