DUNEDIN - It was a bumpy day at the office for the Blue Jays Dustin McGowan.
Battling his rhythm and his delivery in a class-A minor-league game against the New York Yankees, McGowan allowed five runs on six hits and two walks over 2 1/3 innings. He also struck out five in the outing which simulated four innings of work with four up and downs for the right-hander.
He left the game in the fourth after giving up singles to the first two hitters having thrown 68 pitches, 40 for strikes.
Perhaps it was the setting that threw McGowan for a loop, the Englebert Complex where he has tossed so many times in his various aborted comeback attempts.
“I don’t like it over here,” he said with a rueful smile.
“Yeah, I know every inch of this place.”
The place he wants to be is with the big club at the major league parks and in that regard he hasn’t done anything to change the thinking that he will be one of the five starters that head north to Cleveland.
After the first 1-2-3 inning he was out of sync, especially when throwing out of the stretch.
“Everything felt jumpy and a little slow,” he said. “I went to work on getting a little quicker and staying back a little bit.”
McGowan isn’t the lone pitcher to be off his game in a minor-league setting. As hard as they may try, the focus and adrenalin just isn’t there.
“I don’t think you can experience the adrenalin like you do at the big-league level but you still have to go out and pitch, get up for it.” McGowan said. “I felt good body-wise, maybe a little too strong, just rushing a bit. I got a few things I need to work on, especially out of the stretch.”
The main point was that he got his work in and his shoulder felt fine.
“As long as I got my pitches in,” he said. “That’s all you can take out of it I guess. The whole point was to get your pitches in, get your innings but what a ride.”
Pitching coach Bruce Walton, however, wasn’t complaining. Just having McGowan on the mound, throwing it consistently at 92-93 mph and pumping it now and then to 96 was satisfying enough.
So, what’s the biggest project left for McGowan before the season starts?
“The biggest thing, our main goal is get his pitch count up, that’s No. 1,” Walton said. “No. 2 is just polishing everything off. He had good stuff out there today. I though his slider was pretty sharp, his changeup was good at times. His fastball, he was sitting 91-93 with his two-seamer, 94-96 with his four-seamer, so the velocity is there. Just his consistency (needs work), I’d like to see him hit (his spots) more, more quality pitches that doesn’t run his pitch count up like it did today.”
Sergio Santos, the Jays’ new closer, has a unique and well documented background given that he was drafted as a shortstop in the first round of the 2002 draft and was transformed into a pitcher in 2009.
Walton believes that Santos’ years holding a bat is a useful tool now that he’s on the other side of the battle. It’s part of the universal thinking that pitchers often give hitters too much respect and too much credit due to the fact they don’t — at least in the American League — hit at all.
Santos was quick to agree.
“I know how hard it is to hit,” Santos said Tuesday. “Even if it’s 95 right down the middle, it’s hard to hit. You can put a ball on a tee and it’s still hard to hit, to square up where you want to get it. I just kind of take that with me and try not to be too perfect and just pound the strike zone. I like my chances, I like my percentages when you throw strikes, good things happen.
“So I just took that with me. I said: ‘Look, hitting’s hard enough as it is, let me just throw strikes and let these guys get themselves out.’”
At the same time, that doesn’t mean that Santos tries to think like a hitter when he’s on the mound.
“I don’t get in there and I think after throwing a slider this guy’s thinking this is going to come,” he said. “To me, that’s too much thinking. So I just rely on all the work that Pappi (Walton) and J.P. (Arencibia) and all the guys do and I rely on them. I go with my best pitch and try to keep it simple.”
LAWRIE ON SLOW MEND
Brett Lawrie was back on the field Tuesday, taking his cuts in the cage and fielding ground balls. It marked the first baseball activity for the Blue Jays’ third baseman since he tweaked his groin last Friday in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Everything’s fine, felt good,” Lawrie remarked as he left the field.
Lawrie was originally on the roster to make the trip to Sarasota and face the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday but manager John Farrell said those plans have been scrubbed. Lawrie could be at the Jays’ home game Thursday against the Phillies but a more likely scenario is having him come back Saturday for a home game against Atlanta.
“It’s likely that he’s a scratch for (Wednesday),” Farrell said. “He feels improved. He’ll hit today and take some ground balls but the fact is we’re going to side on the cautious side so it’s unlikely he’ll play tomorrow.
If Lawrie doesn’t play until Saturday, he will have missed a week but with eight games remaining in spring training after that date, Farrell believes it won’t cause him any problems to bounce back and get up to speed.
On another note, left-hander Ricky Romero will stay back and pitch in a simulated game in Dunedin while Kyle Drabek makes the start in Sarasota against the Orioles. Farrell would rather see how Drabek does against major leaguers.