There's something about accompanying a major-league baseball team on a West Coast road trip that is soothing and peaceful. The weather always seems more perfect. There are never tarpaulin-covered fields or rain delays. Batting practice seems to unfold in slower motion with the sounds of bat on ball and ball on glove seeming clearer and crisper like listening on Bose speakers rather than Radio Shack. The sun starts to set with always some scenic backdrop out beyond the outfield fence, then it's game time. The flights are short, the days are long. Life is good. Onto the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard -
Great blog with a wide range of views and subjects. I'm interested in the young rotation the Jays have been rolling with this season, mostly successfully too. I'm wondering what happens when we roll into August/September - will the young starters get "shut down" the way some of them did last season? Do they have annual innings limits? What if somehow the Jays are still in touch with the wild card spot? Finally, do you see Brian Tallet keeping the long relief/spot starter role through the summer or can we expect to see Jesse Litsch or Zep back?
Jason Eckmire, St. Catharines
A: Interesting question re the “hitting the wall” theory for young starting pitchers. Last season was the first that the Jays actually shut pitchers down later in the season, but the difference is they were not playing for anything at the time. None of the Jays' five-man rotation has ever worked more than 180 innings in a season – the equivalent of 30 starts x six innings. There is enough depth in the organization where if they are not playing for a wild-card, they could afford to do it again and likely would. However the young pitchers that were also in the majors last season may be at the point where they can climb over that wall and compete in their regular turn in September if need be. GM Alex Anthopoulos has already demonstrated that he would prefer to err on the side of caution as with his decision to put Jesse Litsch on the 60-day disabled list so that he would have the full 12 months of recovery post-Tommy John surgery. As for Tallet, since he is not a part of the Jays' long-term plans, he will fill in at that role as long as needed and until a young home-grown is ready to take that role. There is no commitment to Tallet beyond that.
Q: I've noticed that Alex Gonzalez has this weird ritual. On nearly every pitch, just as the pitcher is in his windup, he quickly looks toward third base / left field, then looks back at the pitcher just in time to see the pitch. I've never seen anyone do this, and it strikes me as a crazy thing to do. Any idea why he does it? Has the coaching staff tried to get him to stop?
Lee Zimmerman, Ottawa
A: Everyone has their own triggers in hitting. It's highly individual, but as long as Gonzalez returns focus to the release point in time then coaches will not interfere. There are certain common themes that Dwayne Murphy and Cito Gaston look for in terms of successful hitting, but quirky little tics and traits are not among them.
Q: You wrote on Monday that the Jays plan to bring back Brian Tallet in the fifth starter slot on June 1st and potentially keep him there for June. This makes zero sense to me. I get having him start on June 1st, but why have him start over Marc Rzepczynski or even Jesse Litsch? Tallet is not going to be a future starter, while the other two are. Why not develop these guys more? What is Jesse Litsch gaining with another month in Las Vegas? Also why call up Purcey when he isn't even used to pitching more than one inning on back to back days. Is he a long-term answer to the 8th inning left handed reliever slot currently held by Scott Downs who is a free agent after this year?
Jason Sinnarajah, Tokyo, Japan
A: I was talking to an AL scout who asked if maybe the Jays had brought Purcey up to showcase him for a potential trade, but my belief is that the Jays are indeed interested in seeing if he could fill that Scott Downs role as lefthanded setup man. He opened eyes at spring training when he cut his repertoire down to fastball slider and went after hitters with his two best pitches for an inning. He can still pitch two innings which makes him valuable in a variety of ways. If he goes more than once through the order he has permission to mix in a few changeups to keep opponents off his two-pitch approach. As for Tallet as spot starter, development takes many forms. It is more than bringing a guy up to the majors and watching him fail when he's not yet ready to compete at the highest level. That's the pitching equivalent of throwing the baby into the pool to teach him how to swim. Some do. Some need to be rescued. Litsch has not pitched in the majors since last April and is not eligible to return until June 4 which with off days the way the Jays see it would mean only two starts in the entire month of June. Why not allow Tallet to fill that role then make another decision in July? Then again in his first Vegas start, Tallet allowed eight runs in an inning and a third.
Q: With some of these international signings, why is there so little mention of players being signed? I'm sure that guys as young as 16 are too far away to talk too much about. It's just odd that a team with its eyes on the future doesn't even mention half the time signings on their own site.
Brett Gill, London
A: There are some signings in Latin America and Asia that deserve recognition like shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and the sincere Jays' efforts for Aroldis Chapman. There are others that, as you say, are just 16-year-olds that will report to the Jays' academy or to extended spring training and are like any other of the 180 players under the organization's control at any time. I would react the other way if the Jays announced with a press release every international signing. Like what the heck are these guys doing? Patting themselves on the back for doing what every organization does. They have beefed up their international efforts and deserve credit for that, but keeping it low-key is the right move.
Q: Hello Richard,
With the news that Roy Oswalt is looking to be dealt, I wonder if he is a player the Jays would kick the tires on. I know he has a no-trade which could make a deal more difficult, but he seems like a pitcher who could impact the Jays this year if they are to stay in the hunt for the postseason, but has another year on his contract so it wouldn't be a complete rental situation. The Jays seem to be rich with young arms that a team going into a rebuild would covet. If Oswalt is a little too far-fetched, are there any other veteran arms the Jays would look at if they stay in the hunt? Cheers from the real west coast of Canada!
James Doyle, Tofino, B.C.
A: The Oswalt idea is beyond even kicking tires. This guy wants to go somewhere he can win right away and even if Jays fans know that the Jays are headed in the right direction with dreams of an immediate return, that's not good enough to tempt a guy like Oswalt. The Jays have inventory in young starting pitchers, but if Anthopoulos is going to dip into his reserve it needs to be for a talented young veteran player that is controllable for at least three more years. If it costs just money, the Jays will make a move in a heartbeat at the deadline if they are still single digits behind the wild-card lead. There are 18 listed free agent starting pitchers that don't even have an option year attached for 2011. As the deadline approaches and teams fall by the wayside, some of these guys could be available for the rest of their contracts and maybe a fringy type prospect.
With Jose Bautista swinging a really hot bat right now and Lyle Overbay still struggling. Why hasn't Gaston done a reorder to move Overbay down in the lineup and Bautista up. How would the current lineup look with a little tinkering of placing Bautista cleanup and moving Wells to 5th and Overbay to 6th? What are your feelings about a line up shift?
Scott Cochrane, Niagara on the Lake
A: I wrote a column about a lineup shift I would like to see last week. It had Lewis batting first, Gonzalez moving up to second, Hill to third, Wells, Lind, Bautista, Overbay, Encarnacion and Buck. Overbay will get a couple of days off because he looked horrible in a couple of games on the road trip and when he returns he should be moved down in the lineup. Loyalty is a wonderful trait that Cito possesses but it needs to be repaid by the player. He has had enough time and it's not working at five.
Q: Hi Richard,
I have often wondered, when the Blue Jays, or other teams for that matter, decide to cut someone, like Randy Ruiz or Merkin Valdez, or send someone down to the minors and call someone up, like Jeremy Reed, who makes these decisions? Is it Cito? Is it a committee of coaches and Cito? Is it the GM like Alex Anthopoulos? How do they decide who to call up? Can the GM veto such a decision if the manager wants it to happen?
Bruce Hutchison, Winnipeg
A: In some organizations, the manager has a more major role in who gets called up, but with the Jays it's really the decision of the GM. The manager can show how he feels about a player by burying him at the back of the bullpen or the end of the bench and when Anthopoulos notices and asks Gaston why, then he can send the player out and bring someone else in. In the Ruiz situation, A.A. was doing Ruiz a favour by letting him go to Japan and make more money in two years than he ever would have made in North America. The Jays received a few yen in return for allowing the move. The decision on who to call up is strictly the GM and his minor-league directors and scouts. All Gaston can do is let the GM know that he needs a player in such and such an area and the GM decides who. More and more the decisions with young players are made taking note of days of service to keep players from reaching arbitration or free agency too soon. Days of service that add up to 172 days count as a full year of service and six full years are eligible for free agency. Jeremy Accardo somehow ended up with three years and 170 days of service at the end of last season which is one reason he was royally p.o.'d.
Q: Hi Richard,
Do you think Brandon Morrow would benefit from taking a trip to AAA to iron out some of his issues. It seems like he's actively trying to improve as a pitcher, but I'd imagine it's really tough in the bigs; especially when the Jays clubhouse feels like they can contend. I'm going to assume he has options and can be sent down. Then I think the Jays could work around him in the rotation. If it's only for a few starts, they could skip him with an off day and maybe do a Casey Janssen/Shawn Camp combo. I did do a look at AAA for a spot starter and that seems like a bad idea. They really need a Dana Eveland type in the minors to call up. I think this idea could help out Morrow and the Jays this season. But, thanks for reading!
Jordan Bisasky, Baltimore
A: Morrow would benefit from a trip to the minors and it may well happen. But the thing is he throw 98 m.p.h. And has shown flashes of genius. However as long as he is working on arm slot and command a trip to the minors would not be the worst thing for him. When Litsch becomes eligible to return on June 4, that would become the best time to consider a move. If the plan is to limit Morrow to 160 innings because of his history, then a couple of weeks in the minors would not do him any harm. With Litsch up in his spot, Tallet could still play that swingman role in June until Morrow comes back and bumps the lanky lefty into the pen.
Q: Hi Richard,
What is your opinion on the DH rule? I am wondering why the players association has not pushed for the DH rule in the NL as it would create at least 16 more high paying jobs in the majors. Personally, I don't want to see a guy hitting a buck ten at the plate.
Donny Rosecity, Toronto
A: I never liked the DH rule because of my NL background for 23 years, but it has grown on me. I think instead of the NL adding the DH the easiest job creation move would be to add two players to the active roster and make it 27. The 25-man roster has been the same going back as far as I can remember and in the meantime teams have gone from 10 to 11 to 12 pitchers leaving benches looking pretty shoddy. The addition of two more players in the next basic agreement would allow 60 more jobs and would allow for a bench to add speed, power and defence that could make games more exciting in late innings when managers' hands are tied because of lack of flexibility and options.
Q: Hi Richard,
I enjoy your column very much. I have two questions of sort. First, I have noticed over many years, when the Jays have made the third out, our first baseman heads towards the dugout and "somebody" throws a ball to him to catch and bring to the dugout. Who is the "somebody" that throws a ball to our first baseman? Second question -- many years ago, when Toronto was in the International league as the Toronto Maple Leafs, I attended a double header in which the Toronto pitcher pitched both games, the year was roughly around 1940, and the pitcher was named Tom Anniz (I think). Do you have any records where a pitcher pitched in two games on the same day? Back in those days the first games of the double-header were only seven innings. Thank you.
William Scott, Fenelon
A: A coach or designated players flips the first baseman the ball and he keeps it inside his glove when he lays it down while his team hits. Then when he goes back out to his position again he has a ball to throw grounders to the infielders while his pitcher warms up. You were watching Maple Leafs six foot three inch lefthander Tom Ananicz who was 25 years old when he pitched in Toronto in 1943. Plenty of guys have pitched in relief in both games of a doubleheader, in fact former Red Sox manager and long-time pitching coach Joe Kerrigan recorded his first and second major-league wins on the same day for the Expos back in 1977. But as far as starting both ends it used to be more routine back in the day when teams went with three or four man rotations and in the minors where doubleheaders are seven inning games, but it has not happened in the majors for a long time.
Q: Greetings from the faithful Blue Jays fans on the west coast. I love reading your insight on the Jays. My question is, do you think the Innings Pitched stat is underrated? I have always thought that I would rather have a pitcher with a slightly higher ERA go 8-9 innings than one of these guys who has a really low ERA, but only goes six or so. Obviously, this would make a pitcher like Halladay so incredibly valuable, because he is not turning the ball over to lesser pitchers for the last third of the game. I really like the fact that the Jays seem to have two innings eaters developing in Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero. Do you think this mentality of wanting to pitch deep into games is something that rubbed off on these guys from their time with Doc?
Jeremy Johnson, Vancouver
A: I don't think innings pitched is underrated or undervalued in major league dugouts but it is undervalued by Fantasy Players because it does not count for points in any man's league. Funny you should mention Romero in this question because I was impressed with one of his answers on Tuesday night after his homecoming from hell. He said that after his first two innings his only thought was to pitch as many innings as possible to save his bullpen. Some guys would be turning and looking to the pen praying someone would start to warm up but Romero like Marcum, like Roy Halladay wanted nothing to do with that. Yes Halladay has influenced these guys. No Romero did not last more than 5.1 innings Tuesday, but he felt a responsibility and carried a failed outing into the sixth.
Q: Hi Richard:
Many thanks for your Blue Jay reporting...we follow the Jays in Toronto (my youngest son and I attended the great opener with Chicago) and beyond. Nice to read your update tonight after the win @ Safeco. Jays are appearing to be a decent club...really hope folks in TO start attending, as it's an exciting team to watch. My gut tells me T.B. will cool, Yanks will sustain, Sox will improve and Jays wind up very close fourth, but provide excitement...waddya think? Paul Smith, South Delta, B.C.
A: Pretty good analysis. The key is that the Red Sox and Yankees will do whatever it takes to compete at the deadline and beyond even if it means sacrificing a future piece or two while the Jays must stick to their plan if they want to win by 2012. Baseball attendance is all about planning your summer, purchasing in advance and the Jays seem to be ready to accept a dismal attendance record in 2010 in order to set up a future of limited expectations for discounted tickets. An exciting Jays team that plays solid baseball throughout the season will pay off next winter. Hardcore fans can't understand that concept but the economy doesn't help either with baseball playing 81 home games.
l love reading your articles and I really learned a lot from you about baseball. Regarding your recent mailbag discussing about pitching with both hands in Major league. I recalled from my memory that more than 15 years ago, there was a pitcher called "Henry" (last name), that switched pitch in one game at Montreal. Was that correct?
Oliver Chiu, Unionville?
A: There was a guy named Butch Henry, a lefthander that was part of the rotation in '94 when the Expos were the best team in baseball. There was Greg Harris, a righthander whop was capable of pitching with either hand but never did it in a major league game although the myth survives that he did.