March 2010

Notes from Rainout 2

McGowan2.jpgBlue Jays pitcher Dustin McGowan said he is trying to stay positive right now. Honestly, what other choice does he have?

“I’ve got to stay positive,” he said with a shrug on Sunday. “I’ll be all right.”

After a rough start on Friday, McGowan complained of a fatigued arm — a normal turn of events for pitchers trying to return from long lay-offs. McGowan’s start was his first game action since July 8, 2008.

McGowan is taking a week off to rest and he will be re-evaluated at that point. He said he hopes to pick up where he left off with his throwing program, doing light days between brief game appearances for now.

McGowan said one good thing is that the current issue is not similar to the type of setbacks he has previously had with his shoulder. This is not pain, it is simply a “dead arm” period, not considered serious right now.

“It’s kind of a minor setback,” McGowan said. “Nothing I hope too alarming. I hope I take this week off and come back feeling good again.”

The bottom line is McGowan’s comeback — after missing the past year and a half dealing with a surgically-repaired shoulder and a knee injury last season — has been a good story this spring. He is leaps and bounds ahead of where he was at this time last year, and that is something McGowan is focusing on right now.

“Absolutely,” McGowan said. “You always have to keep your head high. It’s been a long road and I’ve made a lot of big strides this year. Hopefully I continue to make more.”

GAINING SPEED: Following Saturday’s game, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston mentioned that closing candidate Kevin Gregg wasn’t throwing as hard as he will likely throw during the season. Speaking with Gregg today, the pitcher said that is a normal part of Spring Training for him each year.

“Yeah, you get arm strength as the season goes,” Gregg said. “It happens every Spring Training. I sit there and I typically start Spring Training throwing 89-91, and then as the season comes, I’ll be throwing in the low 90s, which that makes a difference.”

Gregg noted that he has been working extensively on his splitter, one reason he has been hit around a little bit this spring (7 hits, 1 HR, 5 IP). Gregg said he felt last spring he was too caught up in results and that led to him not being fully prepared with his pitches once the season began. He doesn’t want to make the same mistake this time around.

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY: Sunday was not a fun day at the ballpark. It poured rain all morning, with only some slight periods of light drizzle breaking it up. Still, the Jays and Red Sox waited until around 2:30 to officially cancel the game. For a while, it was starting to wear on everyone held hostage, trying to wait out the weather.

“Anyone want to do tarp slides,” asked Aaron Hill, standing outside the clubhouse as the delay dragged on. “This isn’t fun. We need to do something fun.”

And, no, despite Hill’s pleas, there were no tarp slides.

UPDATE – 7:45 pm: Wait! I stand corrected. There were tarp slides. I just didn’t see them. 


TarpSlide2.jpg

Much thanks to Tony Plut for e-mailing me the above photo.

MOUND MATTERS: Shaun Marcum, who was slated to start on Sunday, headed indoors and worked through an 81-pitch simulated game. Even with the delay dragging on and on, Marcum was still hoping to get an actual game in. “I’d much rather pitch in a little rain than throw in the cage,” he said. No such luck.

As for relievers Josh Roenicke, Casey Janssen, Jeremy Accardo and David Purcey — all scheduled to follow Marcum — they will now pitch on Monday after Brian Tallet’s five-inning start. Relievers Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp will pitch in a Triple-A game on Monday.

INJURY UPDATES: Brandon Morrow (right shoulder) met with Dr. Steve Mirabello at Dunedin Stadium on Sunday morning and was told that his injury is not considered serious. Morrow will resume throwing on Wednesday, will throw in a bullpen session on Friday and then will make his next start on Monday, March 29. Morrow is still in line to start the third game of the regular season for the Jays. … LHP Jesse Carlson (left knee) is scheduled to throw off a mound on Monday. … 3B Edwin Encarnacion (left wrist) and UTIL Mike McCoy (right shoulder) will likely be asked to play in a Minor League game or two before being thrown back into big league games. … Spoke with RHP Scott Richmond (right shoulder) on Saturday. He is currently throwing from 120 feet, but there is no timetable for his return to a mound. … RHP Dirk Hayhurst (right shoulder) has been cleared to continue his rehab back home in Ohio for now.

QUOTABLE: “No, some of us are supposed to pitch the eighth inning.” – Janssen, when a teammate asked an umpire to call the game

ALSO: GO SPARTANS!!! SWEET 16!!!

For complete Blue Jays coverage this spring, make sure you’re reading bluejays.com and following me on Twitter at @MLBastian. You can also find spring photos on TwitPic.com.

~JB

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Clearing the clubhouse air

I just want to take a moment to clear the air about a story I wrote a couple days ago about the clubhouse situation now that Roy Halladay is not with the team. In today’s Toronto Star, my story was referenced with comment from second baseman Aaron Hill:

Second baseman Aaron Hill takes his inherited leadership role in the Jays’ post-Roy Halladay world very seriously. So, before anything could get ratcheted out of proportion, he wanted to make it absolutely clear that even though this Jays clubhouse may seem more relaxed and self-confident, it’s not the result of Doc’s departure, taking his legendary intensity and “don’t-bother-me-the-day-I-pitch” focus to the Phils. It’s balanced with other players maturing.

“This clubhouse has always been good,” Hill explained of insinuations of intimidation Halladay might have had on the young Jays last year. “But you just have to have that respect for the guy on game day because that’s his game. Everyone has his own routine. That’s his routine. It’s just for the fact he was so focused. You stick around (Halladay) for a while, we had a great time with him. You knew when he was going to do his (focus) thing. You knew when not to mess with him. It was just funny reading that (on MLB.com) because it made it sound like he was a bad guy.”

I spoke with Hill this morning and he told me he had no issues with the way my story was written and no problems with the angle I took in the piece. CLICK HERE to read my article. Hill’s only issue was with the headline that appeared above the story, which read, “Post-Doc era finds Jays looser, relaxed.” Hill knows that I do not write the headlines.

Hill agrees that there is definitely a difference in the clubhouse since Halladay was traded, but that does not mean Doc was in any way a negative influence or difficult to be around. I was careful to make that clear in my story. Hill also agreed, since Halladay was traded, it has been easier for the younger pitchers tp step up and form their own identity.

From talking to many of the pitchers — Shaun Marcum, Brian Tallet and Ricky Romero have gone on the record in this regard — they say that the absence of Halladay has opened the door for them to step up and try to be leaders in the clubhouse and on the staff. That’s a good thing. But, don’t take it the wrong way, they’d welcome Halladay back in a heartbeat.

~JB

Notes from Game 15

Cecil8.jpgThe Blue Jays gave Marc Rzepczynski the nod for the start against the Braves at Dunedin Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Lefty Brett Cecil, trying to stay in the rotation race, started in a Minor League game at the same time. After returning from his start, Cecil seemed genuinely thrilled with how things went.

“My slider was excellent today,” said Cecil, discussing his four-inning outing. “The curveball was really good. Everything was down and, if I missed, it was down in the dirt, down in the zone. That’s the thing. No walks. That’s the big thing for me.”

Cecil continued to work on his changeup, tested out a retooled grip on his two-seam sinker and — at the last minute — decided to start trying out a cutter. Cecil said he went over grips for a cut fastball with Jays lefty Brian Tallet on Friday and tried it out in the bullpen before his outing on Saturday.

Heading to the mound for his outing, catcher Kyle Phillips asked if Cecil wanted to use it during the game.

“H said, ‘What do you want for the cutter?'” Cecil said. “I said, ‘Ah, just forget about it. I’m just working on it right now.’ He goes, ‘Well, what if you just want to throw it?’ I said, ‘Just throw down a five.'”

During his start, Phillips threw down five fingers, calling for the cutter as planned. Cecil — never having used a cutter in an outing before — completely forgot about the pregame discussion about actually using the pitch.

“He threw down a five and I was like, ‘What?'” said Cecil, laughing. “So I stepped off and I was like, ‘Oh. Cutter.’ So I told him to go again. I threw it. It was a ball, but it had good movement on it.”

In all, Cecil said he allowed two runs (one earned) with no walks in his four innings of work. The young lefty said Philadelphia’s Jayson Werth took part in the Triple-A game and tagged him for a couple hits. Cecil could live with that, especially since he was working on a few different things.

Cecil has been very open about trying different approaches this spring. First, due to a cut on his left thumb, he was forced to work with only fastballs and changeups. In the process, Cecil began to trust his changeup more, realizing he could get by with a limited arsenal of pitches. Now, he’s altered his sinker and is trying out the new cutter.

“If I was a coach, I’d really like it if kids were willing to try new things,” Cecil said. “That’s one thing I love to do. I love trying new pitches. …  If a coach or even a player comes up and says, ‘Hey, try this grip,’ and it works for me, then OK, I’ll go try it.”

Will that willingness to try new things ultimately help Cecil earn a spot in the rotation? Time will tell. The top five candidates for spots include Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Rzepczynski and Tallet. Dana Eveland and Cecil appear to be the next two on the depth chart right now.

Morrow is currently dealing with a minor shoulder issue, possibly throwing a wrinkle into the situation. If the Blue Jays decided to be very conservative with Morrow, even though he believes he can still be ready for his next start and certainly Opening Day, and places him on the DL to begin the year, Cecil or Eveland could wind up on the staff.

“He’s still got a chance,” manager Cito Gaston said of Cecil. “Nothing’s set yet, so he still has a chance.”

RZEPSINKERSKI: For Rzepczynski, the biggest thing to come out of Saturday’s five-inning outing against the Braves was that he is finally beginning to really trust his sinker. The lefty believes establishing that pitch will go a long way in helping him become more efficient this season for the Jays.

“I can’t believe I’m actually admitting this,” Rzepczynski said, “but never in a pro ball game, I’ve never gone nine innings. I would love to go nine or at least get into the ninth this year. It’s just, keep my pitch count down and establish my fastball and I should be OK.”

Over five innings against Atlanta, Rzepczynski allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits with three strikeouts and no walks. He allowed three runs in the second, though one scored courtesy to an error in left by Adam Lind. Rzepcynski said he left a few pitches up, but he did not stray from his sinking fastball, which is a good sign.

“[Pitching coach Bruce Walton] is just saying believe in it,” Rzepczynski said. “The entire spring, it’s just been believe in your fastball. Still throw your other pitches, get those going, but just establish your fastball and throw it so you don’t have to throw eight million thousand sliders like I did last year.

“It’s just believing in it. It’s just, instead of nibbling on the corners, it’s throwing it down the middle and down and away at the knees and if they get under it, they get under it.”

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Opening Day Predictions: Part 4

Every weekend from now until the end of camp, I plan on including my current predictions for the Opening Day roster. After 15 games, this is who I believe will be among the 25 players headed north for the Blue Jays:

PITCHERS – Starters: RHP Shaun Marcum, LHP Ricky Romero, RHP Brandon Morrow, LHP Brian Tallet, LHP Marc Rzepczynski. Relievers: RHP Kevin Gregg, LHPScott Downs, RHP Jason Frasor, RHP Shawn Camp, LHP David Purcey, RHP Casey Janssen, RHP Merkin Valdez

POS. PLAYERS: C John Buck, C Jose Molina, 1B Lyle Overbay, 2B Aaron Hill, SS Alex Gonzalez, 3B Edwin Encarnacion, DH Adam Lind, LF Travis Snider, CF Vernon Wells, RF Jose Bautista, INF John McDonald, UTIL Mike McCoy, 1B/DH Randy Ruiz.

CHANGES: LHP Jesse Carlson removed. RHP Jeremy Accardo removed. Merkin Valdez added. David Purcey added.

REASONING: Carlson is currently battling a sore left knee and is scheduled to get back on a mound again soon. He might still be fine for Opening Day, but I’ll hold off on including him here until we know more about his situation. With the left-handed Carlson possibly out, and the left-handed Purcey getting strong early reviews as a reliever, I’ll add him for now. Purcey also has the ability to go more than one inning, which is something Gaston likes. For Accardo v. Valdez, I’m going with Veldez right now purely based on the fact that he is out of options. Toronto is giving him a good look this spring, Cito and the GM have talked him up this week, and he has been getting more game action than Accardo to this point. Encarnacion (left wrist) is a DL possibility, but he made good strides this week and needs less time to get ready, if healthy, than a pitcher would. Snider has been on a tear, so he remains in the mix. Morrow (right shoulder) had a minor setback this week, but believes he can still be ready for OD, so no need to remove him for now. 

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BIRD FEED: RHP Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) is being shut down for one week and  will be re-evaluated after that period of rest. He worked 1 2/3 innings in a Minor League game on Friday and complained of a “dead arm” following the outing. McGowan only topped out at 88 mph and threw half of his pitches for strikes. … Morrow will visit Dr. Steve Mirabello on Sunday to verify that his shoulder issue is not serious. Toronto will then determine if Morrow can make his next scheduled start on Wednesday. … Gaston said Encarnacion and McCoy (right shoulder) will likely play in a Minor League game before returning to Grapefruit League action this week. … The Jays reassigned OF Jorge Padilla, RHP Steven Register, LHP Willie Collazo and LHP Rommie Lewis to Minor League camp. … Gaston started Lind in left, Snider in right and Ruiz at DH on Saturday. Bautista manned third. That could potentially be the Opening Day positioning if Encarnacion needs to open the year on the DL. … Bautista went 2-for-3 out of the leadoff spot on Saturday. … Hill went 1-for-3 with a two-run homer. … Wells had a run-scoring double and is hitting .391 this spring. … Walk-off, two-run double for Minor League Michael McDade sent Jays to a 7-6 win in 10 innings. … Relievers Camp, Downs and Frasor logged one shutout frame apiece. … Closing candidate Kevin Gregg allowed one run on three hits with two strikeouts in one inning, raising his spring ERA to 5.40. “He’s been good,” said Gaston, referring to Gregg. “He’s going to throw harder during the season. He throws a little harder than that. He’s always been a guy who threw a lot of pitches, going out there saving the game. We’d like to see him cut back on that, but he is what he is. As long as he can get out of it, it’s OK.”

For complete Blue Jays coverage this spring, make sure you’re reading bluejays.com and following me on Twitter at @MLBastian. You can also find spring photos on TwitPic.com.

~JB

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Game 15 lineups: Braves at Jays

ATLANTA AT TORONTO
at 1:05 p.m. ET in Dunedin


Thumbnail image for Braves.jpgBRAVES (11-5)
1. Nate McLouth, CF
2. Melky Cabrera, LF
3. Jason Heyward, RF
4. Matt Diaz, DH
5. Yunel Escobar, SS
6. Omar INfante, 2B
7. Eric Hinske, 1B
8. David Ross, C
9. Brandon Hicks, 3B

Pitching: Derek Lowe

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (8-6)
1. Jose Bautista, 3B
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, LF
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. John Buck, C
7. Randy Ruiz, DH
8. Travis Snider, RF
9. Alex Gonzalez, SS

Pitching: Marc Rzepczynski

~JB

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Morrow scratched and other notes

Morrow7.jpgThere is one guarantee: if you don’t show up, that’s when news happens.

So, it was with some hesitation that I decided not to attend the Jays’ game against the Astros in Kissimmee this afternoon. Sure enough, as I was watching Dustin McGowan pitch in a Minor League game in Dunedin, I checked my blackberry and read the following note:

“Morrow was scratched today.”

Brandon Morrow, scheduled to start against Houston, was a late scratch due to a sore right shoulder. Apparently, Morrow has felt some discomfort for a few days and decided not to start after warming up for his outing in Kissimmee.

MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, filling in for me on the road, reported that Morrow “will rest for a couple of days, but besides that, the plan for him moving forward is unknown.” Morrow indicated that he has had bouts of shoulder soreness in previous springs and he did not seem concerned that the issue would linger

“It’s always been a thing that’s kind of popped up and then just gone away and really hasn’t bothered me after I’ve gotten it to calm down,” Morrow said. “It’s kind of a getting-over-the-hill thing.”

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said Morrow would be re-evaluated in the next few days and the pitcher would likely be examined by team doctor’s in Dunedin. If Toronto needs to start Morrow on the disabled list to begin the season, that likely opens the door for Brett Cecil or Dana Eveland to slide into the rotation.

NOTES FROM DUNEDIN

  • 3B Edwin Encarnacion took part in batting practice for the first time in a couple weeks, testing out his surgically-repaired left wrist. Encarnacion said he did not feel any pain in the wirst, which has bothered him some throughout the spring. He said he feels there is still enough time to be ready for Opening Day. CLICK HERE for more.
  • Chatted some with Mike McCoy today, who is a leading candidate to grab the 25th spot on the Opening Day roster. The Jays have been impressed with McCoy this spring, especially with his bat and ability to man many infield and outfield spots. McCoy is currently battling a sore right shoulder, though he said he expects to be back in games by Monday. CLICK HERE for more.
  • RHP Dustin McGowan continued his comeback from right shoulder surgery with a Triple-A start on Friday, allowing no runs and two hits over 1 2/3 innings. McGowan walked two and cut his outing off once he reached 36 pitches and two outs in the second. The righty topped out at 88 mph on the radar gun and struggles with his command. After the start, McGowan said he does not expect to make the Opening Day roster. CLICK HERE for more.
  • I also took some time to chat with Aaron Hill and Vernon Wells about how the clubhouse environment has evolved this spring. A few pitchers have commented that the atmosphere around camp this year seems to be looser and more fun, and part of the reason is that Roy Halladay is no longer around. CLICK HERE for more.

PHOTO OF THE DAY


Banks.jpgHill’s dog, Mr. Banks, watches the Jays’ morning workout

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ALSO: GO SPARTANS!

For complete Blue Jays coverage this spring, make sure you’re reading bluejays.com and following me on Twitter at @MLBastian. You can also find spring photos on TwitPic.com.

~JB

Notes from Game 13

Chapman.jpgWe tried asking Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos about the expected signing of Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, but he still won’t budge.

“So, will he start at Double-A?” asked one reporter.

“You trying to trick me?” Anthopoulos replied with a smile.

Nothing is official yet with Hechavarria, so Anthopoulos is not biting for now. It is expected that the shortstop will sign a four-year, $10 million contract with Toronto and I’m sure the holdup is simply behind-the-scenes, logistical stuff.

We did take the opportunity to ask Anthopoulos what happened in the case with Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman. The Jays were in on the bidding, but did not pony up enough cash in the end. The Reds signed Chapman to a six-year pact worth $30.25 million.

Anthopoulos said Toronto simply did not scout Chapman enough to warrant offering that lofty of a contract. In hindsight, Chapman is looking like he might be worth every penny Cincinnati tossed his way.

“You look at the way he’s throwing, he’s been great,” Anthopoulos said. “It looks like the Reds made a great signing. I think for us, it was one of those things where we … probably didn’t have enough background on the player. We probably hadn’t seen the player enough to really extend ourselves to where it probably needed to go.

“It’s something that you try to take as much information as you can, but you do have to make a determination. We probably just didn’t know enough about the player didn’t have enough looks at the player to be completely comfortable to make that type of commitment. Certainly with the way he’s throwing, it looks like the Reds made a great move.”

Beyond Chapman and Hechavarria, the Blue Jays have also been linked to Cuban first baseman Jose Julio Ruiz in the past. Asked if Toronto might try to reel in more than just Hechavarria, Anthopoulos responded by saying the club plans on scouting and evaluating every major name that comes up.

“We’re going to evaluate all of them,” Anthopoulos said. “I want to at least know about all the prominent guys. Let’s make sure we have scouting reports. Let’s make sure that we’ve seen them. If we make a determination that we just don’t have interest in the player, or the price point on the player is too high, that’s fine. But, I don’t want there to be a signing for large dollars that we didn’t know about the player.

“Let’s at least make sure that we’ve seen the player, we found out what it would cost and let’s be able to make the determination, ‘You know what? It’s too expensive for us’ or ‘It didn’t work out’ or ‘We just didn’t believe in the ability and want to turn the page.’ But let’s make sure we evaluated the player.”

RICKY ROLLS: Lefty Ricky Romero did give up a pair of runs in his start on Thursday, but overall is was another strong outing for the Jays’ projected No. 2 starter. Romero logged five innings, allowing two runs on five hits with five strikeouts and a pair of walks. More than anything, Romero worked on curves and sliders.

“Everything feels really, really sharp coming off my hand,” said Romero, who is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA this spring. “Everything felt sharp. I felt like my curveball, I got a chance to work on it. We talked before the game, we were more focused on working on some pitches.”

One pitch that manager Cito Gaston said he was especially impressed with was Romero’s two-seam sinker: “probably the best sinker I’ve seen him have.” That bodes well for the young lefty, because I asked him what pitch he felt needed more work than the others, and Romero said his sinker needs a little refining.

“It’s more the sinker sometimes,” Romero said. “It tends to sink on me a little too much or it tends to cut on me. I think just establishing that throughout the whole game and not for the first couple innings. I felt like I lost it the last inning or two, but I had the other pitches going, which is good.”

SHAPING UP: The Blue Jays Opening Day roster is beginning to take shape more and more by the day. On Thursday, Toronto optioned Brian Dopirak to Triple-A Las Vegas, meaning Randy Ruiz has essentially made the team. Travis Snider launched two homers — three in three at-bats, dating back to yesterday — and is looking like a good bet to head north as well. Asked if there was any way Snider would not make the team, Cito said, “I wouldn’t think so, but it’s still early.

BENCH PICTURE: The bench currently consists of Ruiz, shortstop John McDonald and a backup catcher (Jose Molina or Raul Chavez). That leaves one vacancy for Mike McCoy/Jeremy Reed/Joey Gathright. Asked which of the three has jumped out this spring, here’s what Anthopoulos said:

“[McCoy] has definitely opened some eyes. We were excited about him when we claimed him, but I don’t think anyone expected him to swing the bat the way he’s done. … He [can] play all over the place. That’s a valuable guy to have, that he can play both the infield and the outfield. I would say McCoy probably more than anybody else has stood out because of his ability to play both spots and his ability to swing the bat.”

There could still be room for Reed or Gathright, if third baseman Edwin Encarnacion (left wrist) opens on the disabled list or Snider winds up at Triple-A to begin the year. Anthopoulos was asked if Gathright’s speed might give him an edge, and here’s what the GM had to say in response:

“It’s definitely part of it, but it’s not only speed. There’s a lot of guys that you could get out there that have the ability to run. It’s like the saying goes, you need to get on base to really be able to use your speed. It certainly helps things. It’s an element that he brings that some of the other guys don’t bring. But again, we have to weigh all the factors in the decision.”

McCoy brings speed as well (40 SB last year at AAA) and he is more versatile than Gathright. Reed has shown more with his bat than Gathright, so the former Met may have an edge if a spot is up for grabs. Anthopoulos noted that neither Reed nor Gathright — both in camp on Minor League deals — have release clauses in the event they don’t make the team.

“We’re pretty fair,” Anthopoulos said. “If we feel there’s no opportunity for them long-term, if we feel they’re well down on the chart for call-ups and they have better opportunities somewhere else, we told them and their agents we’ll do the right thing and we’ll get them to the right spot. But as a policy, we don’t give release clauses.”

MORE MOVES: Dopirak and infielder Jarrett Hoffpauir were optioned to Las Vegas, while pitchers Lance Broadway and Zach Jackson, along with catcher Kyle Phillips, were sent back to Minor League camp. Been a rough spring for righty Casey Fien, who was released by the Jays on Thursday, too. Toronto claimed him earlier this spring from the Red Sox, who lost him after claiming him from the Tigers. The Jays also returned Rule 5 pick Zech Zinicola to the Washington Nationals.

BIRD FEED: One bullpen candidate who is out of options is righty Merkin Valdez, who the Jays obtained from the Giants over the winter. Gaston has raved about Valdez and Anthopoulos had good things to say on Thursday as well. “He’s done very well,” Anthopoulos said. “He’s throwing strikes. … He’s a guy who could be an asset for us. We have to continue to evaluate him.” Anthopoulos said pitching coach Bruce Walton has worked with Valdez on altering his landing leg during his delivery, which has helped Valdez keep pitches down in the strike zone. … Beyond Valdez, Shawn Camp and Dana Eveland are out of options. Anthopoulos said that definitely plays a role in roster decisions. “Guys without options usually will get the benefit of the doubt,” Anthopoulos said. … Relievers with player options: Jeremy Accardo, Josh Roenicke, Casey Janssen, Jesse Carlson, David Purcey. … Anthopoulos added that he does not think it is necessary to carry more than one lefty (Scott Downs) in the bullpen. “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” he said. … Encarnacion is feeling better and has not been ruled out for Opening Day, according to Anthopoulos. … RHP Dustin McGowan is scheduled to throw two innings in a Minor League game on Friday. … RHP Brandon Morrow is scheduled to throw four innings in a start on the road against the Astros on Friday. … Not to be out-done by Snider’s two-homer day, C John Buck also belted two homers in Thursday’s win. Gaston noted that Buck has two additional homers in “B” games this spring. … 2B Aaron Hill added a homer on Thursday as well, his first blast of the spring. Hill also drew another walk, nine this spring. … Leadoff man Jose Bautista went 0-for-4, dropping his spring average to .524.  … In his first game back with the Jays after heading home to visit with his ill father, John McDonald went 2-for-2 with a double that bounced off the left-field wall. Welcome back, Mac.

QUOTABLE: “Oh, man. That was great, huh? I like the fact that he’s getting around on that fastball now. Last year he struggled with it. He struggled sometimes with an 89 mph fastballs. Today? I don’t think that was a struggle.” –Gaston, on Snider’s two homers

For complete Blue Jays coverage this spring, make sure you’re reading bluejays.com and following me on Twitter at @MLBastian. You can also find spring photos on TwitPic.com.

~JB

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Notes from Game 12

Snider4.jpgOne of the main things the Blue Jays have had Travis Snider working on this spring is getting into good fastball counts and then being able to make hard contact with the heater.

Taking that a step further, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said Snider has been working on pulling fastballs more. On Wednesday afternoon, the young left-handed hitter worked into a couple fastball counts and did take advantage, though pulling the ball was not the way he went about it.

In the third inning, Snider drove a fastball into center field for a single. Then, in the fifth, he took a fastball over the outside portion of the plate and lofted it high above the air over left-center field, a gorgeous, towering solo homer to the opposite field. Snider said it was a step in the right direction for him.

“I think it’s a good sign,” Snider said. “Early on in camp, as we were working on really trying to be ready to pull the fastball, I felt like I was starting to get a little pull happy in the beginning. I’ve been working hard with [hitting coach] Dwayne Murphy and Chad Mottola, the Triple-A hitting coach, and trying to get back to more of a natural rhythm.

“Today was the first step in the right direction, I feel. To make contact, solid contact, twice and drive the ball up the middle and the other way, that’s a good sign for me.”

Snider’s first four games of the spring were rough: six strikeouts in nine at-bats and only two hits along the way. In the 19 at-bats since that stretch, Snider has just three strikeouts and has collected five hits over those seven games. Prior to Wednesday’s showing, he had more strikeouts (eight) than total bases (seven) this spring. That changed in a hurry.

Snider has shown progress and that is because he has been working on specific tasks with his swing and approach at the plate. He lowered his hands a little from last year, hoping to get into a hitting position faster. Snider is also trying to be more selective in the batter’s box, not being overly-aggressive and chasing pitchers’ pitches, especially the offspeed variety.

In the back of his mind, though, Snider knows he is fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster right now. Results don’t always show the progress he is making within an at-bat in terms of approach or the strides he’s making behind the scenes. That said, results are what earn guys a place on the roster.

“It’s Spring Training, so you keep things in perspective,” Snider said. “As aggressive a competitor as I am, I never want to start off slow, but I think it’s also good for me, as last year was, to experience a slow start and really just finding yourself as a hitter and getting that timing down in the game. … I feel like I’m starting to grasp it and starting to move forward in the right direction at the right time.”

And, Snider says he is starting to feel a little more comfortable and locked in at the plate.

 “I’ve really started to feel comfortable in the box, taking pitches,” Snider said. “Coming into today I’ve felt like I’m starting to see it better. I’m starting to get a feel for my at-bats, counts, what pitches are being thrown and, as you start to see the ball better, that’s when you start to get that timing and the ball starts to look a little bit bigger up there. That’s what we’re going for as hitters.”

SAD NEWS: You may have noticed that Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald has been absent from a few more box scores than normal this spring. That is because Johnny Mac has gone home to Connecticut to be with his dad, Jack McDonald, who was recently diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. Johnny Mac rejoined the Jays in Florida on Wednesday. CLICK HERE for a nice tribute written by Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

TAKE IT SLOW: Blue Jays pitching coach Bruce Walton said there is no established timetable for RHP Dustin McGowan to begin adding bullpen sessions between his starts. Right now, McGowan’s daily throwing program looks like this: game, long toss, flat ground, long toss, long toss, game. McGowan is scheduled to pitch two innings in a Minor League game on Friday. McGowan’s comeback is one of the better stories in camp this year, but it’s looking more and more like he will need to begin the season on the disabled list.

BIRD FEED: LHP Jesse Carlson (left knee) did not throw off a mound on Wednesday as originally planned. Gaston said the left-handed reliever is holding off for a “few more days” before testing his knee. … Prior to Wednesday’s game, Toronto outrighted LHP Sean Henn to Triple-A Las Vegas. Henn was out of options, so the lefty cleared waivers before being reassigned to Minor League camp. … LHP Brian Tallet started against the Orioles on Wednesday and looked sharp in four innings. The lefty concentrated on throwing his two-seam sinker more than anything else and the results were good: no runs, one hit, three strikeouts, no walks, six groundouts. Tallet remains the favorite to open the season as the fifth starter. … Gaston noted on Wednesday that he will name a primary closer before the season, ruling out the possibility of a shared role. It says here that lefty Scott Downs will open as a setup guy and the closer’s job will fall to either Kevin Gregg or Jason Frasor. My money would be on Frasor, but we’ll see. … Downs, Gregg and Frasor each logged one shutout inning in Wednesday’s 4-1 win in Sarasota. Downs picked off a runner at first base to end the sixth inning. … RHP Shawn Camp also turned in a 1-2-3 fifth inning. … SS Alex Gonzalez went 2-for-4 out of the lineup’s second spot on Wednesday. … OF Jeremy Reed went 1-for-3 to actually lower his spring average to .385. … DH/1B Randy Ruiz is batting .467 after going 1-for-4 and DH/1B Brian Dopirak went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts to drop his spring average to .222. Toronto will likely bring one of Ruiz and Dopirak north.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Gaston turned 66 and Downs turned 34 on this St. Patrick’s Day.

QUOTABLE: “As you start to work on this and you start to work on that, sometimes you get away from just going up there and hitting. I don’t feel like the stress was overwhelming at any point, but as a hitter you know you never want to feel in-between up there at the plate. I think today was a good step in the right direction to just build off.” – Snider

For complete Blue Jays coverage this spring, make sure you’re reading bluejays.com and following me on Twitter at @MLBastian. You can also find spring photos on TwitPic.com.

~JB

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Walton discusses three arms

Following Shaun Marcum’s start in a Triple-A game at the Mattick this afternoon (3.2 IP, 2 R, 3 H, 4 K, 0 BB), we caught up with pitching coach Bruce Walton. Here are some comments he had on Marcum, as well as left-handers David Purcey and Brett Cecil.


MugMarcum.jpgON MARCUM

Did Marcum accomplish everything he needed to accomplish?

“The main thing we accomplished, we got to 60 pitches and that’s huge. Four innings, up and down four times, we got to 60 pitches, so that was our main goal today.”

What did you think of his pitch location?

“I think you saw it again today, he threw some really good pitches. His location was great. He gave up some hits on some fastballs in that might not have been in enough, but he was trying to hit the inside edge. We brought the cutter out today and he got some strikeouts on it.”

With Dustin McGowan, a big key is how he recovers in the days after an outing. Marcum missed all of last year, too, but is that not as much of a concern with him?

“I wouldn’t say it’s less of a concern. We still watch it. We still see how fast he recovers and what we can do on our work days. Right now, our work days are fairly limited. We’ll throw sinkers and fastballs, a couple breaking balls and we’re done. So, we are taking a conservative route on our work days so he is really fresh when the start comes.”

Will Marcum be restricted in how many cutters he can throw right now?

“We’re not going to restrict him at all. We just wanted to pass some tests first before we brought it out. We brought it out today and everything went status quo.”


MugPurcey.jpgON PURCEY

You’ve limited Purcey to throwing fastballs and sliders and Cito raved about what he saw in the B game yesterday. What did you think?

“Not to jump ahead, but I thought he did a very good job in the B game yesterday. I thought his tempo was outstanding. He threw strikes. He pounded down in the zone with the fastball and his slider was very good. You’re talking about a slider that we just jumped back on in the last week. That’s a week worth of work that he’s done in his side program to throw those sliders in that B game and I thought they were very good.”

Why did you decide to have Purcey hold off on changeups and curves for now?

“The reasoning behind it, I think concentrating on two pitches gives him a foundation. Before, we were throwing four pitches and they weren’t all working. So, we would go changeup, we would go curveball and it was like we were treading water with those two pitches. I really like his arm action on his slider. If you saw the game yesterday, I don’t think you could tell the difference from arm speed from fastball to slider.”

Will Purcey stick with that approach next time out?

“I think I’m going to do it another outing. I don’t think there’s any rush to go to the changeup right away and we also have a two-seam fastball that’s going to be in the works, too. That’s going to give him a different look on his heater. But right now, I’m very happy with the progress that we’ve made on fastball-slider and I don’t see any reason to change it right now.”

Cito mentioned Purcey possibly being a bullpen candidate. Do you see it that way?

“It’s interesting. You never know. I still think he can start. I think that he’s got the arm that can throw 115-120 pitches at times. but also, some guys, their niche is in the bullpen. You never know where guys succeed the best. We want David Purcey to help our ballclub in his best role. There’s been no decisions or talk about going to the bullpen, but you can’t ignore the fact that he struck out four left-handed hitters in a short period of time, which really could help your ballclub late in the game.”


MugCecil.jpgON CECIL

Like Purcey, you have Cecil only concentrating on two pitches right now — fastball and changeup. Is the thought having him work on his two best pitches before mixing in the slider and curve?

“That’s exactly what I’m doing. I feel that for Cecil to be an effective Major League starting pitcher that he has to establish a changeup. He can’t go out there and just throw heater, heater, heater, heater and then miss curveball or miss slider and then come back to the heater, heater, heater. We need to develop a pitch that we can force contact with that is 10 or 15 mph off the heater and that’s the changeup. So I told him, ‘Go out there and throw changeups, son.’ We’ve got ot do it now. This is what Spring Training is about.

“Everybody on my staff, including bullpen, w’ere all in developmental stages right now. And if we don’t work on it in Spring Training, then why do we even have it? So you’re going to give up some hits. If you look at the scoreboard, it might not be exactly what we’re looking for, but that’s not what it’s about right now. Youve got to take your hat off to Cecil. He’s really went out and he’s committed to trying it and he’s got some good outs on changeups. So we’re going to keep doing that and hopefully that carries right into the season.”

For complete Blue Jays coverage this spring, make sure you’re reading bluejays.com and following me on Twitter at @MLBastian. You can also find spring photos on TwitPic.com.

~JB

Notes from Game 11

Purcey2.jpgOne player that has kind of been lost in the shuffle this spring has been left-hander David Purcey.

The rotation battle appears to be led by Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Marc Rzepczynski, Brian Tallet and Brett Cecil. And Dustin McGowan has grabbed some of the spotlight with the positive strides he’s made in his comeback attempt.

As a result, Purcey has slipped down the depth chart and virtually out of the discussion for the rotation vacancies. As it turns out, the big lefty may very much be in the running for one of the open spots in the bullpen.

“I think that we’re probably leaning that way to see what he can do,” said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, who watched Purcey throw two shutout innings in a “B” game against the Phillies on Monday morning.

“We’re just trying to find a slot for him that he’s comfortable at. Hopefully he continues to do that. I was very impressed. That’s the best I’ve seen him throw since I’ve been here.”

In separate stints as a starter for the Jays over the past two years, the 6-foot-5, 27-year-old southpaw has gone 4-9 with a 5.81 ERA in 21 outings. Purcey relied on a power fastball, with a slider, changeup and sweeping curve as offspeed options. Gaston said pitching coach Bruce Walton has Purcey only throwing fastballs and sliders right now.

In the “B” game against the Phillies at Dunedin Stadium, Gaston was impressed with the early results.

“I’ll tell you what, you guys saw him pitch a lot last year,” Gaston began, “you would’ve been amazed with what you would’ve seen this morning, because he threw strikes. His arm slot was great.”

In a perfect world, Gaston said his bullpen might include three lefties and four righties.

Right now, the only left-hander who is a lock for the ‘pen is Scott Downs. The Jays also have lefty Jesse Carlson, who is currently nursing a left knee issue. Even if Carlson is healthy by Opening Day, Purcey provides a lefty who can potentially eat up innings — important with such a young rotation.

So, there seem to be two scenarios right now. If Carlson is healthy, Purcey could still wind up in the ‘pen, meaning one of the righties could get bumped (Jeremy Accardo? Casey Janssen? Shawn Camp? Josh Roenicke?). If Carlson is sidelined, Purcey may emerge as a leading contender to replace him in the bullpen. Other lefties in camp include Dana Eveland, Zach Jackson, Willie Collazo and Rommie Lewis.

For all you Tallet-should-be-in-the-bullpen people out there, it’s not going to happen. At least not right now. Gaston was asked if they’d consider moving Tallet or Rzepczynski into the bullpen in an emergency situation (if Carlson isn’t healthy or if something else happens related to the left-handed options), and he said that both pitchers are secure in their roles as starters.

“Those guys are pretty much rotation,” Gaston said of Tallet and Rzepczynski.

As for Carlson, he’s been bother by a sore MCL in his left knee and he’s scheduled to throw off a mound in a bullpen session on Wednesday. That will be a big test to see if the injury is more serious than the Jays believe. Carlson said this morning that Toronto’s trainers are being optimistic about his chances of being ready for Opening Day.

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS: After his four-inning outing against the Tigers on Monday, Rzepczynski said he is getting better at recognizing when his mechanics get out of whack and then making the subsequent adjustments during the game.

Rzepczynski said the main issue he runs into is “flying open” during his delivery. He said he will sometimes lean back too much during his leg kick, which begins a chain reaction. His front side will open up and his left wrist will be turned to the side, instead of being on top of the ball.

“That’s when everything comes like I’m sling-shotting it,” he said.

When that happens, Rzepczynski said his pitches have a tendency to stay up and in to left-handed hitters, or to float back over the plate when he’s trying to go inside against right-handed hitters. In the first inning on Monday, Rzepczynski said the issue came up when he issues a walk to Johnny Damon.

“Everything was up and in to him, near his head — he probably didn’t like that too much,” Rzepczynski said. “When I fly open, that happens. Same thing with the breaking ball, it’ll be up on that side if I don’t get on top of it. If not that batter, at least the next one, if anything happens, me being able to realize that hopefully will get me through innings.”

CHANGING THINGS: Brett Cecil’s left thumb is completely healed and he had clearance to throw as many curves and sliders as he wanted on Monday. Still, the lefty decided to stick primarily with fastballs and changeups in his 2 1/3 innings against Detroit, and for a couple reasons.

First off, Cecil has worked with bullpen coach Rick Langford on developing a new two-seam sinking fastball with an altered grip. The tailing action on the pitch is similar to that of his changeup. Beyond that, Cecil said limiting the types of pitches he throws is also helping him realize his changeup can be a good out-pitch.

“A lot of hitters say the changeup is the toughest pitch to hit,” Cecil said. “If I throw it right, it’ll be tough to pick up.”

EDWIN WATCH: Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, sidelined with a sore left wrist, was not in the lineup in either the “A” or “B” game on Monday and he is not listed as making the trip to Sarasota for Toronto’s next game on Wednesday. As the season nears, the possibility of Encarnacion opening on the disabled list increases.

“He’s still just trying to get the strength back in his hand,” Gaston said. “We’ve still got almost two and a half weeks or something like that. Hopefully he’s going to have a chance to start the season. If not, we’ll start with him on the DL.”

If Encarnacion does open on the DL, Jose Bautista would likely shift from right field to third base to begin the season. That would create a number of scenarios for the outfield, depending on whether Travis Snider opens the year in left or begins at Triple-A.

No Snider and no Encarnacion could lead to Adam Lind in left, Randy Ruiz as the DH and Joey Gathright or Jeremy Reed in right, opening the door for two of Mike McCoy/Brian Dopirak/Gathright/Reed to be on the bench. With Snider in left, Gathright or Reed could be in right and two of Ruiz/Dopirak/McCoy/Gathright/Reed could be on the bench.

Got all that? I’m not even sure I do. Debate away…

BIRD FEED: Still nothing to report on the Adeiny Hechavarria front. Multiple reports have the Jays signing the Cuban shortstop to a four-year contract worth $10 million, pending a physical. Jays still have nothing to announce. … In his start against the Tigers, Rzepczynski allowed three runs (all on two homers in the first) on six hits with four strikeouts and one walk in three innings. The wind was howling out to right, playing a major part in Miguel Cabrera’s first-inning blast. … Cecil allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits (one homer) with three strikeouts and one walk over 2 1/3 innings. The defense behind him did not help. … Brian Dopirak homered in the game against the Tigers, ending a streak of five straight at-bats ending in a strikeout. … Randy Ruiz went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs. … Travis Snider went 1-for-3. … In the “B” game, Gathright homered (!) and had two RBIs in an 8-1 win over the Phillies. Gathright has one homer in 1,175 MLB at-bats and one in 1,840 Minor League at-bats. I may have missed out on his only homer as a member of the Jays. … Also in the “B” game, Aaron Hill, Vernon Wells, Chris Lubanski and John Buck each had doubles. Bautista, Hill, Lind, Wells and Gathright each had two hits. RBIs for Lubanski, Gathright, Wells, Lind, Buck and Hill. Zach Jackson turned in two shutout innings, Lance Broadway worked three innings and allowed one run en route to a win, Steve Register had two shutout innings and Purcey logged two blank frames as well. … Tuesday is an off-day for the Jays. RHP Shaun Marcum is scheduled to start in a Minor League game at The Mattick at 1 pm. … Pitchers going to Sarasota on Wednesday to play the Orioles include Brian Tallet, Shawn Camp, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, Rommie Lewis, Zech Zinicola, Willie Collazo. Other notables making trip inclide JP Arencibia, Raul Chavez, Brian Dopirak, Randy Ruiz, John McDonald, Joey Gathright, Jeremy Reed, Travis Snider.

For complete Blue Jays coverage this spring, make sure you’re reading bluejays.com and following me on Twitter at @MLBastian. You can also find spring photos on TwitPic.com.

~JB

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Game 11: Jays at Tigers

TORONTO AT DETROIT
at 1:05 p.m. ET in Lakeland

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (6-4)
1. Jarrett Hoffpauir, 3B
2. Brad Emaus, 2B
3. Jeremy Reed, RF
4. Randy Ruiz, 1B
5. Brian Dopirak, DH
6. Travis Snider, LF
7. Chris Aguila, CF
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Tyler Pastornicky, SS

Pitching: Marc Rzepczynski

Tigers.gifTIGERS (6-6)
1. Scott Sizemore, 2B
2. Johnny Damon, LF
3. Magglio Ordonez, RF
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5. Carlos Guillen, DH
6. Brandon Inge, 3B
7. Alex Avila, C
8. Casper Wells, CF
9. Gustavo Nunez, SS

Pitching: Armando Galarraga

~JB

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