DUNEDIN, Fla. – Another day, another spring win for the Blue Jays. They improved to 15-4-2 on the citrus circuit with a hard-fought win over the Tigers at the FAES.
Jon Berti’s two-out RBI single broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning and the Blue Jays’ bullpen took it from there with Arnold Leon, Chad Girodo, Ryan Tepera and David Aardsma combining for four shutout innings behind starter R.A. Dickey.
Here’s what stood out to me about Thursday’s game:
LIVING DANGEROUSLY – Kevin Pillar looks set to become the Blue Jays’ leadoff man this season, and in order to succeed in that role he’s going to not only have to get on base, but stay on base for the big hitters behind him to drive him in.
He had an occasional habit of running the bases with reckless abandon last season, causing him to get thrown out or picked off more often than he should have been, and that habit has reared its ugly head at least once this spring.
Thursday, though, it was poor guesswork on Pillar’s part that got him into trouble a couple of times in the first inning, but he was able to escape thanks to some shoddy Tiger defense.
Pillar singled off former teammate Matt Boyd to open the frame, and then took off for second a couple of pitches later, going on the lefty’s first move. Boyd threw to first, though, and Pillar had no choice but to keep going – he slid in safely at second base when Jose Iglesias couldn’t handle John Mayberry, Jr.’s double-pump throw.
Unsatisfied with just having picked up ninety feet, Pillar decided to try to steal third, but Boyd sniffed that out, too. He stepped off the mound and ran Pillar towards third base, then flipped a throw that ticked off Nick Castellanos’ glove and dribbled into short left field, allowing Pillar to score the game’s first run.
He used up two of his lives in that one inning, so Pillar would appear only to have seven left for the rest of the spring.
NICKEL AND DIME – R.A. Dickey became the first Blue Jays’ starter to throw as many as 100 pitches in an outing this spring, but his line against the Tigers wasn’t pretty. Dickey threw those 100 mostly-knucklers in just five innings, allowing four runs on eight hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
Dickey outpitched that line, though, as he only really gave up two hard-hit balls the entire game and that flutterball was doing some serious dancing, leading to a lot of very ugly swings.
In the Tigers’ two-run second inning, Dickey gave up four hits. There was a bloop single that fell into no-man’s land in short right field, a double that was a ground ball through the open left side with the defense shifted, a thousand-hop single up the middle on which Dickey almost made a great kick save and a little looper into short right field for another base hit.
No decent contact – two runs on four hits.
The 41 year-old did give up a couple of rockets, though – a line single by Steven Moya that almost took his head off in the third and Castellanos’ long home run to right-centre in the fifth.
BURNSATILITY – Andy Burns has had a sensational camp. The 25 year-old, who hit .293/.352/.371 in 126 games with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons last season, has put himself on the map by appearing in almost every Blue Jays game this spring (19 of 21), playing all over the field and raking at the plate to the tune of a .379/.455/.690 line.
Burns went 2-for-4 in Thursday’s win over the Tigers, adding a big insurance run with a two-out RBI double in the sixth inning – a line drive that got stuck in the wall between the upper and lower padding.
Perhaps more importantly, Burns played three different positions in the game, handling all of them flawlessly. He started at third base, shifted to shortstop and finished up at first. He’s also played second base and left field this month.
Manager John Gibbons has said many times how much he likes Burns’ game and the way he plays it, but Thursday he mentioned off-hand that Burns has a chance to make the team. The thinking had been that if Edwin Encarnacion has to open the season on the disabled list, the Jays would use that extra roster spot to protect both their out-of-options back-up outfield candidates, Ezequiel Carrera and Junior Lake.
But Gibbons hinted that in such a scenario, the Jays would take a good, hard look at Burns, who was selected by the team in the 11th round of the 2011 draft, and that if that didn’t happen, he’d be a guy on whom they would call as the season progresses.
The Blue Jays play their second night game of the spring on Friday, it’s a 6:30pm Eastern start as they head over to Clearwater to play the Phillies. Marco Estrada will take the mound against Jeremy Hellickson. Jose Bautista (stiff neck) and Ryan Goins (stomach virus) are both expected to play after having missed a couple of games with their ailments, and Troy Tulowitzki might give it a shot, as well, depending on how he feels in batting practice.
Kevin Barker and I will have the call for you across the interwebs through mlb.com and the MLB audio app. It’s our last spring game together, so be sure to tune in!