Wilner on Blue Jays: A mound of difference

February 25, 2013, 11:56 PM

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Two of the newest Blue Jays starters took to the mound Monday afternoon against the Red Sox with opposite results — neither of which matters much in the grand scheme of things.

R.A. Dickey, the defending National League Cy Young Award winner and 2013 opening day starter, took the ball to begin the game and gave up a couple of runs on three hits in the first inning. Two of the hits were ground balls that snuck through the infield, and one of the Boston runs scored on a 55-foot knuckleball that bounced past a defenceless J.P. Arencibia for a wild pitch.

Dickey was a bit of a victim of the weather in his first outing with his new team. It was a blustery day, with the wind blowing straight in from right-centrefield. It’s tough to make a knuckleball dance much when it’s being pushed towards the plate by the wind.

Josh Johnson followed Dickey for two innings of his own and allowed but a solitary single while striking out a pair.

The contrast between Dickey and Johnson was pretty severe, with Red Sox hitters seeing flutterballs in the mid-70s in their first trips to the plate and a 93 mile-per-hour fastball/big hook combo in their second. It’s not something that’s going to happen during the season, but Johnson took advantage of the situation nicely.

Melky Cabrera, playing before the home crowd for the first time, stroked a pair of doubles — one down the left-field line and one to right — and Edwin Encarnacion blasted his first home run of the spring, a no-doubt monster shot on which Boston left fielder Juan Carlos Linares barely moved.

Once again, we got to see the good and the bad from Moises Sierra. On Saturday, he ran into an ill-advised out that cost the Blue Jays a run, then made a sensational throw to nail Jhonny Peralta trying to ill-advisedly go first to third on a single.

On Monday, Sierra was at it again with the big arm, throwing out Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia by plenty as he tried to go from second to third on a medium-depth fly ball to right in the first inning. It was no contest, and Blue Jays fans should drool at the possibility of ever having an outfield that features the throwing arms of Sierra, Jose Bautista and Anthony Gose in it at the same time. It wouldn’t be fair.

The other side of the coin, though, was Sierra’s inning-ending strikeout in the second. He swung at and missed a knuckleball from Steven Wright (who once was so absent-minded that he put his car keys into the door of his apartment building and it started up, so he drove it around the city telling people to get off his lawn), but failed to notice that Saltalamacchia didn’t catch the ball. Instead of taking off for first base, Sierra just stood at the plate being all angry with himself for striking out, and by the time he noticed the ball was on the ground, Saltalamacchia had gone back to the backstop to get it and was able to easily throw Sierra out at first.

We saw it last season, and we’ve seen it twice during the spring (Dirk Hayhurst and I discussed it on the broadcast). Sierra doesn’t do the little things right and, reasonably often, he does the little things wrong. He’s a talented guy, and though he may never hit enough to be a star in the big leagues, it’s his lack of consistently “getting it” that could well hold him back. He’s only 24 years old, but already going into his eighth season in pro ball. It’s time some of this stuff clicks.

OK, so that’s the game, now onto the juicy stuff. John Farrell led the Red Sox into town, the former Blue Jays skipper who orchestrated his exit this past winter taking the extremely unusual step of traveling with a split squad on a long road trip. This almost never happens.

The Toronto media, of course, dominated the pre-game session with Farrell and, for the most part, came away feeling unsatisfied and maybe even a little dirty.

Here’s the thing — I don’t want to not like Farrell. I had no problem at all with him during his two years as the Blue Jays’ manager. He was never especially friendly or anything, but that’s not a requirement by any means. But by turning the page so completely on his leaving, how he left, and the feelings of the fans he left, he’s making it awfully difficult not to not like him.

Farrell was completely and utterly disingenuous when asked if he would have stayed in Toronto had he known the big moves were coming and that the Blue Jays would be remade into a contender over the winter. He said, “If memory serves me correct, I was traded.” It took a minute for a follow-up question to be asked, because everyone was busy picking their jaws up off the floor — honestly, to even insinuate that Farrell was an unwitting victim of the process, that he things happened around him over which he had no say, the gall is off the charts. The follow-up to the ridiculous non-answer pointed out that while he was traded, it was because of his desire to be traded, and Farrell said that he’s already talked about all that stuff enough.

Even when Shi Davidi asked if he’s happier, on a personal level, now that he’s in his dream job, Farrell wouldn’t drop his guard and give a human answer, saying that his life hasn’t changed much, since he was in baseball before and remains in baseball now, and going on to speak only of working relationships with Red Sox personnel. I’m not sure why that made me so angry, but it did — he left Toronto because Boston was the one place in the world where he always wanted to manage, but he wouldn’t say that he’s happy now that he’s a Red Sock again? It boggles the mind.

Now, I don’t know what it is that Farrell could have said that would have made Blue Jays fans happy. There may not be anything that will do that — no one takes well to being spurned, especially for a close rival. But I really believe the manner in which Farrell answered the questions, as much as some of the utterly head-spinning answers he gave, served to do nothing more than to fuel the fire that rages within many, many Blue Jays watchers. Which, of course, will only make future games against Boston that much more fun.

Ricky Romero makes his first spring start Tuesday afternoon as the Blue Jays host the Minnesota Twins — Hayhurst and I will be bringing you all the action, live and in colour, across the interwebs. Find us at sportsnet590.ca; our broadcast begins at 1:00 p.m. ET!

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