Young, healthy Jays reason to be optimistic

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:35 AM ET

Tony Pena watched the Blue Jays finish batting practice from near the first-base dugout one night this week at the Rogers Centre.

"I like this team," said the Yankees bench coach. "They have a lot of pieces. They're on their way, headed in the right direction."

It's not what we're used to hearing this time of the season.

Try to remember the last eve of September when opposing teams praised young starters with the Jays?

Hmmm.

The Jays have had flashes of brilliance from the under-25 set in recent years -- Gustavo Chacin, David Bush, Casey Janssen, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch. But never more than two a season.

It's been a decade since the Jays have had three young arms like Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow to build upon.

Nothing compares since Chris Carpenter, Kelvin Escobar and Roy Halladay were all 25 years of age or less in 2000.

Only the baseball gods know if a torn labrum, a Tommy John surgery or a slip on a bar of soap pushes Romero, Cecil and Morrow down the same rehab road the others have travelled. But right now, Romero, Cecil and Morrow are healthy as horses. Those are reasons to be optimistic and explanations as to why a team expected to win 71 games this season has a winning record so late in August.

Like Carpenter and Halladay, all three are former first-round draft choices.

Opening day 2011

When the Jays begin next season with a new manager, they could have as many as seven changes in the opening-day lineup from this year's in Arlington, Tex.

Catching: J.P. Arencibia will replace John Buck.

First base: Adam Lind will be given every opportunity to learn and earn the job as Lyle Overbay heads into free agency.

Second: Who knows? Could Aaron Hill move to third base? Then, Alex Anthopoulos could sign an Alex Gonzalez-like stop-gap free agent.

Third: Hill. We were spoiled watching Scott Rolen. Shortstops usually lead teams in errors for the simple reason they handle more chances. Edwin Encarnacion leads in errors and could be non-tendered.

Shortstop: Yunel Escobar, who hopefully will learn it's unwise to bunt in the first inning as he did on Wednesday with Fred Lewis on first. Lewis took off on the pitch and had the base stolen when Escobar gave up the needless out. Robbie Alomar did the same in 1992 with Devon White on and bench coach Gene Tenace told him: "Don't be afraid to swing the bat."

Left field: Lewis or Travis Snider.

Centre field: Vernon Wells.

Right field: Jose Bautista.

DH: Snider.

Comeback honours

Hill won the American League comeback player of the year a season ago with 36 homers.

Do the Jays have another candidate in president Paul Beeston as comeback executive of the year?

In 1994, Beeston wanted to get a deal done with the Players Association. Commissioner Bud Selig decided to cancel the World Series after the players went on strike Aug. 12.

In 2002, Beeston was the CEO of Major League Baseball in New York and worked with union boss Don Fehr in an attempt to reach a new work agreement. Selig altered what the two had accomplished.

"It was like a football game," we remember an agent telling us. "Don and Paul would move the ball 10 yards down field, Bud would be like an NFL zebra, blow the whistle and move it back 15 yards." Yet, there was Beeston making an 8 a.m. Air Canada flight to Milwaukee on Tuesday to make the unveiling of the life-like bronze statue of Selig outside Miller Park.

It stands alongside statues of Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Robin Yount.

Welcome back

So, the Philadelphia Phillies get their full team healthy, for the first time since May 21 this week, but they didn't get well against the Houston Astros.

On Monday, Jayson Werth is picked off second after ball four of an intentional walk to Carlos Ruiz in the seventh inning of a 3-2 loss.

Ryan Howard is ejected in the 15th after a check-swing call by ump Scott Barry. So, Raul Ibanez moves to first and pitcher Roy Oswalt goes to left as the Phillies lose 4-2 in 16 innings.

"Still, a few fans here in the 16th and Scott Barry thinks they all came to see him ump," said Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen.

On Wednesday, with Jimmy Rollins batting, runners at first and third and the Phillies down a run in the seventh, Astros catcher Humberto Quintero picks Ben Francisco off third base ending the inning in another 3-2 loss.

And on Thursday, a 5-1 loss gave the Phillies just seven runs in 43 innings against the Astros.

This and that

Anyone remember the name Mike Snyder? The Jays selected the San Dimas, Calif., high-schooler in the second round of the 1999 draft.

Snyder went through almost all the steps on the Jays organizational ladder: from rookie-class Medicine Hat to double-A New Hampshire in 2004 before being released at age 25. The left-handed hitting first baseman played 692 games in the minors during seven seasons, hitting .245 with 53 homers with 329 RBIs. So, why should anyone recall Snyder? Well, the Jays chose him over another left-handed hitter, a catcher, who grew into a first baseman and American League MVP winner -- Justin Morneau ... When Jays new Canadian scout Jamie Lehman was hired, veteran Jays scout Tom Burns provided pointers. As a thank you Lehman recently presented Burns with an autographed Brett Cecil jersey. Burns scouted and signed Cecil ... Len Frejlich, visiting clubhouse manager and a Day 1 employee at the SkyDome/Rogers Centre, has an empty water jar for departing players to leave their Canadian change behind. Last year, Frejlich donated more than $800 to the Princess Margaret Hospital cancer research fund ... Agent Scott Boras, after Manny Machado signed a $5.25 million US deal with the Baltimore Orioles after being selected third overall: "It's exciting to young men and their families who realize their dreams. I am not a doctor, but I can imagine it's like a doctor of obstetrics delivering babies."

Arms up

Robbie Alomar has been busy.

He recommended his godson, Christian Frias, to the Jays, who signed the former Rio Grande University second baseman as a free agent.

A switch-hitter, Frias hit .326 with two homers and 49 RBIs in 61 games for the RedStorm.

The lasting image of Alomar is arms flung high over head after his game-tying, homer off Dennis Eckersley in Game 4 of the 1992 American League Championship Series in Oakland.

Now that image is the logo on the face of Alomar's line of clothing available at Second2None (robertoalomar.net), which, besides watches, includes sports wear, T-shirts, shorts, caps and coats. Clothing is available in the Blue Jays store and via the website.

"I'm doing promotional work for KR3. We're trying to get a contract with Major League Baseball," Alomar said. KR3 has an office in Cambridge, run by Ross Huehn, who previously worked for Cooper. Alomar says KR3 currently makes ash, maple, birch and aluminum bats for all ages.

My best day in baseball

Travis Snider:

"My first game (Aug. 29, 2008) at Yankee Stadium," said Snider, who had been with triple-A Syracuse at Lehigh Valley in Allentown, Pa., when the Jays promoted him to the major-league roster.

"I took an hour and a half taxi ride into New York and knew early enough that my father, sister and three best friends could fly in for the game," Snider said.

Snider batted ninth in the Jays 2-1 loss to the Yanks and hit a ground-rule double to centre off Carl Pavano in the sixth for his first major-league hit.

"It was good to get into old Yankee Stadium the final year," said Snider, who also crashed into the left field fence to catch a Jason Giambi fly ball. "Ah, I really didn't need to jump for it, I kinda over ran it."

Where are they now?

Detroit Tigers Currently 3rd

Expected to be 2nd

Johnny 313: Johnny Damon decided to stay put, declining a trade to the Red Sox. If the Tigers don't sign him for next season, the Detroit Chamber of Commerce should.

"Detroit gets a bad rap," Damon told reporters. "I love it. My family loves it. A bunch of the players who have been here awhile love it. The new guys love it. There's a lot to offer.

"We know the auto industry and the economy takes a beating here, but it's up to us players to keep people excited, to entertain people, to have people enjoy their lives and enjoy watching the Detroit Tigers."

Mad Max

Right-hander Max Scherzer has dominated since returning from triple-A Toldeo. After opening the season with a 1-4 mark and a 7.29 ERA and a session with Toledo manager Larry Parrish, Scherzer is 9-5 with a 2.21 ERA. He's walked 43 and struck out 116 in 110 2/3 innings. Scherzer has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six straight starts.

Double your fun

Miguel Cabrera hit his 40th double this season at Rogers Centre Thursday becoming the fourth player in Tiger history with 40 or more doubles and 30 plus homers in a season. Hank Greenberg (four times, in 1935, 1937, 1939-40)), Bobby Higginson (2000) and Rudy York (1940) were the others.

Promotion

Shortstop Cale Iorg, son of former Jays infielder Garth Iorg, has been promoted from double-A Erie (.211, 10 homers, 33 RBIs) to Toledo where he's hitting .308 with a homer and five RBIs.

Meanwhile, Jordan Lennerton of Langley, B.C. is hitting .325 with none homers and 30 RBIs at class-A Lakeland.


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