DUNEDIN — Brett Cecil will start the Grapefruit League opener Saturday and while nobody should read a lot into that except that he’s one of the Blue Jays key starters, it is a tribute to the strides the lefty has made in two short years.
At the end of camp in 2010, Cecil wasn’t in the starting rotation but by late April he had solidified a spot in Toronto. He went on to a 15-7 record, making 28 starts with a 4.27 ERA. Most notably, he was 11-2 with a 3.47 ERA against the AL East, including 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA in five starts against the New York Yankees.
“I would definitely call it a breakthrough season, not just because of wins and statistics, but it was moreso about getting to know myself and my mechanics,” Cecil said on Wednesday.
“I’m just trying to build off last year. My workouts are the same, my arm’s the same, mechanics are the same. I’m just trying to fine-tune everything right now and get ready.”
Cecil is thriving in a pitching environment that includes a half-dozen 20-somethings who feed off each other’s successes and failures.
“A lot of us are young,” said Cecil. “Before you get respect from other teams, you’ve got to learn to respect yourself and respect the team that’s around you. I think that’s what makes a good team and we have that by the ton.”
Some of that mutual respect grew out of the Roy Halladay departure before last season, a subject Cecil knows needs to be broached carefully. As much as they were in awe of his prowess, all the young Jays pitchers felt like they were walking on eggs around Halladay.
“It makes those bad games go a little easier when you have somebody to talk to about it,” said Cecil. “I hate to bring up his name, and I don’t mean it in any disrespectful way, but with Doc, when us young guys would have a bad game, we didn’t feel like we could go talk to him about it. At least I didn’t.
“I never felt like I could go and have an in-depth conversation about pitching with him. Obviously he’s got his routine and that’s what’s made him one of the best pitchers, if not the best pitcher, in the game. So you don’t want to take anything away from that.
“But now, having a bunch of young guys growing together, we can go to each other and explain: ‘This is why I did this. What would you have done in that situation?’ We just pick each other’s brain, left and right.
“It’s just communication. I can communicate freely with anybody on the team and I’ll get good feedback from whoever I talk to.”
That includes pitching coach Bruce Walton, who nurtures and disciplines his young charges with a firm hand, great care and good humour.
“He doesn’t have a lot to say but what he does say is all the right things for us young guys,” said Cecil. “It’s so simple with him. ‘Pound the ball down, work your ass off. Don’t worry about the results.’ He just keeps everything so damn simple. It’s so good for us young guys that are still trying to find our routines — reliever, starter, it doesn’t matter. He likes to keep it as fun as possible yet he knows when to take it seriously.”