April 2010

Game 4 lineups: Jays at Orioles

TORONTO AT BALTIMORE
at 3:05 p.m. ET
Camden Yards






BlueJaysRetro.gifBLUE JAYS (2-1, – GB)

1.. Jose Bautista, RF
2. Alex Gonzalez, SS
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. John Buck, C
7. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
8. Travis Snider, LF
9. John McDonald, 2B

Pitching: Brandon Morrow (0-0, -.–)


OriolesRetro.jpgORIOLES (1-2, 1.0 GB)
1. Brian Roberts, 2B
2. Adam Jones, CF
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Miguel Tejada, 3B
5. Luke Scott, LF
6. Matt Wieters, C
7. Nolan Reimold, DH
8. Garrett Atkins, 1B
9. Cesar Izturis, SS

Pitching: Brad Bergesen (0-0, -.–)

~JB

Covering the Bases: Game 3

WellsTrot2.jpgFIRST: En fuego. I mean, what else is there to say?

Vernon Wells: Three games. Four homers. Six runs. Seven RBIs. And one big smile as he trotted around the bases on Thursday.

“It’s cool to hit homers, but I’m not going to hit homers all year long like that,” Wells said. “So I’m going to enjoy them while they come.”

We should take a cue from Wells himself and enjoy this while we can. Not even an Albert Pujols-Roy Halladay Hybrid Cybernetic Baseball Organism could maintain this type of pace all year long.

So enjoy it, Jays fans. Vernon Wells might “be back.” He might not. We’re still really early in the season. There is no denying that Vernon III is looking and feeling great in the batter’s box right now.

Wells became the first player in Blue Jays history to launch at least one home run in three consecutive games to begin a season. The last time he accomplished the same feat in any stretch was August 2008.

SECOND: Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston made a couple mound visits today to talk things over with his pitcher — not to take him out. In the seventh, he headed out to calm down Ricky Romero after the young lefty threw a costly wild pitch and then issued a walk. Romero was admittedly rattled and said Gaston helped him regain his composure. In the ninth, Cito headed out to tell closer Jason Frasor not to let Hamilton beat him with the game on the line. “That’s all I said to him, ‘Just don’t let him beat you,’” Gaston explained. Frasor got a game-ending groundout to pick up his second save in as many games.

THIRD: The Blue Jays threw five wild pitches in Thursday’s win. FIVE. Not all of them appeared to be entirely on the pitchers, though. The wild pitch that led to Texas’ lone run in the seventh came on an errant slider from Romero, but catcher Jose Molina did not get in front of the ball. “He’s a pretty good catcher. It happens sometimes,” Gaston said. The Jays are fortunate in only came back to bite them once in the 3-1 win. And another thing, Jays hitters struck out 13 times. That’s all there is to say about that.

HOME: All spring long, Gaston preached that his club would be in good shape if the starters could last six or seven. Well, in all three games, Toronto’s starters have gone deep enough to put the game in the hands of the late-inning relievers. Twice it worked (there was that blown save in Game 1). So far, though, that’s a great sign for a Jays team that has a lot riding on its pitching staff this season. “Tat’s what we’re working for. If we can get to that seventh inning with the guys we have out there, we have a chance,” Gaston said.

…off to catch a flight to Baltimore.

~JB

Game 3 lineups: Jays at Rangers

TORONTO AT TEXAS
at 2:05 p.m. ET
Rangers Ballpark

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (1-1, 1.0 GB)
*1. Mike McCoy, 2B
2. Jose Bautista, RF
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
7. Alex Gonzalez, SS
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Travis Snider, LF

Pitching: Ricky Romero (0-0, -.–)

Rangers.jpgRANGERS (1-1, 0.5 GB)
1. Julio Borbon, CF
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Ryan Garko, 1B
4. Vladimir Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. David Murphy, LF
7. Taylor Teagarden, C
8. Andres Blanco, 2B
9. Elvis Andrus, SS

Pitching: C.J. Wilson (0-0, -.–)

*Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill was a late scratch due to right hamstring tightness. The team says Hill is considered day to day. Hill only missed four games in 2009.

~JB

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Covering the Bases: Game 2

WellsTrot.jpgFIRST: Is Vernon Wells back?

Through two games, the Jays center fielder has gone 5-for-7 with three homer, five runs scored and six RBIs. Oh, and he helped fund the construction of two homes for eight underprivileged families on his day off.

“It’s only two days,” Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was quick to remind.

Maybe so. But it took Wells 17 games o reach three homers a year ago. It had been two seasons since he had a multi-homer game or homered in consecutive contests. You can already check those feats off the list for 2010.

Here’s what we know for sure. He had surgery on his left wrist and is feeling great. He looked strong all spring. And, we learned tonight that hitting coach Dwayne Murphy made a tweak to Wells’ swing at the end of the spring. Wells is bringing his hands back more, transferring his weight better, and is feeling very comfortable right now.

“[I have] a little more rhythm at the plate,” he said. “I can tell if I’m late. I can tell if I’m on time.”

And as far as being open and willing to take Murph’s advice?

“He tells me something and we go and work on it,” Wells said. “I’ll take as many swings as possible until I can’t swing the bat anymore. And we’ll start over again the next day.”

Is it early? Heck yes. But these are all good omens.

SECOND: There was a lot of criticism around the ol’ blogosphere (and in my inbox) about Brian Tallet being named the No. 2 starter. The Jays said a main reason was due to Tallet’s ability to eat up innings and the fact that he will take the ball in any situation, has experience, and has shown resilience after poor outings or innings.

Pretty sure Tallet exemplified all of that in his first start of the season. It wasn’t always pretty, especially when he allowed back-to-back, game-tying homers in the fourth to erase the 3-1 lead he was just handed. But, after that, Tallet set down 10 of 11 hitters. Did he walk three? Sure. But he also turned in 6 2/3 innings, struck out six and bridged the gap the late-inning relievers.

That’s precisely what the Jays are hoping to have from Tallet as long as he’s in the rotation.

THIRD: The error that third baseman Edwin Encarnacion made in the opener was iffy. I thought it could’ve been an infield single. The one he made on Wednesday night in the first inning? Yeah, ummm, right through the wickets. He’s now on pace for 162 errors. That’d be some sort of record. Obviously, EE won’t commit an error every night, but the three errors (two on one play in the seventh) that the Jays made as a whole this time around didn’t help Toronto’s cause at all in Game 2. Defense needs to show improvement.

HOME: Jason Frasor received a bit of redemption in the ninth inning. Wells’ second homer gave the Jays’ a three-run cushion, which was a great situation for Frasor in his first outing since Monday’s blown save. The closer gave up a leadoff double, but then retired the next three hitters to notch Save No. 1 in 2010. Frasor said his command was drastically better than in Monday’s debacle.

“No doubt about it,” Frasor said. “I located the fastball. I felt like I could put it anywhere. I just feel so much better when I have my changeup. I feel like I got a swing and miss on it. It just helps me so much when that’s working. It’s just two completely different pitchers.

There was also a completely different pitcher warming up in the bullpen while Frasor worked with the runner on second base. Gaston had Casey Janssen getting loose with one out. The manager said later that, “if that had got out of hand, I got Janssen up just in case.”

Was Frasor cool with that?

“I didn’t know Casey was warming up,” said Frasor, who sounded reacted with surprise when we told him Janssen was loosening up in the ninth.

Frasor was careful with how he responded.

“I hope they trust me,” he said. “I guess if I’m the manager, I might have somebody loose just in case. I don’t blame him for that. It worked out.”

~JB

Game 2 lineups: Jays at Rangers

TORONTO AT TEXAS
at 8:05 p.m. ET
Rangers Ballpark

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (0-1, 1.0 GB)
1. Jose Bautista, RF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. John Buck, C
7. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
8. Alex Gonzalez, SS
9. Travis Snider, LF

Pitching: Brian Tallet (0-0, -.–)

Rangers.jpgRANGERS (1-0, — GB)
1. Julio Borbon, CF
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, LF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Chris Davis, 1B
7. Joaquin Arias, 2B
8. Taylor Teagarden, C
9. Elvis Andrus, SS

Pitching: Rich Harden (0-0, -.–)

~JB

Covering the Bases: Game 1

Frasor.jpg“Covering the Bases” is a new feature I plan on doing after games this season. I will address four things learned or witnessed in each contest, similar to the more often-used Good, Bad and the Ugly format. Hopefully it will generate some good debate and discussion.

—————————————

FIRST: Jason Frasor blew his first save opportunity of the season. Oh no! Now his trade value with sink! Or he won’t be worth a compensation pick! There’s a closer controversy! Give the job to Kevin Gregg! Give it to Scott Downs!

It’s one game, folks. Don’t go pushing  the panic button just yet.

When Frasor (right, photo courtesy of Getty Images) has command of his changeup, he can be one of the best in the biz. It’s best to write this one off for now and see how he develops as the closer as the season goes on. Did he look great on Sunday? No. Did  the Rangers tear the cover off the ball? No.

One thing you can count on, though, is that Frasor can deal with a poor outing better now than a few years ago. He said he’d prefer not to have two days before the next game, but Frasor has learned how to have a short memory — something he struggled with when he was younger.

“That’s the product of blowing a lot of games,” Frasor said. “You kind of learn how to deal with it. Unfortunately, I have 48 hours to think about it. But I’m six years older than I was when I first started — first started blowing games. It’s a little easier now.”

SECOND: It was no fun no matter how you slice it, but Frasor felt especially awful about how Monday’s opener ended due to the great performance from Shaun Marcum. In his first start for the Jays since September 2008, Marcum carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He allowed three runs on two hits with six strikeouts and one walk. It was exactly the type of showing Toronto hopes to see from its new staff leader throughout this season.

“It was a lot of fun,” Marcum said. “I never expected that. I don’t think anybody ever expects to have a no-hitter going. All in all, I felt good.”

THIRD: A lof of fans might be quick to make a big deal about the E-5 that will appear in the box score of Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Rangers. It didn’t come back to bite the Jays at all, but third baseman Edwin Encarnacion — much criticized for his defense — made an error in the fourth inning. Depending on who you ask, it could have been ruled an infield single. It was a hard-hit grounder from Michael Young that Encarnacion bobbled, retrieved and threw off target to first base. At first look, I thought it was an infield hit.

HOME: As promising as Marcum’s performance was, Blue Jays fans probably loved seeing the great offensive showings from Vernon Wells and Adam Lind. The 3-for-3 showing from Lind, who belted a solo homer and also drew an intentional walk, was more expected. There’s a reason Toronto just handed him a long-term contract. The showing from Wells — 3-for-4 with one homer and three RBIs — was a pleasant surprise. If the Jays are going to outperform expectations this year, Wells will need to have a great season.

Wells believes he’s going to have plenty of chances to succeed with Jose Bautista, Aaron Hill and Lind hitting in the three spots in front of him. “It’s fun to watch. I’m going to have a lot of opportunities to drive in some runs with those three guys ahead of me. Hopefully I’ll drive in a few more than I did today.”

~JB

Opening Day Lineups

TORONTO AT TEXAS
at 2:05 p.m. ET
Rangers Ballpark

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (0-0, 0.5 GB)
1. Jose Bautista, RF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. John Buck, C
7. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
8. Alex Gonzalez, SS
9. Travis Snider, LF

Pitching: Shaun Marcum (0-0, -.–)


Rangers.jpgRANGERS (0-0, — GB)
1. Julio Borbon, CF
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, LF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Chris Davis, 1B
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
8. Andres Blanco, 2B
9. Elvis Andrus, SS

Pitching: Scott Feldman (0-0, -.–)

~JB

Ex-Game 2 lineups: Jays at Astros

TORONTO AT HOUSTON
at 2:05 p.m. ET, Minute Maid Park

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (11-13-2)
1. Jose Bautista, RF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
7. Travis Snider, LF
8. Alex Gonzalez, SS
9. Jose Molina, C

Pitching: Brandon Morrow

Thumbnail image for Astros.jpgASTROS (13-14-2)
1. Michael Bourn, CF
2. Kaz Matsui, 2B
3. Hunter Pence, RF
4. Carlos Lee, LF
5. Geoff Blum, 1B
6. Pedro Feliz, 3B
7. Cory Sullivan, DH
8. Humberto Quintero, C
9. Tommy Manzella, SS

Pitching: Bud Norris

————————————-

JAYS SIGN LIND TO 4-YEAR EXTENSION

Contract Breakdown:

2010: $400K base salary, $600K signing bonus
2011: $5 million salary
2012: $5 million salary
2013: $5 million salary
2014: $7 million salary or $2 million buyout
2015: $7.5 million salary or $1 million buyout
2016: $8 million salary or $500K buyout

Guaranteed: $18 million over four years
Potential worth: $38.5 over seven years

~JB

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Notes from Houston


Thumbnail image for MMP.jpgMinute Maid Park

Last year, in his final start of Spring Training on March 29, Ricky Romero slipped into a based loaded jam with no outs on the road against the Astros. The young lefty struck out Miguel Tejada, and then did the same to Geoff Blum. Pudge Rodriguez then grounded out to end the sixth-inning threat.

That showing helped earn Romero a spot in Toronto’s rotation.

On Friday night in Houston, Romero found himself in a bases loaded jam against the same Astros with one out in the third inning. Slugger Carlos Lee stepped into the batter’s box and promptly struck out. Romero then forced an easy fly out to right field off the bat of Pedro Feliz to escape unscathed.

RR.jpgMight Romero have won a job with that turn of events again?

“I think I did,” Romero said with a laugh. “It definitely feels good.”

Romero joked, because he entered Spring Training with a job secured after a 13-win season in 2009. After logging five solid innings in his final outing of the spring, Romero lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to 1.89. That’s not even including the seven shutout innings he threw last time out.

So what if that was a simulated game in an indoor batting cage…

Against the Astros, Romero did not have his best stuff, and he was quick to roll his eyes and shake his head when thinking about the three walks he issued (one to leadoff the second inning). What was good about Friday’s performance was that Romero managed to get by without pinpoint command.

“It goes to show you that your stuff is plenty good enough,” he said. “You don’t need to do extra. When I settle down, when I’m calm and when I’m under control, I feel like my pitches are sharp. It’s just those few times when I kind of get out in front of myself and kind of rush a little bit that I get in trouble.”

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston liked the fact that Romero fought through command problems and fashioned a decent outing anyway.

“Ricky didn’t have his best location tonight, but he battled out there,” said the skipper. “I think every time he goes out there he learns something. I think tonight he learned a little bit about himself. He was rushing a little bit and I think the last two innings he settled down and pitched well.”

FRASOR FEELING GOOD: On March 14, Blue Jays closer Jason Frasor simply could not find his changeup. So what did he do? He kept throwing it… Over. And over. And over. What happened? Four runs on four hits, including one homer, with two walks and only one out recorded in a fortgettable appearance against the Braves.

“I just kept going with it and it wasn’t there,” Frasor said.

The changeup — for Frasor it’s more of a splitter-changeup hybrid — was the pitch that helped the righty post a career year in 2009. It helps complement his overpowering fastball and sharp slider and it is a big reason why he is now Toronto’s closer in a contract year.

But it was missing, and Frasor was getting worried.

“At the beginning of spring, when games started, I was like, ‘I’m OK. I feel pretty good,’” Frasor said.  “Then, in the middle weeks, I was a little worried, honestly. I just didn’t have a good feel for the changeup.”

Lately, though, Frasor is feeling much better. On Friday night, he entered the game with two outs, a runner on first and the Jays holding a 3-2 lead. After walking the first hitter he faced, Frasor induced a groundout to end the inning. Stuff-wise, Frasor is feeling much more confident right now.

“I feel like I’m right where I need to be going into Opening Day,” Frasor said. “I was worried there for a minute, though.”

Bringing Frasor into the game with a runner on base in the middle of an inning was something pitching coach Bruce Walton wanted to do. Frasor said it was good to experience that type of situation before the season starts. At first, it looked like Frasor might have been coming in for a multi-inning save.

Frasor only logged one-third of an inning, though, and Gaston said — with setup man Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg in the fold — he doesn’t plan on using anyone for a multi-inning save unless it’s absolutely necessary.

“Right now, we have the luxury of having three guys down there,” Gaston said. “So it shouldn’t be a problem unless everybody is burned out. Then you might have to do it. But you wouldn’t really want to do that.”

CUTTING UP: Lefty Brian Tallet keeps getting name-dropped this spring. Within the past couple weeks, Brett Cecil said he started trying out a cut fastball that he learned from Tallet. On Friday, Romero said he is also throwing a cutter now — one he learned from Tallet as well.

“We’ve been talking about it,” Romero said. “It was more just where to put your fingers and how to release it. He’s got a good one. I’ve played catch with him before and he throws it and it’s just like, ‘Wow.’ It’s a pretty good one when it can be almost the same as your fastball, but then has that late cut.

“I feel like right now I have that good movement on it, but it’s just a matter of working on it.”

Working on the cutter dates back to last season for Romero, who had discussions with former Jays ace Roy Halladay about the pitch. Romero said the fact that he and Tallet are both lefties has helped him develop the pitch. Ricky did not throw a cutter at all last year. Now, it’s part of his regular arsenal.

“It’s been a big pitch for me,” Romero said. “If I get the hang of it, I think it’s going to be a good weapon for me throughout the year.”

BIRD FEED: RHP Brandon Morrow starts on Saturday in his final tuneup for the regular season. It will give the Jays one last look at the pitcher to determine if he is completely over the right shoulder fatigue he battled this spring. … GM Alex Anthopoulos arrived in Houston Friday evening and met up with the club. He will be monitoring Morrow and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion (left wrist) to decided if either player might need to open on the DL. … The Jays reportedly signed Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria weeks ago. With Opening Day on Monday, and the GM now in town with the team, might an official announcement be coming within the next few days? … Shortstop John McDonald is not with the Jays in Houston. He is back home in Connecticut to be with his ailing father, Jack, who is battling liver cancer. Johnny Mac will join the Jays in Arlington for Sunday’s workout before Monday’s opener. … RHP Shawn Camp was with the team on Friday and logged an inning, but he will not be with the team on Saturday. Camp will be heading home to attend the baptism of his new baby daughter, born a little more than a week ago. He’ll be back with the team a day later. … Second baseman Aaron Hill has homered in three of his past four games. Hill belted a two-run shot to left field against the Astros on Friday night. … Jose Bautista went 2-for-5 to raise his spring average to .436. … Gaston said Friday’s lineup will be the Opening Day lineup: 1. Bautista RF, 2. Hill 2B, 3. Adam Lind DH, 4. Vernon Wells CF, 5. Lyle Overbay 1B, 6. John Buck, C, 7. Encarncion 3B, 8. Alex Gonzalez SS, 9. Travis Snider LF.

EASY DOES IT: In the fourth inning on Friday, Romero sprinted toward a grounder chopped to his left and made a diving stab at the ball, landing hard on the grass. Hill was able to snatch up the ball and make a quick throw to first for the out.

“I almost had it,” Romero said with a grin. “Almost.”

Gaston is all for aggressive play, but three days before Opening Day?

“Yeah, I don’t like that,” said Gaston, shaking his head.

QUOTABLE: “Aaron’s learning to become a great hitter. He’s starting to learn how to sit on pitches, look for pitches. It’s the same thing we talk about all the time, having an idea up there. He’s starting to have a great idea up there.” –Gaston, on Hill

~JB

Ex-Game 1 lineups: Jays at Astros

TORONTO AT HOUSTON
at 8:05 p.m. ET, Minute Maid Park

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (11-13-1)
1. Jose Bautista, 3B
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. John Buck, C
7. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
8. Alex Gonzalez, SS
9. Travis Snider, LF

Pitching: Ricky Romero


Thumbnail image for Astros.jpgASTROS (13-14-1)

1. Michael Bourn, CF
2. Jeff Keppinger, 2B
3. Hunter Pence, RF
4. Carlos Lee, LF
5. Pedro Feliz, 1B
6. Jason Michaels, DH
7. Chris Johnson, 3B
8. J.R. Towles, C
9. Tommy Manzella, SS

Pitching: Brett Myers

~JB

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