Opening Day II on Tuesday night was a huge success for the Jays at the Rogers Centre. Conservative Jays’ officials said they had been expecting around 35,000 fans even as late afternoon rolled into evening, but the public surprised the club (but not me) with a huge walkup crowd, swelling the gate for Doc and A.J. to just under 44,000. The game didn’t disappoint with a nice baseball rhythm dictated by two superior pitchers. But in the end, the sublime teacher beat the flaky student. What message could Halladay send to Burnett after out-dueling him in that masterful 5-1 work of art? In the words of pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) to his slick young protégé, Vince Lauria (Tom Cruise), in the '86 movie, The Color of Money: “You gotta have two things to win. You gotta have brains and you gotta have balls. Now, you got too much of one and not enough of the other.” On to the mail bag.
Q: Hey Richard,
A couple questions regarding 22-year-old Brett Cecil. Firstly, how does a guy who seemingly can't get minor-leaguers out (an 8-something ERA for Vegas) come up and give us the two performances that he has? Granted they were against the Indians and A's, but major-leaguers nonetheless. Could it be that his focus really wasn't with the 51's and had 'bigger' things on his mind, like the big leagues?
Secondly, in watching his start vs. the A’s, Cecil makes no effort to hide the baseball. The ball is in plain sight (to righties more so) and I was wondering if through tape that teams will figure him out eventually. Pat and Jamie alluded to it in the broadcast, but will Brad Arnsberg have to tweak Cecil’s delivery? If so, what will that do to the development of a 22-year-old?
Marino F., Toronto
A: There are various factors at work in the fairly common cases of a horsebleep minor-league pitcher rising to the majors and excelling, especially if he knew that he was just down on the farm to get some work in and to stretch out his number of innings before getting to The Show. That knowledge of impending promotion if it has been promised by the big club is invariably a deterrent on “focus,” on the task at hand, and focus is always a huge factor for a pitcher.
Then there’s the fact of coming to the major leagues and being helped out by superior defence he didn't have before. The same batted balls that were base hits in the minors are all of a sudden outs in the majors. That’s a fact. Then there’s the adrenaline at work in making your major-league debut and beyond. There’s the sudden responsibility thrust upon youngsters of being treated like a relied upon elite athlete instead of being coddled with baby-step pitch counts as Cecil was all of last year in the minors. They thought they were preparing him for 2010.
Cito Gaston does not baby his pitchers. In fact, he doesn’t even like pitchers as a species. He admitted earlier this year that in all the springs that he came to training camp as a Jays' guest coach in Dunedin, the only pitcher he ever talked to was Doc. So when Cecil, in his debut against the Tribe, reached five innings and 80 pitches, instead of shaking his hand and slapping him on the back and taking him out, Gaston sent him right back out for the sixth, ending up with 96 pitches and a feeling of being a real major-league pitcher.
As for Cecil tipping his pitches, that bad habit of showing his grip to hitters during his delivery has been no secret to the organization. But would they rather have quality pitches coming out of his hand that may be slightly tipped a split second before arrival or a modified delivery that produces lesser quality on his entire repertoire but without tipping. Until they find a delivery that Cecil is comfortable with, he will continue to tip. They are working on tweaking the delivery and it is a problem.
Q: Hi Richard,
I know I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, but humour me for a second if you will. Cecil's sparkling start on Sunday has made me think a little about something that I can't recall ever thinking before as a Jays fan - an abundance of real quality starting pitchers.
When (or maybe if) Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan return, the Jays could conceivably have seven solid starters from which to choose. Strutting out a staff of Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, Marcum, McGowan, Cecil, Ricky Romero, Scott Richmond is definitely something to flutter a wing at, and that's without even including converted bullpen arms like Brian Tallet and Casey Janssen. If such a situation arises, what do you see JP and his merry men doing? Who gets left out of the Starting 5, and does he package a few for an established position player (power hitting 3rd baseman, maybe)?
Adam G., Mississauga
A: This is just a personal assessment, but if I was building a Jays rotation from among that group of nine for this year and beyond, I would take the healthy quintet of Halladay, Litsch, Marcum, Cecil and Romero as my starters.
I will admit that the late-spring emergence and early-season performance of Romero was an eye-opener. The early season performance of Richmond was also a pleasant surprise, but I’m not sold yet on his long-term viability as an overlooked rookie starter at his age. I think Janssen’s eventual value lies in the bullpen. I think Tallet’s value may lie as trade bait in the off-season. As for McGowan, I think we need to wait and see how well his shoulder recovers before putting him in any of these groups. He still has a chance to be a stud.
I’m not sure that at this moment packaging excess starters is such a good idea. You need at least eight ready-for-prime-time starters at then top of an organization (Majors and Triple A) to handle injuries during the course of a season. The Jays are demonstrating that.
I was reading some comments about whether Tallet would return to the bullpen after impressive showings as a starter. Question: Do relievers aspire to become starters, or are they generally content with being relievers? Did Tallet ever hope to be a starter some day?
Don McElroy, Shanty Bay, Ontario
A: There’s a whole stratus of pitchers that aspires just to being in a major-league bullpen full-time. Those are guys that usually have just one or two quality pitches that can carry them effectively one time through the batting order. They are happy being in The Show and comfortable pitching in middle relief. Those guys are delighted to be the 11th or 12th pitcher on a major-league staff, getting major-league minimum and all the perks of ML travel and treatment.
Then there are the other bullpen guys that aspire to using bullpen time as a stepping-stone to the rotation. Tallet is one. Janssen is one. Scott Downs used to be one, but when asked during the past winter whether he would like a chance to start, Downs refused. He was already making good money as B.J. Ryan’s setup man and was quite good (and comfortable) at it.
Pitchers know that they need at least three above average pitches in their repertoire to last as major-league starters. Those bullpen guys that have that minimum usually want to, and are capable of starting. Tallet is one of those. He has been given the chance and has run with it.
Q: Hey Richard,
Love the blog and mailbags! If the Jays continue on this hot start, how do you see JP's future playing out? Would the Jays still let him go at the end of the season (as has been rumored) or do you see him sticking around for another tenure? I'm a believer that its Cito's doing this year and not JP's!
Dave Gosse, Grand Falls-Windsor, NL
A: Whether or not anyone feels Cito deserves most of the credit for the current Jays’ resurgence, the fact is that Gaston was on the team’s payroll all along and available to lead while Ricciardi handed the reins to first Carlos Tosca and then John Gibbons. This thinking in hindsight was more problematic during the later Gibbons years, especially after the Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly dustups when the then-manager's job status was most vulnerable.
Sure, it can be said that 29 other teams also passed on Gaston as manager, but the fact is that in the last few years, Cito had thrown his hands in the air and was not accepting offers to interview for open jobs, feeling he was just being called in as a token. The guy has two World Series rings. What else did you need to know in an interview? If someone wanted to offer him a major-league managing job, he was ready to listen, so it's clear the only team that really didn’t need to go through the interview process was the Jays. He was on the payroll.
As for Ricciardi's personal situation, he is already under contract for 2010, so next year is not the issue if they continue to perform well. But the dilemma will come if the Jays call him in and say “hang around for 2010” and J.P. points out that nobody likes a lame duck GM, so give me five more years. Therein lies the crisis for the Jays. They will not give him five more. With the current upswing of events, if Ricciardi does end up leaving after this season it will be a mutual parting based on not being willing to commit to another multi-year deal. The body of work to be judged is eight seasons (2002-09) not one.
Q: Hi Richard,
Just read that the lawsuit against Roberto Alomar has been dropped. It got me to thinking that he should be eligible for the Hall of Fame soon. Do you think he'll get in on the first ballot and would he pick to go in as a Jay?
Manny Wong, Toronto
A: Alomar was a far better baseball player than Ryne Sandberg and Sandberg is in the Hall of Fame. Robby is eligible for induction the first time this coming December and if he does not make it first ballot – maybe because of the spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck or the hissing incident with his ex-girlfriend, the professional arm wrestler from Queens, New York – it won’t be long before he does go in.
As for the choice of the cap that will be cast on his bronze bust at Cooperstown, it is no longer solely the choice of the player. The Hall of Fame itself also has a say. As such and with Alomar already expressing his preference for the Jays colours (although it was at a moment he was being honoured by the Jays) it is very likely that Alomar would become the first player to enter the Hall as a Blue Jay. Phil Niekro, Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield are other ex-Jays in the Hall.
Q: Having just read about Manny testing positive for banned substances and blaming it on a prescription prescribed by his doctor. I wonder if Manny will now sue the doctor for the $7.5 million he will lose during his 50-game suspension? I mean wouldn't you? That’s a lot of money to lose for someone who is innocent of any wrongdoing. I'm sure Manny's phone must be ringing off the hook from all the lawyers calling to represent him in court?
Doug Blacker, London
A: If, as ESPN.com reported, the drug of choice for Manny in his 50-game suspension was indeed a women's fertility drug sometimes used to re-start the production of testosterone following a steroids cycle (which as a masking agent is why it is included on the banned substance list), then that would allegedly suggest a pattern of alleged cover-up that likely and allegedly would have been a regular off-season process for Ramirez dating back to who knows when.
What went wrong this time? As a free agent this past winter, Manny may not have timed his masking cycle as well as he allegedly had in the past. There is mandatory PED testing within five days of all players reporting to spring training. The fact that Manny has not even suggested suing his doctor for lost income suggests that he knows what he did cannot be defended in a court of law. I would sue if I felt I had been mis-prescribed and it cost me $7.5 million. I would be on the line with Cellino and Barnes so fast, my man-boobs would spin.
Q: A technical baseball question, Richard. Friday night, in Oakland, first inning, Scoot doubles, then Hill flies out as Scoot tags and advances to third. An official AB for Hill, and an out recorded. Is the only sacrifice fly one that plates a run? Seems to me that Aaron advanced the runner, but gets no official recognition for it. Am I reading this right? Don't always agree with your opinions, but love your insight! Keep it up!
Bruce Spurrier, Fraser Lake, B.C.
A: First of all, I don’t even agree with the concept of a sacrifice fly at all, but in answer to your question, yes it is an official at-bat for Hill. His teammates appreciated Hill's useful out as can be seen with high fives and fist bumps whenever a player returns to the dugout after advancing his man. But back to the question of a sac-fly. Why reward the guy that lofts a soft flyball to a weak-armed outfielder for a run when you don’t give credit to a hitter who sees the middle infielders playing deep and grounds one out to shortstop scoring the runner from third base. He knew the situation and did his same job. What’s the difference? You’re giving the guy an RBI in both cases. Why reward him further with no at-bat? It makes very little sense. Sac-flies (with no AB) are only awarded when a run scores.
Q: Hello Richard, a friend of mine and I were having an argument and I was hoping for your input. We discussed which top three positional players you would rather have. I believed Adam Lind, Travis Snider and Aaron Hill as a trio was superior to the trio of Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and whomever the (Red Sox) third would be, maybe Jed Lowrie. Anyways, wanted to know your thoughts; I believe either three is good but maybe being a bit of a homer I chose the Jays trio.
Marc Oliver, Paris, France
A: I assume you’re talking about trios of “young” players. The Jays trio of Hill (27), Lind (25) and Snider (21) are all under 27. For the Red Sox, Pedroia and Ellsbury are both 25. None of their other current starting position players are 27 or younger. Lowrie qualifies but he’s on the DL.
As a duo, I would pick Ellsbury and Pedroia over any combination of two Jays. But they can’t match up when it gets to three. Just as an exercise, going around the division looking for position starters at 27 or younger, the Rays lead the way with B.J. Upton, Dioner Navarro, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford (he turns 28 in August). The Yanks have Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera The O’s have Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Felix Pie.
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