PHILADELPHIA — All spring long as Mark Buehrle experienced mixed results, the veteran left-hander kept telling people not to worry, that when the time came to answer the bell he’d be ready.
Making his final start of the pre-season Friday night he certainly looked it, allowing just two hits in five innings of work while striking out five in the Toronto Blue Jays’ 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Buehrle threw 58 pitches, 34 for strikes, and was rarely squared up. He also struck out the side in the second while cutting through the Phillies at his usual brisk pace on a cool night at Citizens Bank Park.
“I was disappointed that I felt so good tonight, I wish I had saved it for a game that counted,” said Buehrle. “With the lights and a big-league stadium, the stands, there’s something about it that makes it easy to flip that switch. Even though tonight didn’t count, it’s just a totally different feeling.”
In five Grapefruit League starts prior to the finale, Buehrle allowed nine earned runs on 21 hits and seven walks in 13 innings, and last Sunday made a minor-league start in which he gave up two runs in 5.1 innings of work.
“He got hit around a bit in spring training,” said manager John Gibbons, “but you turn the lights on, he knows it’s his last start before the season and he turned it up a notch.”
POWER SURGE: J.P. Arencibia hit his fifth homer of the spring, a solo blast off Canadian Phillippe Aumont to open the fifth, to provide the club’s only offence.
The slugging catcher is batting .450 (18-for-40) this spring with four doubles and 13 RBIs to complement the home runs.
“He’s at that point in his career when I think it’s all going to come together,” said Gibbons. “He’s always been a good RBI guy, I know his average in the past has been down a little bit, but everybody has told me thrives when it counts, so I like him sitting in the middle behind those guys.”
WHO’S GOT THE EIGHTH?: Darren Oliver handled the eighth inning for the Blue Jays last season, but manager John Gibbons has more options to choose from this year when he’s looking to bridge the gap to closer Casey Janssen.
Oliver threw an inning in Florida on Friday and in his absence, Steve Delabar handled the duties against the Phillies. Sergio Santos is another possibility for the job, and Gibbons isn’t ready to reveal his plans just yet.
“I can’t answer that definitely right now,” he said before the game. “The score of the game will dictate that, but we’ve got some options. You’ve got Delabar, you’ve got Oliver definitely pitching in there, Sergio can do it, and we’re going to be conscious with Janssen. We’re not going to abuse him early, we’re going to abuse him late, so we’re going to need other guys to step up.
“The whole key is our rotation, we figure they’re going to eat up a lot of innings, so those guys should all be fresh. Six, seven, eight, nine, I’ve got my ideas, but I’m not ready to lay it all out yet because there might still be some doubts.”
BULLPEN BATTLE CONTINUES: The Blue Jays are carrying eight relievers to open the season although that will change once Brett Lawrie returns from the disabled list, meaning the fight for a roster spot between Brett Cecil and Jeremy Jeffress continues into the season.
While Cecil is a known commodity and has an idea of how he needs to pitch, Jeffress remains a power-armed work in progress, dominant one stretch, unable to find the zone the next.
“He’s showing signs he’s figuring it out,” said Gibbons. “I saw him in Kansas City, he would scatter it, in and out, he’d be good then he’d lose guys, it was nothing to him walking a guy on four straight pitches. Little by little when I see him this year, it’s a different guy. He can still get erratic, but there’s progress and we’re hoping it kicks in and we’d benefit from it.”
STROMAN OPENS EYES: Blue Jays prospect Marcus Stroman still has 42 games remaining in his suspension for violating baseball’s drug plan, but after pitching in his first Grapefruit League game this week, he’s opened up some eyes.
Gibbons said he’s hoping to work the first-rounder into some action Saturday in the exhibition finale against the Phillies, giving the organization another look at a young hurler that could come quick.
“He’s got a nice arm, looked very confident, aggressive, little guy but there’s a lot in there,” said Gibbons. “The organization is really high on him. Everybody loves everything about him, not just the kind of arm he’s got.
“Even Henry Blanco made the comment the other day when he came out the other day, ‘This guy’s got something.’ And here’s a guy who’s been around forever.”
NOTES: The Blue Jays claimed RHP Alex Burnett off waivers from the Twins and assigned him to triple-A Buffalo and first baseman Clint Robinson off waivers from Pittsburgh and assigned him to double-A New Hampshire. … Outfielder Adam Loewen will open the season with the Fisher-Cats. … First baseman Lars Anderson was designate for assignment. … The Blue Jays expect to finalize their minor-league rosters Sunday.