Jays doing mound match

Blue Jays pitcher Kyle Drabek throws at the team's spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida on...

Blue Jays pitcher Kyle Drabek throws at the team's spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida on February 19, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:32 PM ET

LAKELAND, Fla. — The impression to this point in Blue Jays training camp has been that there are seven pitchers in the mix for two rotation spots, but manager John Farrell indicated Sunday that it is, in essence, a four-man battle.

The principal combatants for the fourth and fifth starters are apparently Marc Rzepczynski, Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek and Jo-Jo Reyes. That leaves Scott Richmond still in the mix, but on the periphery of the competition and Brad Mills and Zach Stewart headed back to the minors for more seasoning.

Farrell also revealed that Drabek is going to miss his scheduled start Monday against the Phillies at Dunedin because of a stiff neck.

“Thursday night, Kyle apparently slept wrong and ended up with a stiff neck,” said Farrell. “Over the last couple of days, it’s been getting a little bit better, but not to the point where it’s going to be drastically improved. We have scratched him and Reyes will take that start in his place.”

Reyes had been scheduled to follow Drabek to the mound, each of them pitching two innings. Now, Drabek is set to pitch a bullpen session on Wednesday and then pitch in next Saturday’s game against the Tigers in Dunedin.

Both Rzepczynski and Litsch pitched two shutout innings against the Tigers. Rzepczynski erased all six men he faced, two via strikeouts. Litsch gave up a single in his first inning but got out of trouble with a good defensive play by shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.

“A zero on the board is always positive,” said Litsch. “First time out, get your feet wet. That’s a good outcome.

“Whatever happens, who makes the team is out of your control. It’s always a competition. There are always guys who are trying to get your spot. It’s a thing that I love. I love competition. I’m a guy who roots for everybody. If you’re getting my spot, you’re earning it.”

Likewise Rzepczynski recognizes that pitching is all he can control and he chuckled at the notion of a bitter rivalry.

“I drove here with Jesse today,” said Rzepczynski. “I know we’re battling for the same spot. We’re all friends and whatever happens, happens. We’re not going to be bitter to each other.”

Farrell said results will be only part of the criteria that will decide who gets a spot and who doesn’t, whether it’s a hitter or a pitcher.

“Sometimes results aren’t the determining factor. If a guy is putting a good swing on the ball but doesn’t have anything to show for it, you take that into consideration. Same for a pitcher, if he’s executing pitches and yet for whatever reason doesn’t get the desired result. How did he manage an inning? Control his emotions?

“Somebody might look at Brett Cecil’s line (two innings, three hits, one run on Saturday) and say, it was only okay. I thought he looked good. He found himself in a first and second, nobody-out situation, still stayed pitch-to-pitch, minimized the damage, traded an out for a run. Those are the kinds of things that go into viewing an individual on a given day.”

The other thing to consider is that, with changing circumstances, complicated situations often resolve themselves. Somebody gets hurt, somebody steps up, somebody drops a notch.

“On one given day,” said Farrell, “you think: ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do with these numbers? How are the going to sort things out?’ And yet, three days from then, you look up and realize that the problem somehow, some way, found a way to work itself out. Baseball’s got a way of sorting out things naturally.

“If you just remain patient and let things work through the schedule, answers begin to emerge.”

The schedule for the foreseeable future will have the Rzepczynski/ Litsch pairing and the Drabek/Reyes pairing pitch every five days, on the same day. Farrell says no one has an edge.

“It’s four for two. Even though Kyle is coming off a full season and there is no innings limit on him, I don’t want to say he had a leg up. We still look at those four guys for those two spots.

“We will flip them each time. We want to create an even playing field.”

Farrell said Drabek has been told this minor setback will not affect his chances in the competition.

It may have seemed more likely that Stewart, rather than Reyes, would be one of the four but Reyes does not have any options left. Stewart has not pitched above double-A and still might need some seasoning.

ken.fidlin@sunmedia.ca


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