Battle for Blue Jays’ fourth outfielder spot heats up

Mike Wilner joins Barry Davis to discuss the chances of Darrell Ceciliani making the team, plus Gavin Floyd’s performance against the Twins and his progress in camp.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays picked up another spring win with yet another offensive outburst, improving to 6-1-1 with their dozen-hit attack against a split squad of Minnesota Twins.

Here’s what stood out to me about Tuesday afternoon’s win:

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

When Gavin Floyd signed with the Blue Jays in early February, the conventional wisdom was that the injury-plagued veteran righty might be able to be a factor in the bullpen in short stints. Having undergone Tommy John surgery in 2012 and breaking his right elbow in 2013 and again in 2014, it seemed too much to ask that he be able to withstand the rigours of starting in the big-leagues again. And maybe, like Liam Hendriks and Joe Blanton last season, his stuff would play better in shorter stints, making him a very useful weapon.

Don’t count Floyd among those who believed that, though. He made his second start of the spring on Tuesday and followed up a shaky spring debut with three very strong innings. Floyd retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, allowing only a long solo home run to Miguel Sano in the second after the Jays had given him a five-run lead. He pitched ahead, looked strong and even helped himself out defensively with, as they say, a kick-save and a beauty on Wilfredo Tovar’s come-backer in the third.

Early on, Floyd looks like he could be much more than a short reliever, and if Marco Estrada’s back continues to be an issue, we could see him start some games for the big club should he keep this up.

DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME

In the competition for the fourth outfielder job, Ezequiel Carrera and Junior Lake had made the most noise in the first week of spring games. Carrera has played strong defence and shown his speed on the bases, while Lake has done the same while also throwing his strong right-handed bat into the ring. Domonic Brown is an exciting proposition, with an all-star season on his resume, and nobody has really been talking about Darrell Ceciliani.

That changed Tuesday when Ceciliani broke the game open with a two-out grand slam off Tyler Duffey in the first inning.

The Jays had Duffey on the ropes, loading the bases with one out on a four-pitch walk to Brown that followed Justin Smoak’s RBI infield single. The young righty had only retired one of the five batters he’d faced and the walls were closing in on him. But Duffey rebounded to strike out Josh Thole and was an out away from wriggling out of the jam with minimal damage when Ceciliani made him pay, clubbing a mammoth home run to deep right field, over the Blue Jays bullpen that sits beyond the fence, to make it a five-run frame.

Big two-out hits will get you noticed, and two-out grand slams get you noticed even more.

LEFTY LOOKING GOOD

Chad Girodo got the Blue Jays’ attention by having a big year at three levels in 2015, dominating at Dunedin and in New Hampshire and earning a call-up to Buffalo at the end of the season. The lefty reliever was sent to the Arizona Fall League and he impressed there as well.

What jumps off the page about the 25-year-old with the funky delivery is that left-handed batters hit just .096 against him in the minors last year, with seven hits in 73 at-bats. With Aaron Loup suffering from a flexor tendon strain and highly unlikely to be able to answer the bell on opening day, there’s a spot open for a left-handed specialist in the Blue Jays bullpen.

Tuesday, Girodo was given an opportunity to face three straight Twins lefties in the ninth inning. He got Eddie Rosario on a can-of-corn fly ball to centre and struck out Alex Swim. In between, Max Kepler hit a ground ball up the middle on which Richard Urena ranged far to his left just to get to, then bobbled as he tried to come up with it. It went for an infield single.

It was only Girodo’s second appearance of the spring, and he didn’t face any lefties in his first one – a shutout frame against the Orioles on March 4. Expect him to get a few more reps against south-side swingers the rest of the month to see if he can carry over that minor-league success.

PASSING ANOTHER TEST  

It’s not really fair that every time we watch Michael Saunders play we’re looking for signs that his knee is strong or that it isn’t, but that’s the way it’s going to be all spring long and maybe for a large part of the season as he tries to come back from knee surgery and a subsequent bone bruise that limited him to just nine games last year.

Saunders’ knee was tested again Tuesday in the very first inning when, with runners at first and second and nobody out, he hit a ground ball to shortstop. It wasn’t a hard-hit, textbook double play ball, but it was certainly a ball on which a twin-killing could have been turned. But Saunders ran hard out of the box and sprinted through the bag, beating the relay from the second baseman easily.

That’s another item checked off the list for the left fielder.

The Jays will take their show on the road for a couple of days, with the first stop being Port Charlotte, the spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays. J.A. Happ gets his second start of the spring, looking to build off two strong innings against the Orioles. Rays ace Chris Archer will be on the hill for the home side.

Kevin Barker and I have all the action for you on mlb.com – just sign up for their audio package, it’s free for the spring, and listen in.