Jays want Escobar to keep it simple

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:36 PM ET

ARLINGTON — Five hours before game time, Brian Butterfield was drawing in the dirt with his fungo bat, creating something akin to ancient Mayan hieroglyphics around second base.

The scary part was that shortstop Yunel Escobar seemed to actually understand what Butterfield was getting at. In truth, what Butterfield was trying to illustrate was an imaginary circle around the bag for Escobar to make his double-play pivot.

“This was really a productive work session,” said Butterfield. “You know, Yunel has such a good arm that his tendency is to take his time. On the double-play ball, sometimes he relies a little too much on that arm and the runner can get on him.

“When last season was over,” said Butterfield, “one of the things I told Yunel was that I was going to turn him into a ‘boring’ shortstop.”

By that, Butterfield meant that he wants Escobar to complement his extraordinary athletic ability with the practical aspect of making all the simple plays, simply.

And that’s what’s been happening, for the most part, this season: less flash, more routine.

“The beautiful thing about Yunel is that he has such a good arm and he loves to throw the baseball,” said manager John Farrell. “Because he has such arm strength, sometimes the action can get a bit long so what we’re trying to work with him on is to quicken that transfer over the bag when he’s turning the double play, just to get rid of the ball quicker, especially in cases when the runner might be bearing down on him.”

As he has through most all learning opportunities this spring, Escobar accepted the lesson. A couple of times in the last week he has had double-plays broken up.

“Yunel has been outstanding,” said Farrell. “Happy and upbeat from the first day of camp. His work has been outstanding. I’m pleasantly surprised at how surehanded he is and how confident he is in his hands.”

Just like Cito Gaston before him, Farrell doesn’t have a problem with Escobar’s showmanship, just as long as the routine plays are made. This season, with a couple of rare exceptions, Escobar has been all business.

“He’s been very consistent. Players have personalities on the field, how they play. You want to allow that personality to play out. That’s what makes them feel natural but we also want to make sure that routine play is executed to completion.

“If the personality sometimes gets in the way of that, that’s when you’ve got to reel that back in. But Yunel has been outstanding.”

IT’S A RELIEF

The Blue Jays spent most of their pitching budget on relievers last winter and it is already paying dividends. After 23 games, the bullpen has been the strength of the pitching staff, with the starting rotation taking some time to develop its consistency.

Through the first 23 games, the starters have averaged just over 17 outs per game, leaving about 10 outs per game to the bullpen. Toronto’s starters have an ERA of 4.40 with a .263 batting average against and a WHIP of 1.429. Toronto’s relievers have a collective ERA of 3.14, a batting average against of .201 and a WHIP of 1.125.

Jon Rauch is a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities and any of four others — Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Shawn Camp and Frank Francisco and Carlos Villanureva have interchanged various other roles.

“There are a lot of weapons down there,” said pitching coach Bruce Walton. “Many different styles. Over the course of the first few weeks of the season, we’ve started to learn where to position them.

“It’s kind getting back to what we expected it would shape up to be at the beginning of spring training. Frankie and Octavio were both a little behind and now it’s getting back to normal.”

When he failed in his bid to earn a starting role, Rzepczynski moved seamlessly into the bullpen and has been an effective addition as the pen’s only lefthander.

“We threw him right into the fire, going through that transition from starting to relieving,” said Walton. “He’s been out there in the eighth inning, the ninth inning and the seventh inning with leads.

“He may have one of the better sliders out of the bullpen in all of baseball,” said Walton.

Walton expects that once the starters get fully stretched out, the pen will have less work and more rest.

“Early on, there have been some pitch-count issues involved with some of the starters. You don’t want to run them too deep, so you use your bullpen a little more. I think (later on) we’ll be looking at getting 21 outs a game from our starters and that’s a good day.”


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