Griffin: Opening Day workout day notes
The Jays open their 36th season of AL play on Thursday at Progressive Field, with lefthander Ricky Romero facing my fellow-Jamaican-born righthander, Justin Masterson.
It will be the second straight opening day start for Romero. Jack Morris and Dave Stieb also started two opening days in a row for the Jays. Jimmy Key worked three straight openers, while Roy Halladay started seven consecutive openers, from 2003-09.
Romero was 2-0, with a 0.00 ERA in 11 innings this spring, while the Tribe's giant righthander was 0-3, with a 9.00 ERA in five starts covering 18 innings.
Six of the nine players in the Jays' opening day lineup a year ago vs. the Twins will also be in Thursday's lineup: Yunel Escobar, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, J.P. Arencibia and Romero. Only Encarnacion was at a different position, playing third base.
The Jays are 8-12 in opening days on the road and are 18-17 overall. The Indians are 58-53 in home openers. The last two Tribe openers were started by Fausto Carmona -- or were they?
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The Jays' record of 24-7 was the best in club history. A strange note, the Jays' 12 man pitching staff, plus the disabled Dustin McGowan, combined to go a perfect 12-0 in Grapefruit League play. Seven different pitchers suffered one loss -- and were dismissed.
"One, it speaks to the depth of the talent in our organization," manager John Farrell said when asked about the stunning spring mark. "When our regulars come out of games we had very good young prospects that stepped in and some days the pace of the game picked up. Two, I think it speaks to the concentration and the focus that our club had from day one. We had 40 guys report to camp a week before spring training opened. And the third and final thing, which we're gaining some intangibles from it, and that's the overall belief -- and I don't really care what time of year it is - that it's better to win than not."
Romero has been the face of the newfound confidence in the Jays' clubhouse. They are not listening to the front office say they might win, the players honestly believe they will win.
"He takes on the responsibility of being our No. 1 starter," Farrell said. "Ricky leads by example, the work he puts in in between starts and how he demonstrates it on the mound on his game day. He pitches with emotion, he pitches with a lot of competitive spirit in his game. So there are things that our other pitchers can look at him and view how he goes about his work and how he goes out. He's a darn good pitcher to back up some of the comments that he makes in our clubhouse."
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One of the question marks is about the closer Sergio Santos and how he might hold up over the grind of a 162-game season, with the stress of working the ninth-inning starting from Day 1. He only took over the White Sox closer's role midway though 2011.
“I don't know about a difference in preparation, but you definitely get a better sense of how to prepare because you know what your role's going to be, so you know exactly when you're going to come into the game," Santos reasoned as he came off the field on workout day. "You can kind of get in a routine early. That's the best part about it is figuring out the right time to stretch, do my shoulder exercises and everything and once the sixth inning hits and you see how the pace of the game's going, you kind of get a gauge for when you're going to have to start cranking it up because you have a chance to get in."
Unlike Frankie Francisco last year, or Jon Rauch, or even the unlamented Kevin Gregg and B.J. Ryan, Santos actually looks forward to back-to-back closing assignments. After all, his arm has plenty of bullets left, since he only started to pitch three years ago.
“I actually like going back-to-back, as opposed to having days off in between, just because I think that second day you're a little looser and you were just out there the night before, so everything's veery familiar," he said. "It's a little easier to get back in sync."
The first sign of a great major-league closer is always his willingness to stand in front of his locker after blowing a tough save and explain himself to media, using it as a cleansing moment to rid himself of the stench of defeat and move on. Recall Dennis Eckersley post Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the '88 World Series. Santos understands.
“I've never had one problem talking after a blown save," Santos said. "It is what it is. Nobody wants to talk to me when I'm getting saves, they only want to talk to me when I'm blowing saves. It's part of the business and nobody's perfect, especially in this game. What I try to do is go back and see how that inning went wrong, how I can learn from it and move on. You just get better and keep going."
Sounds like he's got his perspepctive straight. He got some of that from one of the best.
“It's something that Mariano Rivera told me was not to worry about the end results at the end of the season about how many blown saves, how many saves you have, but literally just to go from pitch to pitch," Santos explained. "Just instill in your mind that I'm not worried about anything else that's going on. All I'm worried about is when my catcher gives me the sign to execute that one pitch. He just said if you do that, if you execute that one pitch, come October you're going to sit back and say, well I had a pretty darn good year, instead of always thinking about what you want to do for the body of work. Now, all of a sudden you want to be perfect. I think that starts with taking it pitch by pitch."
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Manager John Farrell remained optimistic about his team's chances even with the injury to Dustin McGowan and the surprising demotion, the fall from grace of Brett Cecil.
"It is young and it is inexperienced," Farrell admitted. "But we like the talent and the potential that does exist. Obviously, the recent change to Brett Cecil being optioned back -- and he'll be back to contribute to this club. He needs a few more starts to gain a consistent command. But Henderson Alvarez, what he showed a year ago, is very optimistic. He's thrown the ball very well in spring training.
"So the three guys from the three-four-five slot as we start this season, they have good stuff. It's going to be a matter of going out and executing. And I know that can be very much a cliche, but we'll take our chances with the stuff that they all throw over the plate. And strike throwing as all have thrown in camp to be very consistent. I think we're going to be an improved defensive club to go along with that strike throwing capability. So we like the potential but yet there may be some growing pains along the way with those three."
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Left fielder Eric Thames a year ago was just three time zones away with AAA-Las Vegas but a world away from where he finds himself now in the Jays' opening day lineup.
“Last year we opened up in Fresno, California," Thames smiled. "It was raining, it was cold, there was about a thousand people there. So, this is very exciting. It's a very exciting first experience for myself to be able to see an actual opening day with the stadium sold out, especially going to Toronto on Sunday. That opening day is going to be unreal. I've heard amazing things about it. That, for sure, will be a day where I'm like a little kid."
There'll be a lot of fans feeling like little kids at the Rogers Centre on Monday.