On Tuesday, Brett Cecil became the ninth starting pitcher to toe the rubber for the Jays – and yet they are in first place overall in the AL. That is even more amazing because at spring training they only had three starters considered ready-for-prime-time. And of those, two are not even here right now – Jesse Litsch (disabled) and David Purcey (optioned). It’s ironic that even though Doc is the only one with the same nickname as one of Snow White’s little pals, Halladay is also the starter standing the tallest. The nine Jays’ starters have been Halladay, Litsch, Purcey, Brian Burres, Robert Ray, Scott Richmond, Ricky Romero, Brian Tallet and Cecil. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hey Richard,
In looking at the schedule, it appears as though Doc and AJ might be squaring-off next Tuesday. Could this be the best pitching match-up storyline of the year thus far? Which deity can we thank for this occurrence?
Brian Smiley, Toronto
A: The Jays/Yankees schedule certainly has it set up for a classic early season Roy Halladay-A.J. Burnett pitching match-up. It would feature the understated mentor, Halladay facing his flashy, well paid, sometimes over the top protégé, Burnett. I have done a little research and apparently a silent prayer of thanks should be offered to Our Lady of What Goes Around Comes Around.
Jays fans, to prepare for this beautiful game (and it would be a major upset if it doesn’t happen), some suggestions would be to purchase your tickets right now, practice some clever ad-libs to yell in A.J.’s direction while he warms up, draw up some clever signage to hold up and get yourself on TV (e.g. bunches of $$$ signs, but watch the accompanying language).
Finally, on the off-night when the Jays travel back from the West Coast, rent the movie The Color of Money, starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. Check it out. This Doc-AJ matchup is virtually a remake of that 1986 pool room classic with Newman (Doc) as Fast Eddie Felson and Cruise (A.J.) as Vince Lauria. It’s the veteran hustler teaching lessons in life to the young cocky, insecure pool hustler. There’s one review of that movie that says it all: “despite their flaws we don’t end up hating any of these people, because the intentions (even the selfish ones) aren’t really that bad. It’s a real, ‘I do for you; you do for me (but I want more)’ kind of message.”
The Rogers Centre should be rockin’. Only a miracle of weather, scheduling or nerves could prevent this matchup from occurring. Stay tuned.
Q: Jason Frasor seems to be in the doghouse for a couple of years. He started the season 4-0 and had an ERA of 0.00. Did the Jays coaching staff misjudge him? Would they also be misjudging Jeremy Accardo?
Alex Lee, Hong Kong
A: Frasor has emerged as a fairly reliable sixth-seventh-inning option. With the injury to B.J. Ryan, Downs has moved into the closer’s role and Frasor and Jesse Carlson are the co-setup men with Brandon League in the mix. Frasor’s emergence has more to do with his new split-circle change that he perfected in the off-season in sessions with former major-leaguer Doug Bochtler. The former doghouse dweller had a lot to do with Jason’s shaky body language which almost made it seem like he was not happy to be out on the mound in some situations. He’s been much better about that this year, but increased confidence and success will do that for you.
I was wondering if the Rogers Centre has a policy about opening the roof in the spring? There have been a few games already, where it has been gorgeous weather, yet the roof remains closed. The fan experience is much better, and could attract more fans to the games.
Mike A., Toronto
I have a huge pet peeve and I wonder if you have the answer. I am not a big fan of the SkyDome in general – refuse to call it by the new name. Anyway, it is at least a tolerable ballpark when the roof is open but when the roof is closed it is like watching baseball in your basement – dank, dark and ZERO atmosphere. Why are the Blue Jays so loathe to open the damn roof? A beautiful sunny day like yesterday and the roof was closed! I refuse to go to a game if I know the roof will be shut and at some point I know I am going to have a huge argument with the staff about getting my ticket price returned because I do not want to watch baseball in a basement when it is sunny and relatively warm outside. Why do they not just state if it is not raining the roof will be open? Are Toronto fans such wimps that they can’t stand a little cool weather? Is the climate that much different in Detroit? Or Cleveland? You dress for the situation. I thought the idea of a dome was to keep the game on even in inclement weather. I did not think it would be used on a 15 degree day sunny day in May. Okay so it is cooler down by the lake – agreed. Wear a sweater and or jacket. For God’s sake we are Canadians! This is not the first time I have seen this happen. Baseball is a beautiful game – partly due to it being played outdoors and to it’s signaling a new beginning to the year (spring etc.etc.). With the dome closed it is hard to tell what season it is outside.
A: The theme of the two questions above has been repeated over and over this spring. There have even been some rumours that the roof is broken and will remain closed all summer. That was shot down by Jays vice-president Jay Stenhouse. He insists that it is a matter of “new software and operating drives” and that the testing has not been completed. Normally I would press the B.S. buzzer on that one, but Jay said that it should be ready by the next homestand. Hopefully the next retraction will be the roof and not that statement.
The question remains, why could the testing not have been done in March between the WBC and Opening Day? It even smells better at the park when the roof is open, with a little spring breeze and some real weather. Someone else suggested there were union issues to opening the roof. I thought there was just a button to be pushed. I remember at Olympic Stadium there were other unique issues during the late spring to opening the roof, especially on weekends. Since the Expos were tenants to La Regie des Installations Olympiques, they were the only ones with les clefs pour le toit. And the catch vingt-deux was that on weekends when the weather was nice in April and May the only guys with the keys for the roof were in the Eastern Townships at their brand new cottages that had been built on the payola from Roger Taillebert’s original over-inflated construction contracts.
But maybe Doc and A.J. will be an outdoor classic.
Q: I was thinking about BJ Ryan's season to this point, and reading and hearing about how he's done, his career is over, his velocity is down and the Blue Jays should get rid of him for whatever they can get, etc. But isn't he still recovering from Tommy John surgery? Isn't it possible that his velocity may still come back? The recovery time for this type of surgery is typically 18-24 months, and although I can't remember exactly when he had the surgery, I know it hasn't been two years yet. Perhaps he was just brought back to the team too soon.
Patrick Lannon, Richmond Hill
A: The accepted recovery time for Tommy John elbow surgery is 10-12 months. Ryan’s surgery was on May 10, 2007. He did regain several miles per hour from the start of spring training until mid-April, but he is still not fast enough (89-91 m.p.h.) to be effective in the closer’s role. It is possible his velocity may come back if it turns out it was mechanical or he was squeezing the ball a little tight.
The Jays are paying him $10 million for the next two years. They owe him nothing when it comes to the closer’s role. If Downs is doing the job, they are not obligated to change. He could earn it again by being effective in the setup role and if Downs was unavailable.
Q: Mr. Griff,
Love the mailbag. Thanks for the insight. I am thrilled to have Cito back, and do believe he has made a difference simply by providing the guys with a leader who commands respect. Having said that, I have 2 major problems with his handling of the lineup.
Firstly, his avoidance of using pinch hitters has me reaching for the Prozac. The fact that he let Chavez hit in the 8th inning of that last game in KC representing the tying run, while Lyle or even Barajas and Rolen were sitting on the bench is inexcusable. Is he worried about damaging Raul's psyche as a hitter? Please don't tell me it is because he had scratched out a couple of hits.
Next, I cannot be the only person who thinks that Alex Rios does not belong in the 3-hole. With Hill and Scutaro getting on ahead of him, Alex is seeing the toughest pitches in every at bat, and he just does not have the discipline or skill set to succeed in that role. He still may be the stud we hope, but maybe he is better suited to batting 6th, or dare I say leading off. He did just steal 32 bases last year!
Here's hoping that he proves me wrong just in time for next week's mailbag.
Darren A., Toronto
A: Cito is not the master of in-game strategy, but there is no manager in history that has ever been great at everything. The Jays needed a psychologist that could get into the heads of the hitters and bring out the best and that’s what Cito brought. Part of that is to reinforce that positive feeling by not pinch-hitting for some guys whenever a pitcher comes in with the opposite hand. It’s impossible to quantify, but Gaston says that he would rather lose a game now and win several down the road. Who can say if that’s true. I agree with you on the pinch-hitting thing in Minny with Bautista and in K.C. with Chavez. He sees Rios as his No. 3 hitter and as long as Scutaro is doing the job at leadoff, there is no need in his mind to juggle the lineup. I see Rios as an eventual leadoff man.
Q: Hi Richard.
I know the Jays are knocking the ball around but what do you think about their stealing bases ability and moving runners along with bunts. The hot hitting will hit a cold front eventually.
Terry Fallat, Espanola, Ont.
A: It’s funny. Gaston at spring training talked about stealing more bases and about Hill bunting more to move runners along. But I have asked him several times about Hill and he said that the way he’s swinging the bat that he doesn’t want to take the bat out of his hands for even one at-bat. Who can argue? He was asked the other day by Mike Rutsey of the Sun about the team’s lack of steals and Cito’s response was quizzical, like he was so caught up in the roll that his hitters have been on that he didn’t even realize that the steal totals were that low. Once again, who can blame him? They are capable of both but have not yet seen the need. Once the bats cool off (if they do) you’ll see more of that.
Q: I know it’s difficult for the Blue Jays to admit because of the huge (probably too huge) contract they gave Vernon Wells, but when will the Blue Jays admit and/or realize that Vernon is a great number 2 or number 6 hitter, but not a number 4? He just doesn't seem to hit with runners on base and especially not with runners on base and 1 or 2 out.
Rob Landau, Toronto
A: I think he’s a 5-6 guy in this lineup. Like with Ryan, the Jays are compensating him well and don’t owe him being the cleanup guy, but Cito doesn’t want to play with his mind at this point.
Q: Hi Richard,
A couple of questions. From time to time I hear on the Jays' broadcasts that the Jays have doubts about Dustin McGowan being able to return as soon as they thought he would. But no medical evidence is ever offered in support of this. So on what basis are the Jays making their assessments of McGowan's readiness to return? Pain? Weakness? What?
Second question. Rios has been struggling at the plate. Okay, that's not good but he's still learning. But what has bothered me lately is that he seems to be regressing defensively. Fumbling catches, not throwing accurately to a base. What do you think is going on?
Arthur Menu, Sidney, B.C.
A: There is no need for medical evidence with McGowan. There is always residue from surgery even in a completely healthy shoulder that comes in the form of soreness, weakness and perhaps a little discomfort the morning after throwing. It does not mean the surgery was unsuccessful. It means that this particular patient is taking longer than another particular patient. The Jays are not making the assessments. McGowan’s shoulder is making the assessments.
As for Rios, I have seen signs of the same thing you’re talking about. It started when he took a rebound off the fence off the face on opening day. The next time a ball hit the fence, he ducked out of the way. But there are other incidents when a ball leaves the bat or you see him tracking the ball, knowing what he has done in the past, you think a play is going to be made a certain way and it’s not. Perhaps, subconsciously, he has been carrying some of his hitting woes into the field.
Q: Hey Richard,
I miss the Expos. Having grown up in Montreal with a passion for the 'spos I have had a chance to see a few great teams and/or players pass through Olympic Stadium. With such a bad reputation the Big Owe had/has in Montreal, was it really all that bad a place to play for the players? I mean, the city itself must have taken away from any of the negatives of the stadium. I even heard BJ Ryan reference Chez Paree just the other day at "Meet the Jays" so you know the famous city night-life must have been a plus to playing in Montreal. What do you think?
A: Those stars that played in Montreal still remember the experience fondly. They loved the city. They loved the fans. They loved the stadium access. But the field itself, the surface was always hard and fast. Its amazing Andre Dawson’s knees lasted as long as they did roaming that parking lot of an outfield. It was one of the big reasons he went to Wrigley Field as a free agent.
Like the Jays, the Expos always felt they had to go the extra kilometre in treating families and players well in order to overcome the “foreign country” aspect. I remember one of our team trainers having his wife in town for a couple of weeks in the summer. As he was walking up Stanley St. with his wife on his arm and the baby in a stroller, the regular doorman at the Chez Paree called out a greeting, calling him by name. She glared. That didn’t go over too well at home, of course, but it shows the small town feel Montreal always had for its Expos
Q: Hi Richard, I'm a Blue Jays fan and a regular at the Rogers Centre. In recent years I have made a point of visiting other MLB ballparks when I get the chance. However, since a trip last summer (Wrigley, Fenway, Citizens Bank, PNC, Milwaukee and Toledo), I find the Rogers Centre depressing. It’s not any one thing that bothers me, but it’s a lot of little things that boil down to this: baseball is not the central focus of the Rogers Centre experience. From keeping fans away from players, to charging $5 for an endlessly recycled magazine when all I want is the scorecard, the Rogers Centre sometimes feels like a mini-mall instead of a ballpark. Based on your experience, what your impressions of the Toronto in-game experience compared to other cities?
Michael Paris, Toronto
A: I agree that the Jays in-stadium experience is lacking compared to other MLB parks. I have heard complaints from fans that have been “shushed” by ushers for yelling at the other team’s players or umpires, with no profanity involved. This is not a damn library.
Being able to purchase a scorecard by itself should be an option. There is nothing that builds fan interest and attention more than scoring a ballgame. You’re into the action and understand the nuances, but if you have three people in a family group and you have to buy three magazines to score the game, that sucks.
On Monday, the Jays were rallying in the late innings, the Tribe was making a pitching change and the scoreboard had a 45-second bit with that stupid Ace in a tree, with complete silence except for the annoying occasional tweeting of a bird. Then Ace takes a birdhouse and sucks the birdseed out of it. That’s just plain ignorance of where the game is and what the crowd needs. The place should have been rocking as the pitcher warmed up and the Jays rallied. Instead they were looking around for where that stupid bird noise was coming from. Other parks give their fans some credit for knowing what to do at any given time. The Rogers Centre gives their fans no credit for being baseball fans. It’s insulting.
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