DUNEDIN, FLA. - There was more than the usual amount of wishful thinking flowing through Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on Saturday morning.
Spring training is the time where what happens on the field means everything and next to nothing all at the same time. Then there are games and outings where one has to take pause and say: “Hmmmm.”
Blue Jays left-hander Brett Cecil had one of those outings Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays. On the surface it was god-awful as the proposed No. 3 starter in the Jays rotation allowed four runs on four hits and five walks in 2 2/3 innings. It also took Cecil 81 pitches — 35 in the first inning, 29 in the second — to last less than three.
The Jays, naturally, attempted to brush it all aside as one of those things that happen from time to time in spring training. Not a worry, manager John Farrell said.
“He struggled, there’s no doubt about it,” Farrell said Saturday. “It’s not uncommon for pitchers to have that one start in spring training where things aren’t in sync from a delivery standpoint. The command isn’t there and that was the case last night. He got his pitch allotment in, even though it was only two-plus innings.
“One thing that I think in the short time that I’ve known Brett that was uncharacteristic was the number of walks (five). I think there was a little bit better command in the third inning. But it was one of those outings. He’ll get his side work tomorrow and he’ll be back out there for another start on Thursday.”
If only everything was that uncomplicated.
The Jays have built their season’s hopes on a rotation that is solid in the top two spots but has a variety of problems and unknowns in the bottom three.
The hope for Cecil was that with his commitment to diet and fitness, one that has seen him drop about 35 pounds, the reduced velocity (he’s still throwing 86-88) would climb and that he’d have more stamina and endurance.
And that may play out.
Cecil’s opening four outings of the spring were stellar in that he allowed just three walks and one earned run.
Then came Friday’s disaster and with his spotty track record you have to wonder which Cecil is the real deal?
Last season Cecil and his reduced velocity made four starts in April where he went 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA. That earned him a demotion to triple-A Las Vegas to work on things. He eventually was recalled on June 20 and remained with mixed success, ending the season with a 4-11 record and 4.73 ERA in 20 starts.
After July 29, though, he did not record a win and over his final 10 starts he was 0-7 with a 5.16 ERA. He also served up 22 home runs in just 123 2/3 innings, his homer total being the second highest on the club.
This spring, though, as with every spring, the hope was there that things might be different despite the fact he still had velocity issues and throws too many fastball up in the zone. Friday’s outing raised the spectre that this coming April could be much like last season’s and before you know it, he will be back at Las Vegas and replaced by someone such as lefty Aaron Laffey.
With Cecil, there probably won’t be a lot of rope.
As for critiquing his outing, Cecil didn’t seem very concerned.
“There’s a lot of positives I can take from that game, more so than the negatives,” he said. “Obviously the biggest negative is command and that’s really the only negative of the game. The positive is I got out there and I sat out there for a little bit, got some endurance up. I was probably out there for 15-20 minutes the first two innings. It builds endurance.
“The hits that I gave up, they weren’t hard hits. Two groundballs got through the hole at second base. Two soft line drives to left field. Without the walks, they’re just base hits. Obviously the negative of it was the walks and lack of command.”
He said he’s aware that given what happened last year he’s under more of a spotlight this time around.
“Yeah, probably, just the whole velocity thing, I would imagine,” Cecil said. “That’s probably the one question on everybody’s mind. Last year I was worried about that, worried about what other people were thinking, saying, everything like that. This spring training, it’s just about pitching, no matter if it’s 90, no matter if it’s 85, whatever it is. It really doesn’t matter to me.”
Cecil has two more spring outings before things start for real. Farrell added there was no added pressure for Cecil to have a positive outing next time out given Friday’s disaster.
“I would say no,” Farrell said. “The next outing will probably be a little bit more of an indicator. But the way he has pitched, the way he has thrown the ball leading up to last night, like I said it’s not uncommon for pitcher’s to have that one outing in spring training where it’s kind of a clunker and that was the case last night.”
“We’re not here to say his spot in the rotation is in jeopardy.”
Not now anyway.