Griffin: Drabek clears Jays deck to clear his head
The move to option Kyle Drabek to AAA-Las Vegas had to happen for the immediate good of the Jays and the long-term good of the man who was the centre-piece of the Roy Halladay deal two winters ago. Drabek's demeanour, his body language and his string of frustrating mound failures are what led to his departing the major-league scene before making another start. On Tuesday afternoon the club did it, calling up righthander Zach Stewart, considered one of the organization's top starting prospects since coming over from the Reds in the Scott Rolen deal at the trade deadline, two years ago.
Drabek, the talented rookie righthander with the pouting air of petulance during games and his stoic acceptance of failure afterwards had become the symbol of what ails the Jays.
According to the 23-year-old with the impeccable baseball bloodlines, it was always a matter of one or two pitches in each failed start, a matter of working out small issues between starts, of getting it back together in time for the next outing. But it wasn't happening and the storyline was getting stale.
Face it, if outfielder Travis Snider was shipped out for not being patient enough at the plate and for not grasping the tenets of hitting that were being offered him by coaches, then how could the emotional Drabek be spared the same fate?
Drabek was 4-5, with a 5.70 ERA in 14 starts. In his last five starts he had allowed 22 earned runs in 22-2/3 innings. Three starts ago he lasted just 2/3 of an inning. In his last outing he was pummelled by the Red Sox. He will be back, but not anytime soon.
The question was asked of Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos why Drabek was being sent to Las Vegas instead of just switching positions with Stewart in the Fisher Cats rotation. After all, the Jays have a history of leaving their top prospects in the pitcher friendly Eastern League, rather than exposing them to the elements and bad infields in the PCL.
“He's dominated that league, so what is he really going to learn?" Anthopoulos said. "So it's going to Vegas and having its adversities, its challenges. It's almost like because he hasn't failed before and he's failed a little bit up here, it's learning to deal with failure and going through it. Going to Vegas is the next step for him. He's dominated New Hampshire and it's really a chance for him to go and meet that challenge and hopefully get back here soon."
Stewart, 24, was pitching at AA-New Hampshire which is not, in fact, a step down in the minor-league pecking order for Blue Jays pitching prospects, but is the preferred incubator of young starting talent because of its even playing fields and game conditions closer to the major leagues than the fast-living, hard infields, thin air and gusty ballparks in the PCL and at AAA-Las Vegas.
The choices at the Monday meeting that sealed Drabek's fate between Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell was from among Stewart, Brett Cecil and Brad Mills.
“Zach was someone who was very close to a callup last year," Anthopoulos explained. "He's done everything what we've asked of him down there. He hasn't been up here before. His last few starts he's pitched well. Just being down there and talking to the staff well it's like he deserves an opportunity. It's really a good time to give him a shot, to give him a look and see how he does."
The Jays rotation as of Tuesday seems vastly different than it did coming out of spring training. Right now it features Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Jo-Jo Reyes, Carlos Villanueva and Stewart. Gone is the trio of Jesse Litsch, currently on the DL, Brett Cecil and Drabek, now both in Vegas.
Those changes do not represent a failure in Jays' planning as much as it is an adjustment to the realities that when you are going with a younger rotation you had better line up the top nine or 10 guys heading into the season. There is nothing as uncertain in baseball as a young pitcher the year after he has had some success. Even a pitcher with great stuff like Drabek can't continue to pitch the same way and expect to have success. Veteran major-league hitters watch video and make adjustments all the time. Pitchers need to realize this and make adjustments to the adjustments. A young pitcher that finds himself sitting on his laurels will soon find himself sitting in his economy seat -- on the way to Triple-A.
The Jays left Florida with an uncertain five-man major-league rotation but a strong organizational vision that included Romero, Morrow, Cecil, Drabek, Litsch, Reyes, then add Stewart, Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins and Henderson Alvarez. They also knew there were other short-term starters available like Villanueva and Brad Mills to fill in at any time. This is also why the Jays front office knew better than Jays Nation that they would not be contenders in 2011 despite the slow start of the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays that seemed to ope the door for an aggressive approach of adding a couple of short-term veterans.
The current personal setback for Drabek hurts but is all a part of the Jays' understanding of what they will have and what they will need in 2012. They need a lot.