Limping Jays Still Must Play Schedule
|STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR|
|Don't sweat the injuries. But the Jays must act.|
If this was a game of Texas Hold 'Em, the Jays' current pitching rotation would be the equivalent of going all in with 7-2 unsuited. They can't even count on a simple "ace-high", what with Roy Halladay going on the 15-day DL (right groin), joining Casey Janssen (right shoulder) and Scott Downs (big toe).
But how bad is the Jays' situation? Not as bad as it looks, although GM J.P. Ricciardi needs to step up and sign one of those veteran free agents out there, who's working out and looking for a meaningful job (e.g. Pedro). Even when Halladay returns on June 28, Ricciardi will need a viable No.2 if they are to compete.
Consider that the interim rotation comprises a 31-year old converted reliever and four rookies. Here they are, with their major-league career records in parentheses: Brian Tallet (11-12); Ricky Romero (3-3); Scott Richmond (6-6); Brett Cecil (2-1) and Brad Mills (0-0). That's a combined five-man CAREER record of 22-22. Combined the five earn less than $4 million. A.J. Burnett has already earned more than that from the Yankees in three months this year.
That said, here are the reasons for Jays' optimism.
1. They did the right thing with Halladay. If he had made his Saturday start with an aching groin, having to swing the bat and run the bases in addition to throwing 100-plus pitches, it could have resulted in something more severe. As it is if he comes back on the 28th, he will have basically missed two starts.
2. Janssen needed to be taken out of the rotation. The injury made that decision for them. Janssen was up in the strike zone with enough pitches that in the major leagues he could not expect to be successful. His post-game demeanour was one of being lost. When he returns it should be in middle relief.
3. Jason Frasor is a much better pitcher now than he was in 2004 when he recorded 17 saves for the Jays. He has added that funky split-change thing with the little-hand grip. That extra off-speed pitch to go with a 94 m.p.h. fastball and a decent breaking ball allows him to fill in while Downs nurses his toe back to health. As for Downs, what kind of a damn elite athlete sprains a toe breaking from the batter's box? Come on.
And that's another thing. I'm convinced that Cito Gaston's negative attitude towards inter-league play accounts in no small measure for his team's lack of success. Cito has been whining about his pitchers having to hit and the disadvantage AL teams face in NL parks. The players hear that and have an extra excuse when they fail to win.
Other AL teams take no prisoners in inter-league play. Why not the Jays? In '97, the first year of inter-league play and Gaston's last season with the Jays in his first go-round, he was 4-11 against NL teams. He had 11 years off to brood about it. Then he took over in Pittsburgh from John Gibbons and immediately was thrown back into the inter-league maelstrom. They came back last year for two series wins vs. the Braves and Reds, but heading into today's matinee in Philly, Cito is 11-21 vs. NL teams -- not counting '92 and '93 when, of course, in the most meaningful inter-league play of all, he was 8-4 vs. the Braves and Phillies in the World Series.
As for Alex Rios, the guy is a total disaster on the bases. It started when he was safe at second on a fielder's choice on the last homestand, but wandered off the bag and was tagged out. It continued when he was caught stealing third, representing the tying run in the ninth inning. Cito took the blame, but that's just because that's what he does. He was pissed. Then there was the failure to launch on a sacrifice fly in the eighth against the Phillies on Tuesday that would have tied the game. Then there was last night as he trotted up the line and stood on second base with Shane Victorino making the catch right in front of him in centre field, throwing to first for the easy double play. In the words of Lupe Fiasco: "If you are what you say you are, a Superstar, then have no fear."