The Bullpen: Finally, the home opener is upon us
From April 1
For the local nine, the Blue Jays, Tuesday marks the 37th celebration of Opening Day, the official end of winter — if not in actual fact, then at least mentally and spiritually. And that’s important to a city’s psyche, especially in northern climes. It’s like spending hours on the driving range and putting green and finally hearing your name as the next group on the first tee. It’s show time.
Sunday night was baseball’s official opener in Houston, but that’s a made-for-TV event that is the equivalent of the NFL’s Thursday night opener. It doesn’t count as such for most fans, except those in the two competing cities. Then again, for Astros fans, as they shift to the tougher American League, it may mark the high point of their season. For 12 hours, they will be alone in first place in baseball.
The Jays are 8-5 when opening the season at home, including wins in the last three in a row, vs. the Twins in ’06 and ’11 and against the Tigers in ’09. The Jays’ most legendary opening day was no doubt the first one, April 7, 1977, in the snow at Exhibition Stadium, beating the White Sox 9-5, fuelled by two homers by first baseman Doug Ault. Jerry Johnson was the winner in relief of Bill Singer who delivered the first pitch in franchise history, at 1:48 p.m. to Chicago left fielder Ralph Garr.
The club’s first home opener at the building formerly known as SkyDome was April 10, 1990, resulting in a 2-1 victory for Dave Stieb. It was Cito Gaston’s first home opener as manager. In the fifth inning, Junior Felix doubled, Tony Fernandez tripled and Mookie Wilson singled against Charlie Hough. It’s the last time a knuckleballer started in a Jays’ home opener — until R.A. Dickey.
An interesting fact about the 38-year-old Dickey’s start for the Jays on Tuesday against the Indians: He becomes the first pitcher older than 30 to start any game for the Jays since 32-year-old left-hander Brian Tallet on June 8, 2010. It ends a streak of 427 consecutive Jays games started by 20-somethings. It was the longest active streak in the majors. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ are all in their 30s.
The Jays’ lineup on Tuesday includes a record four switch-hitters, plus five Dominicans, three Americans and two Venezuelans.
In his two opening days, catcher J.P. Arencibia is 4 for 11 (.364), with three homers and seven RBIs, including a decisive blast in the 16th inning vs. the Tribe a year ago in Cleveland.
The 25-Man Roster
C J.P. Arencibia (.439, 41 AB, 5 HR, 13 RBI)
The 27-year-old proved he is capable of catching Dickey, and will carry much of the workload.
C Henry Blanco (.286, 35 AB, 1 HR, 3 RBI)
The veteran 41-year-old will assume a more traditional backup role. He’s a solid defender.
1B Edwin Encarnacion (.250, 24 AB, 2 2B, 1 HR)
The 30-year-old will try to build off last season’s breakout, and may lead Jays in homers again.
2B Emilio Bonifacio (.271, 70 AB, 2 HR, 8 SB)
The 27-year-old speedster improved at the position as spring went along. He’ll bat ninth.
3B Maicer Izturis (.230, 60 AB, 4 2B, 8 RBI)
The 32-year-old will platoon at third against right-handers until Lawrie ready to return.
3B Mark DeRosa (.442, 43 AB, 2 HR, 9 RBI)
Brought in for his clubhouse presence, the 38-year-old will see time against left-handers.
DL/3B Brett Lawrie (.267, 15 AB, 1 HR, 4 RBI)
The 23-year-old is out until at least the end of the Red Sox series.
SS Jose Reyes (.417, 36 AB, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB)
The 29-year-old brings a new dynamic personality and energy to the clubhouse
LF Melky Cabrera (.348, 66 AB, 3 HR, 15 RBI)
Another switch-hitter at the top of the order, the 28-year-old has much to prove.
CF Colby Rasmus (.170, 47 AB, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 13 BB)
The 26-year-old will stay in the lineup because of his defence, but needs to step up offence.
RF Jose Bautista (.283, 60 AB, 6 HR, 12 RBI)
The 32-year-old showed no signs of last summer’s wrist injury. That’s good news.
DH Adam Lind (.365, 63 AB, 2 HR, 9 RBI)
The 29-year-old had his usual solid numbers in spring, but will platoon at DH.
OF/DH Rajai Davis (.255, 55 AB, 3 HR, 9 RBI)
The 32-year-old adds another base-stealing threat whenever he plays against lefties.
SP R.A. Dickey (0-1, 9.00 ERA, 5 IP)
The 38-year-old staff ace put time in the WBC and minor-league camp, but he said he’s ready.
SP Brandon Morrow (0-3, 6.14 ERA, 22 IP)
The last two starts for the 28-year-old had one bad inning spoil that game’s line. It’s show time.
SP Mark Buehrle (1-0, 4.50 ERA, 18 IP)
The 34-year-old threw five shutout inning in his final start at night in Philly.
SP Josh Johnson (5-0, 2.70 ERA, 20IP)
One of the NL’s dominant pitchers when healthy — and the 29-year-old is healthy.
SP J.A. Happ (1-1, 1.90 ERA, 23.2 IP)
The 30-year-old argued his point that he was a major-league starter — and now he is.
RP Casey Janssen (0.00 ERA, 2 IP, 5 SO)
The 31-year-old incumbent closer got a late start due to a shoulder injury, but showed enough.
RP Sergio Santos (7.88 ERA, 8 IP, 10 SO)
Concerns about the 29-year-old’s control after time off kept him from being named closer.
RP Darren Oliver (0.00 ERA, 4.1 IP, 2 SO)
At 42 years old, he’s getting better with age. He’s been healthy all spring, but saving his bullets.
RP Aaron Loup (0.82 ERA, 11 IP, 13 SO)
Converted starter given a lower arm slot, the 25-year-old will be a key contributor.
RP Steve Delabar (3.68 ERA, 7.1 IP, 6 SO)
The 29-year-old is the first option with runner on third, less than two out. He misses bats.
RP Esmil Rogers (6.39 ERA, 12.2 IP, 17 SO)
The 27-year-old successfully converted to pen with Indians last year, and is slated for middle relief.
RP Brett Cecil (6.61 ERA, 16.1 IP, 20 SO)
The 26-year-old thought he might be cut, but his increased velocity helped his conversion to pen.
RP Jeremy Jeffress (7.62 ERA, 13 IP, 14 SO)
The 25-year-old would have had to clear waivers if sent down. It’s a decision to make when Lawrie returns.
Five most impressive nonroster Blue Jays this spring
1. Jim Negrych 2B (.412, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 1.164 OPS)
2. Juan Perez LHP (8G, 0.00 ERA, 0.31 WHIP)
3. Andy LaRoche 1B (.235, 4 HR, .819 OPS)
4. Luis Jimenez 1B (.233, 2 HR, BP monster)
5. Lance Zawadzki, INF (.290 GS, .801 OPS)
The rant: Romero’s demotion was handled poorly
I know there will be a lot of people who don’t agree, but I thought that GM Alex Anthopoulos and the Jays mishandled the Ricky Romero situation, ending in his demotion to the minor leagues.
Not that he should have stayed with the Blue Jays, but my belief is that they should not have assured him at the start of spring training that his spot in the rotation was guaranteed, especially when it was learned they had already discussed a contract extension with J.A. Happ in January, as the general manager disclosed.
To me, there’s nothing wrong with pressure to succeed. In the end, Romero deserved to be sent out. He could not remain as a long man in the bullpen because of his inability to get left-handers out. He could not have remained as a starter with Happ having clearly outpitched him at every turn this spring.
The Jays need to win every game they can in 2013. There’s no room for sentiment. So why not lay it out for him from the start?
“Yeah, it was definitely the last thing that I was expecting to hear,” Romero told reporters at minor-league camp, after the Jays had tried to protect him from having to talk to media.
“I’m disappointed, man. You never want to get demoted like that, especially coming out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting it. It has been an emotional past 48 hours, whatever it has been, it hasn’t been easy. But at the same time, I’ve said this to myself, I can’t come here with a bad attitude.”
If Romero had been told his job was on the line, would he have approached his Grapefruit League starts differently. He always spoke after each start of the belief that he was just getting his work in, just experimenting with more two-seamers and things like that.
“Because of the surgery that I had on my elbow, I was restricted a little bit and I told myself, you know what, for the first time in my career, I’m going to take a step back and not come in as ready as I’ve come in years past and I’m going to finish getting ready in Spring Training,” Romero said.
“To say that cost me the job? I don’t know. But in no way shape or form, have I ever gotten complacent, or, this is my job, because there’s always going to be someone that wants your job no matter what. I don’t care how much you’re making or what you’ve done.
“What you’ve in the past is in the past and it’s about what you can do in the future and in the present. I’m not going to make excuses for anything. J.A. pitched great all Spring Training, I texted him right away and said you deserve it, you earned it and I wish you nothing but the best.
If the pressure was on to earn his starting job, I believe the Jays would have found out more about him than they did. If he can’t handle the pressure of spring training, then maybe he can’t handle the post-season. Did Romero ever feel like he was battling for his job? Evidently he was.
“No, I didn’t think it was like that,” Romero said. “I think, let’s be honest, it was you guys who made it a bigger deal than it really was. I couldn’t really look to my left or look to my right because I felt like you guys would write it down. Obviously, if anything, I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me. My job is to go out there and work, that’s why I’m here and that’s what I’ll do.”
Anthopoulos may have misread the landscape this one time. He sits down at the start of spring training with his manager and has a face-to-face with every player, letting them know where they stand realistically. Because Romero has $26.1 million guaranteed remaining on his contract, he was told that a spot in the starting rotation was his. It did not turn out that way.
When they called Romero into the office it was two hours after he had just pitched and struggled, and one hour after Romero had talked to the media about his next start and manager John Gibbons had talked to media about his faith in Romero. Two hours later he was shipped out. Anthopoulos said that Romero took the news “like a pro.”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember,” Romero said of the bulk of the meeting. “You hear those words and it’s like you kind of zone out after that. Like I said, it’s an emotional meeting when you hear something like that. But I’m going to get back up from this and I think that’s the greatest satisfaction about all of it. I see it, I feel it, that when I get back up there I know what I can do.”
The writing was on the wall if you were looking for it. The excuses for the demotion were all laid out in the final 10 days when the Jays revealed that they had suggested a correction in Romero’s delivery that was slow in being perfected. It was for his long-term health. If they needed to, rather than the failure of spring training, they could point to a mechanical flaw — and did. So did Ricky agree that a demotion would give him time to perfect the straight-line delivery or was he just thinking too much?
“Sometimes, yeah, but that’s just due to all the stuff that I was dealing with this spring as far as mechanics and making sure you’re on a straight line and stuff like that,” Romero said. “You tend to forget the other little things. But it’s part of it, it’s not the end of the world, it’s not life or death. I’m still in good spirits. I’ve been doubted my whole career since the first day that I got drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays. It was ‘they should have drafted someone else, why did they draft this guy?’ I got to the big leagues, was doubted there. Had a good year, was still doubted. This isn’t nothing new for me, it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”
Top 5 personal moments of 2013 Spring Training
1.Mexico-Canada Brawl: We’re not supposed to approve of or condone fighting in baseball. It’s not politically correct to write good things about an on-field brawl. But following the previous day’s WBC disappointment against Team Italy, the massive bullpen-clearing scrap seemed to be a moment that brought Team Canada back together and ready to face the U.S. for a spot in the second round.
2. Chris Leroux’s mom: It had never happened to me before, but it’s a moment that I appreciated. The morning after the Pirates’ Chris Leroux had spoken to the Canadian media after the loss to Team Italy, the starting pitcher came over to me during batting practice at Chase Field and passed along a message from his mom. She reads my stuff in The Star and loves it and wanted Chris to let me know. Nice.
3. Larry Walker’s explanation: Canada’s hitting coach Larry Walker may have gained some new support for Cooperstown among American writers via his decidedly Hall of Fame-worthy explanation of being in the middle of all the action and of seeing Satan in the eyes of Red Sox pitcher Alfredo Aceves.
4. Watching Jose Reyes play: Jose Reyes had spent his entire career in the National League so we never have really had a chance to see him play on a regular basis or to interact with teammates. The man is a joy to watch and to cover. His leadership and enthusiasm as the leadoff hitter for Team Dominican was contagious. Once Canada was eliminated, every Jays fan I know became a closet Dominican.
5. Simply whacking a bucket of golf balls: As I tweeted on the second to last day of camp in Florida, I had two hours to kill between being in Clearwater at 9:30 a.m. to interview Roy Halladay and a 1 p.m. date to watch R.A. Dickey throw at minor-league camp. In my mind, it was a choice between getting a tattoo or going to a driving range to whack a small bucket. Thankfully golf won out. Therapeutic.
MLB Power Rankings
(odds by Bodog.ca, to win World Series/Over-under for wins)
1. San Francisco Giants 12-1/87.51
2. Toronto Blue Jays 8-1/88.53
3. Washington Nationals 7-1/92.54
4. Detroit Tigers 8-1/92.57
5. Atlanta Braves 16-1/87.52
6. Cincinnati Reds 12-1/91.59
7. Oakland A’s 30-1/84.58
8. Los Angeles Angels 9-1/91.512
9. Tampa Bay Rays 16-1/87.510
10. Los Angeles Dodgers 9-1/90.55
11. Texas Rangers 16-1/86.56
12. Baltimore Orioles 30-1/78.511
13. St. Louis Cardinals 20-1/86.513
14. Kansas City Royals 50-1/78.518
15. Boston Red Sox 30-1/82.516
16. Arizona Diamondbacks 50-1/81.517
17. Cleveland Indians 66-1/78.520
18. Seattle Mariners 100-1/77.521
19. Pittsburgh Pirates 50-1/77.528
20. New York Yankees 20-1/84.514
21. Philadelphia Phillies 16-1/84.515
22. Chicago White Sox 50-1/81.519
23. Milwaukee Brewers 40-1/80.522
24. San Diego Padres 75-1/74.523
25. Chicago Cubs 75-1/73.524
26. Colorado Rockies 150-1/71.525
27. Minnesota Twins 100-1/68.526
28. New York Mets 100-1/74.527
29. Miami Marlins 200-1/63.529
30. Houston Astros 250-1/59.530