DETROIT – The concern held among certain segments of the Toronto Blue Jays fan-base over the club’s slow start to the 2013 season is not shared by Alex Anthopoulos.
Speaking with reporters for nearly 20 minutes Wednesday afternoon, the general manager insisted nothing should be read into a week’s worth of baseball and that it will be a long time before any meaningful assessments can be made.
“No, it’s too early,” Anthopoulos replied when asked if he was concerned. “The same way, there will be a time when we’re playing very well and you’ll ask me how good do you feel about this team and I’ll say I’m not going to make too much of a five-game winning streak or whatever it might be over the course of a season. It’s too long, I’ve been through it enough years now, enough seasons to know the peaks and valleys.
“Oakland wasn’t even on the radar in the middle of the summer and they won the division and won 94 games. I guess the Pirates were 16 games over .500 at the trade deadline and, you know, things change so fast no matter how well you’re playing or how poorly you’re playing.”
Further to that point, the American League champion Detroit Tigers didn’t break .500 for good last season until July 7 when a victory over the Kansas City Royals pushed them to 43-42 en route to an 88-74 finish.
While certainly not ideal, the 2-5 start out of the gate is no more indicative of how good the Blue Jays may or not be than any other seven-game segment pulled from a 162-game sample. At this point, there’s little reason to believe it’s anything more than a bad week.
“To me, I’m not really going to start to bear down until August or September, to be honest with you,” said Anthopoulos. “Even if you’re playing well, things can change fast. I mean, we were two games out of a wild card spot at the end of July and then the last two months we played very poorly. Again, late August, early September is when you really start to say OK. That’s how fast things can change.”
What would quickly change the Blue Jays’ fortunes is some more consistent offence and better pitching. The starting staff is one of the club’s strengths, but so far it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
“Once our rotation starts to settle in, I think we’ll be fine,” said Anthopoulos. “It’s really our starters giving us a chance to win the games. Obviously, offensively we need to get everybody going as well.”
Here are some other highlights from Anthopoulos’s availability:
On R.A. Dickey pitching with a fingernail cracked during the first inning Sunday:
“He’s said he’s done it many times in the past, that he could pitch with it. … He wasn’t concerned about it and said it happens all the time, so we’re not concerned about it. … He does some things with his nails to make sure that they stay strong.”
On how much of the slow start is tied into Brett Lawrie’s absence:
“He’s a really good player and he helps us in so many ways. I don’t think the team’s built on one player though. I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘OK, Brett comes back and all of a sudden we’re going to take off.’ But there’s no question what he does defensively, range, the energy he brings. But at the same time we can’t just rush him back.”
“We have to make sure he gets his at-bats. Last year when he came back there weren’t enough rehab games left because the (minor-league) seasons were all done, and he was a little shaky offensively for the first I guess two weeks when he came back. We’re anxious to get him back because defensively, obviously, he’s a plus for us.”
On why absence from oblique issue initially thought to be minor has lasted so long:
“Brett’s the one who told us – again, we were going off of him – he said it didn’t feel close to as bad as the first time he had it. He’s taken batting practice now two days in a row. He’s taking ground balls at third base, throwing across the infield to first base, feeling great. So I would think that games are starting to get close now (Lawrie will play in an extended spring game Thursday).”
” Once we get him the games, we haven’t set a number of at-bats but the thought is maybe 20 at-bats, 25 at-bats, it could be sooner. But he’s getting close. We talked about it internally, maybe the New York series at home, maybe the Baltimore series on the road, that would give him enough time in the minor leagues. If he goes out on a rehab assignment and has 10 at-bats and looks great, we wouldn’t be afraid to call him up then.”
On whether Lawrie had a setback at camp’s end:
“I think it was just he came to us and said, ‘Look, I can play’… he could have played, but he came to us and said, ‘You know what, if we’re going to be smart about this thing,’ because he’d been through it before, ‘To make sure it doesn’t nag at me and bother me.’”
“You see what happened with Atlanta. Freddie Freeman, he had an issue and he played through it. I guess he was playing well, but Atlanta just decided let’s make sure this thing heals. Brett could have played, but he still felt something. So, I think it’s him telling us with his body, if I can just get a little more time, I think I’m going to take care of this entirely. It’ll be behind us and then I won’t have to worry about it again.”
On whether Maicer Izturis’ defence at third base was worrying:
“We’ve talked about it. He’s played so much third base in his career with Anaheim, potentially is it the fact that he played so much second base and obviously a little bit of shortstop this spring. I think we only got him two or three games at third at the end. We weren’t planning on him playing a ton of third base.”
“But he’ll end up being fine. He’s been in the league too long, he’s done too good a job and he’s played a lot of games there. I think it’s just early on, but he’s been a good defender his entire career, so I don’t expect that to change.”
On whether the daily questions about pressure, expectations are fair:
“We’re in sports, so I think anything’s fair to be honest with you. It’s part of what it’s about. You’re open to be criticized. At the same time players get praised, front offices get praised. You get criticized as well. I think it’s all part of it. I don’t think anything of it. It’s just whether it’s doing media, whatnot, I think it’s all fair, to be honest with you. It’s not fair if you go after someone’s family or something, but I think everything else is fair.”
On whether players tend to struggle and press with new teams at beginning:
“I don’t think so. Because (Jose) Reyes is hitting .430 or whatever it is (.444) and he’s new to the team. (Edwin) Encarnacion and (Jose) Bautista and some of the other guys that have been here aren’t performing yet the way they can. Obviously they’re going to hit some home runs. And they’ve been here awhile. I don’t know. I know we look for reasons why guys get off to slow starts and again you just can’t make too much of it. ”
“I remember Kelly Johnson last year got off to an unbelievable start the first six weeks of the season and then obviously he hit a little bit of a funk. Likewise we have guys like Colby (Rasmus) start off slowly last year and he really emerged leading up to the all-star break. I know that all we have to report on is what we see each day and it’s going to be a story. You just can’t react to tiny sample sizes at this point.”
On whether Encarnacion’s slow start impacted by finger injury at end of camp:
“I don’t know, it could be. It could the extended period, it could be trying to do too much, it’s so hard to tell. He was so good last season, even with Jose out, he continued to play well. He has done this before, where he started out slow, even in the past with us. It’s one of those things, you have to just wait. These guys, you believe in them, they’re good players, and you wait until they finally snap out of it and start playing well.”
On why Miguel Batista was signed to a minor-league deal:
“They needed some innings down there just to have any type of role, long relief, spot start. It’s just depth. You’ll see a lot of transactions on the minor league side that they do day in and day out. I understand that anyone who is a former big league player is going to be news but it’s just for them to have more innings and have a little more length.”
Batista move part of commitment to Buffalo?
“No doubt. A lot of it, obviously we’re still active, we want to win here, but we also made a commitment to try to put the best team on the field that we could there. That’s part of it as well. We’re always on top of it, but probably more so than we’ve ever been. The minor league department, any time they have a chance to upgrade and make the team better, they’ll look to do it.”
On the latest with Ricky Romero:
“Right now, he’s throwing live batting practice. I think he has done it twice now, he might do it a few more times. Once Dane Johnson feels like the changes they’ve made delivery wise, mechanics wise, are pretty much in place they’ll progress him into games. We don’t have a date yet, but I would think it’s coming soon. There are only so many times you’re going to throw live batting practice so maybe a week to 10 days. We haven’t talked about that but I would expect it to be soon.”
Aside from direction to home, what else is Romero working on:
“They’re doing some little things like he’d do a full wind up where his hands would come over his head; they took that away. It’s more starting his hands at his chest, bringing it down to his belt and separating his hands there.”
“These are small things … that can affect your balance and things like that, so just some minor things they’re doing as well. You know, obviously, there’s the main point of your lines to the plate but there are some minor things too whether it’s taking his hands over his head or starting at his chest, where he breaks his hands, things like that.”
Is there a mental component for Romero:
“From his standpoint, he’s been down this path before when he was in New Hampshire. Three years in a row he had five ERAs and it finally clicked for him. He’s been down this path and I don’t know how confident you can be when you’re getting hit and you’re not performing the way you can. I think once the success comes the confidence will come.”
On the minor leagues and where Blue Jays still have prospects:
“We’re not necessarily going to have great prospects on every team. I’m anxious to see guys like (Matt) Smoral pitch, I saw him on the Saturday before the season started in spring training and I hadn’t seen him throw before. He was 96, it was exciting to see what was coming out of his arm, the way the ball jumped, so I’m excited for when he finally gets into a game.”
“There’s obviously when (Marcus) Stroman does come back in the middle of May, that’ll be fun to get him back as well. Sean Nolin is getting close, he’s throwing some bullpens so once he gets back in the rotation it will be fun to see him as well. We’ve got some guys in extended spring that aren’t showing up in the boxscores yet.”
“We still feel like we’ve got a pretty good crop of guys, even relative to some other teams, we feel like we have some high ceiling guys, we’re high on (Aaron) Sanchez and (Roberto) Osuna. Sanchez the other day was up to 99, Osuna was up to 97 and he’s 18, so they’re pretty exciting high ceiling prospects for us. Antonio Jimenez is looking like he’s coming back soon, so we’ll get a shot in the arm but we always want to win, it’s easier to develop players when you’re winning.”
Is Jeremy Jeffress, designated for assignment this past Sunday, on waivers?
“We have until Sunday to put him on, we’re going to see if there’s a deal there, I don’t think so right now. There hasn’t been any interest at this point.”