PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Drew Hutchison laughed off a scary, abrupt and bizarre end to his start Sunday as a painful lesson for a cardinal sin committed on the mound.
"That’s what you get for being dumb and walking the leadoff guy," the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander said with a wry grin, showing no ill-effects from being struck in the back of the head by A.J. Jimenez’s low throw to second on Brad Miller’s steal attempt.
"I’m good. It’s one of those weird things that happen," Hutchison added. "I thought I was throwing the ball well, unfortunately something weird happened and I had to come out."
Hutchison said he didn’t even have a bump on his head from the highly unusual incident in the fifth inning of a messy 7-3 Grapefruit League win over the Tampa Bay Rays. He was ducking on the mound as Jimenez, who has a very strong arm, unloaded to try and nab Miller, who had walked to open the frame.
The low throw struck Hutchison, who was looking to second base, flush on the left side of the head. He never saw it coming.
"You don’t see it that often," said manager John Gibbons. "I thought it got him in the leg, it ended up getting him in the head. I had flashbacks to (J.A.) Happ (who got struck by a line drive at Tropicana Field in 2013), something about this state or something. He’s alright. He’s got a hard head. We’ve always known that."
After the impact, Hutchison dropped his head as the ball ricocheted into left field, and stood up while Miller made his way to third base. After a brief conference on the mound, Hutchison walked off with trainer Mike Frostad, and was replaced in the game by Steve Delabar, who surrendered a sacrifice fly to Steven Souza Jr. that scored Miller.
"If it was a regular season game I would have argued [to stay in]. You know how it goes with the head, so I had to come out," said Hutchison. "I thought I had really good movement. That’s probably the frustrating part of today, having to come out and not getting deeper into the game. I had a good pitch count (51), thought I could have gone really deep the way I was throwing."
The truncated pitching line for Hutchison was one unearned run over four innings on a hit and three walks with two strikeouts, building off a strong outing his last time out against Detroit, when he allowed a run on one hit in four innings of work.
"I had a good changeup today," said Hutchison. "They came out swinging and were real aggressive, and I was aggressive with my fastball. Then the second time through I threw some really good changeups, got the double play on one, had a good sinker today. Unfortunately it came to an end a little quickly there.
"I’ve started throwing my slider to both sides of the plate against righties. I’ve been throwing it front door, had some success with that the last few outings."
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Hutchison is expected to open the season at triple-A Buffalo but has enjoyed a strong spring after an uneven 2015. He made some mechanical adjustments during the off-season and feels good about his work in camp.
"He’s had a really good spring," said Gibbons. "He came in set on his goals of what he wanted to do, and he’s really accomplished every one of them. Overall it’s been a very, very good spring for him."
Hutchison agrees, but it isn’t likely to be enough to earn him a spot on the team.
"It’s probably been the most complete spring I’ve had as far my pitches and the way I’ve gone about my business," he said. "Just keep competing and go from there."
Notes:Gibbons said after the game that the Blue Jays hope to finalize their rotation in the next couple of days. Beforehand, he said Sanchez’s workload had to be factored in. "If he’s a starter, you’ve got to remember that to be smart, there’s probably a max amount of innings on him," said Gibbons. "We always keep that in mind. I’ve always been a believer that if he ends up a reliever full-time this year, there’s probably no going back. Some people disagree with that, I happen to think otherwise. We’ll see. Either way, he’s going to help us, whatever role he’s in."
One possible way to manage Sanchez’s innings is by having him start until late into the summer and then transitioning him into the bullpen.