Griffin: Blue Jays notes Game 23
DUNEDIN, FLA.-The Blue Jays juggernaut continued its roll on Saturday at the stadium formerly known as Grant Field. The Jays beat the Atlanta Braves 9-0 to run their impressive spring record to 18-4-1 The 18 wins ties for second most among Jays' all-time Grapefruit League victory totals, done previously in '88 and 2000. The club's all-time mark of 21 spring wins was set in '89 under manager Jimy Williams.
The Jays opened the scoring on a three-run homer by Adam Lind in the third inning. They added five more in the fourth, keyed by a bases-loaded, three-run double by leadoff man Kelly Johnson. Left fielder Eric Thames was 2-for-3 and raised his average to .349. The ageless Omar Vizquel also collected a pair of hits and is now batting .429.
Impressive 21-year-old starter Henderson Alvarez tossed five shutout innings, allowing one hit with no walks and four strikeouts. His ERA now stands at 1.64, allowing just eight baserunners in 11 innings, with two walks and 10 strikeouts. He threw his developing slider this time out, after going just fastball-changeup at minor league camp five days ago.
“I think it's a continuation of the breaking ball we saw last September the last three starts that he made for us," an impressed manager John Farrell said. "He's got a much better feel of maintaining his fastball release with that breaking ball. It's got power to it and I think it's a better fit in combination with his sinker and his changeup as well. He's carried that over from a year ago."
Alvarez has been preparing for the season as if the job is his...which it truthfully is. He has thrown all of his pitches for strikes against some tough opponents.
"I was very aggressive from the beginning," Alvarez said through interpreter Damaso Blanco. "I like to be around the strike zone and make the hitters put the ball in play. I feel ready to start the season. I've been working very hard and I'm ready to go."
Who's to argue. The Jays have now allowed just two runs in the last 36 innings at home. The Jays host the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon, on radio but not TV.
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For the third time in a row, manager John Farrell handed in a batting order that featured Kelly Johnson in leadoff, with Yunel Escobar hitting second. It doesn't necessarily signal a permanent change from Escobar-Johnson, but it's something the Jays are looking at.
“The thing that we'll always have to balance with whoever's in the 1-2 hole, these two guys in particular, is the effect it has on Jose Bautista,” manager John Farrell said. "One through three will be the same three guys, depending in the order, but at least one or two more times through will give us a better read on what the most comfortable alignment will be.”
The revamped Johnson-Escobar order seems to make sense in terms of the abilities of the two men and the requirements of the respective slots in the lineup. Johnson is more likely to open a game going deep into the count and making the pitcher work. Johnson collects a lot of soft hits with runners on base perhaps not being able to leave on contact. He swings and misses pitches more often than Escobar. Neither is a stolen base threat.
“Yunel's inside-out swing is conducive for a hit and run,” Farrell further explained. “Kelly is an all-fields type of hitter. That's not the only prerequisite or factor that would be considered in who'll hit second. There's nothing that's imminent to say that this is where we're going to be come opening day, but I think we just want to give it a little bit more opportunity here in camp.”
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The Jays sent four non-roster players back to minor-league camp on Saturday. They were pitchers Jesse Chavez, Robert Coello and Drew Carpenter and outfielder Anthony Gose. Gose needs to start getting regular at-bats in preparation for the AAA-Las Vegas season. The Jays now have 35 players in major-league camp, including six non-roster.
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The Jays new closer, Sergio Santos made his first game appearance in 17 days on Saturday, throwing a shutout inning, with a double, a walk and two strikeouts.
"Everything felt really good," Santos said. "I threw a couple of changeups. One of them I really liked, the other I pushed a little bit. I threw a couple of good sliders and a couple of bad ones. It was just ironing those out and kind of cleaning them up before the season starts. The changeup that I did like had the movement I wanted, but I needed to start it up a little higher."
Santos had been perfectly healthy, but in an unusual decision by the Jays, they kept him out of games because he was too strong, too ready to go and they didn't want him to peak too early. Plus they wanted him to gain confidence in his changeup, his third pitch to go with fastball-slider. He did throw side sessions and at minor league camp.
"John kind of came to me just because bullpen sessions and everything for me are just a little bit more intense than most guys," Santos explained. "It's just because I go zero to 100, there's really no in between for me. The way they saw the ball coming out and everything was going well, they wanted to slow me down a little bit and just focus on the changeup part of it a little bit. I was all for it."
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Brett Cecil struggled in all aspects of his game on Friday night in Port Charlotte against the Rays. Manager John Farrell did not see it as a failure.
“He struggled, there's no doubt about it," Farrell said. "It's not uncommon for most pitchers to have that one start in spring training where things aren't in sync from a delivery standpoint. The command isn't there and that was the case last night. He got his pitch allotment in, even though it was only in two-plus innings.
"One thing in the short time I've known Brett that's been uncharacteristic is the number of walks. So, ideally you'd like to see some adjustments, prior to the length it went into. There was a little bit better command in the third inning. It was just one of those outings. He'll get his side work tomorrow and he'll be back out for another start Thursday. I'm not sure that he ever really got in it. Just the overall command was not there."
Cecil saw some positives through the haze of negatives.
"The positive is I got out there and I sat out there for a little bit, got some endurance up," Cecil said. "I was probably out there for 15-20 minutes the first two innings. It builds endurance. The hits that I gave up, they weren't hard hits. Two groundballs got through the hole at second base. Two soft line drives to left field. Without the walks, they're just base hits. Obviously the negative of it was the walks and lack of command."
If he struggles again on Wednesday vs. the Orioles, there may be cause for concern. Cecil is still throwing 85-88 m.p.h. fastballs and is still elevating too many pitches.