DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jon Rauch has made his presence felt in the short time that he has been a Blue Jay.
It isn’t just his height — he’s 6-foot-11 — that makes him stick out in the Jays clubhouse.
Every day you can see Rauch talking it up with the young pitchers, offering advice on this and that — and dispensing wisdom along the way. At 32 and a veteran of the big leagues since an eight-game stint with the White Sox in 2002, he has much to talk about.
Once a hard-throwing starter, Rauch’s career has twice been derailed as he underwent rotator-cuff surgery in 2001 and surgery for a torn labrum (shoulder) in 2005.
Shoulder injuries are often career killers but Rauch has been able to survive two with the biggest after-effect being that he moved from being a starter to a reliever.
He has taken it all in stride and now has taken to his new role as a professor of pitching.
“I’ve always been a quiet guy and it’s never happened to me,” he said of his teaching role. “Most of the guys that I came up and played with, we kind of learned the same things as time goes on.
“But being part of this club and being asked to be a veteran presence in the clubhouse, it’s one of those things that I can take advantage of. I’ve been around a long time and picked up a few things along the way that I can pass on and help some of the younger guys out.”
It’s something that he has discovered that he enjoys.
“Of course, and it really pays off when you see them get the hang of things and realize that certain things work,” he said. “You still allow them to find what works best for them.”
Having learned his trade from the school of hard knocks, Rauch, who spent the past two seasons with the Minnesota Twins, was acquired to firm up the back end of the rotation that is missing closer Kevin Gregg and set-up man Scott Downs.
“I’ve learned how to pitch instead of being a thrower and just trying to throw it as hard as you can,” he said of his maturity over the years.
“That’s where being a pitcher comes in, changing speeds and learning how to throw different pitches and being confident in yourself.
“You always have to learn and adjust. Obviously you still have to learn how to make adjustments because guys are going to try and figure you out just as much as you’re trying to figure out hitters. You have to make an adjustment or you’ll find yourself without a job.”
Even though he saved 21 games for the Twins last season, Rauch is Plan B when it comes to closing games this season for the Jays. They will open the season with Frank Francisco as the closer — barring any setbacks in his shoulder.
If Francisco isn’t ready to open the season with the team and needs more time at extended spring training, Rauch will be the go-to guy in the ninth.
He said the role doesn’t matter, be it closer or a set-up guy.
“I enjoy being a part of a team like this,” he said. “Obviously a closer gets the limelight and this and that (and a fatter contract) but for me, I just enjoy pitching, enjoy having the ball in my hand and making an impact on the team.”
To date, the Jays can’t help but like what they’ve seen.
In five games, five innings, he has yet to allow a run while surrendering just two hits. He’s walked one batter and struck out four.
What’s not to like?
“I’m just trying to get myself ready,” he said with a shrug.
“I’m not trying to do more than I’m capable of. If things roll my way, they roll my way. For me right now it’s just about getting physically and mentally prepared for the season.”
Even though he’s a veteran performer with a pedigree, Rauch didn’t arrive believing he had a job that was his.
“I still feel like I have to come in and compete,” he said. “For me, if I’m coming into camp and being lackadaisical about it because I have a guaranteed job — that doesn’t portray me as a good role model for the younger guys. I want to go out there and show them that I work hard and I’ve earned my sport regardless of whether it’s handed to me or not.”
So far, he’s earned every nickel.
Blue Jays 6 (11-9), Yankees 5 (8-12)
At Dunedin, Fla.
— C Jose Molina hit his first homer of the spring leading off the second against former Jay A.J. Burnett.
— With two out in the third, Brandon Morrow issued back-to-back walks. Curtis Granderson followed with a sharply hit ball to right. The speedy Brett Gardner attempted to score from second but a perfect throw by RF Juan Rivera to Molina cut him down at the plate.
— Jays utility infielder Mike McCoy hit a two-run homer in the sixth against Sergio Mitre. It was a historic home run for McCoy as it marked his first in a Blue Jays uniform. He didn’t hit a home run in either spring training or the regular season last year.
— It was a game that Yankees C Russell Martin would just as soon forget. The East York native committed two errors, had one passed ball and had three Jays steal bases thanks to the slow delivery to the plate of starter Burnett
— Prior to the game, the Jays returned OF John Tolisano, RHP Zach Stewart and RHP Henderson Alvarez to minor-league camp. The moves leave the Jays with 44 players in camp.