"Are you going to pitch like a man?"
It's a simple question with an obvious answer but it has become a rallying cry for the Blue Jays starters this season.
"That's been kind of our secret motto of the starters, "Pitch Like A Man," Brett Cecil, who makes the start Friday to kick off a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, said the other day In New York. "Every time I come in after warming up before I start a game, Shaun (Marcum) comes over and says: 'Are you going to pitch like a man today?'
"Every time the answer is: 'Yes.' And we do the same thing to him. He's the oldest guy on the staff and we can say stuff like that to him."
The starting rotation has been one of the unexpected strengths of the team since opening day.
In the past 19 games, the Blue Jays starters have forged an 11-4 record and posted a collective 3.26 ERA. Over their past 12 games, the starters have allowed two runs or less nine times.
That, folks, is pitching.
"Every start, somebody says something about it," Marcum said of the unofficial motto. "I think it loosens us up a little bit and everybody goes out there and tries to pitch like a man, go deep in the game and give the team a chance to win."
The Jays will need more of the same for the rest of the month beginning Friday. When the Rays exit, the Boston Red Sox enter the Rogers Centre. The six home games precede a gruelling nine-game, 10-day road trip that starts with six games on the west coast.
Cecil has been, for the most part, a model of consistency in his second season in the big leagues. In 18 starts, he has gone 8-5 with a 3.77 ERA, allowing 98 hits in 112 1/3 innings.
Along the way, he has done a lot of growing up.
In the past, Cecil used to be a bit of a hothead when things didn't go his way. This season, though, he has been totally under control, on his good days and, more importantly, his bad.
"I used to be the complete opposite and that's where I've changed from last year, realizing the situation and doing my best to get out of it and not getting too worked up about what happened previously," he said.
It's a growing process that Cecil believes can happen only at the big-league level.
"It's being up here, you've got to pitch up here to learn how to deal with things like that in the big leagues," Cecil maintains. "You can't pitch at double-A and triple-A and learn how to take those things. You have bigger crowds up here, bigger stadiums, bigger names up here, so I don't think you can learn any of that anywhere else."
"My personality before was that I'd walk a guy and I'd get really frustrated at myself. If I gave up a hit I'd get really frustrated. If I gave up a home run I'd get really frustrated. Now I realize it's going to help you a lot more if you don't get frustrated, if you can forget about it, be a man and pitch out of situations like that."
It's called having poise.
"There's something positive you can take out of every outing but it's got to happen up here because you have to learn how to deal with it up here," Cecil said. "You're not going to learn if you don't do it up here. You can only go so far at triple-A with the learning process. Some things you have to learn strictly up here."
But it's not all a grind. With the growth comes a joy.
"I'm having a great time, an unbelievable time," Cecil said. "Pitching with this staff, playing with this team, it's been a blast this whole year and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
"I think that's something this team has. We know how to have fun and we also know how to win ball games."
And they know how to man up.