DUNEDIN, Fla. — R.A. Dickey ramped up the velocity on his knuckleball in his final start of spring training, carved up a collection of New York Yankees minor-leaguers, and then declared his himself ready for opening day.
All that’s left for him between now and April 2 when he takes the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Cleveland Indians?
“Just getting into that regiment, it’s time to throw over 200 innings and put up 33, 34 starts, so getting yourself in that mindset,” Dickey said Wednesday after allowing a run over six innings on yet another windswept, unseasonably frigid Florida day. “The last two outings did a lot for me in that regard, I’ll take one day off and then bullpen, I’ll probably try to throw off the mound in Toronto, just to get acclimated to my environment so it’s not alien to me when I go out there on opening day.
“Outside of that, the routine is not going to change much between now and (the season’s end).”
Just like their ace, the Blue Jays also worked on some finishing touches Wednesday, revealing both Brett Cecil and Jeremy Jeffress will head north with the team in an eight-man bullpen, Dustin McGowan will open the season on the 15-day disabled list alongside Brett Lawrie, and Guillermo Moscoso was lost on waivers to the Chicago Cubs.
Those moves were the obvious follows after Ricky Romero’s option to single-A Dunedin on Tuesday night and J.A. Happ’s ascension to the fifth spot in the starting rotation, a drastic but not, wholly unexpected move that seemed to be understood in the clubhouse.
Happ signed a two-year, $8.9 million contract extension on Wednesday, a deal that will pay him $3.7 million in 2013, and $5.2 million in 2014. Toronto holds a $6.7 million team option for 2015.
Pitching coach Pete Walker said he wishes he had focused more on making mechanical changes with the 2011 all-star right out of the gate in spring training, but everyone wanted to give the left-hander time to see whether or not the elbow and knee issues he suffered were at the root of the problem.
Ultimately, the problems were deeper than that, and “after watching things this spring,” said Walker, “it was definitely evident that something needed to be done.”
Dickey noted that, “I certainly have empathy for where he is having been in a similar place. He’s trying to reinvent himself in a number of different ways mechanically, I know he’s battling a lot to try and get him back to who he was, and that’s hard to do. It can play tricks with your mind, the only advice I had for him is I’m available if you ever want to talk.”
Whether or not he does, the flurry of moves and decisions set the 25-man roster under the expectation that Casey Janssen, who faced six batters and threw 18 pitches in an extended inning of work in another minor-league contest, will be ready to go on opening day.
The closer said he’s still “trying to convince myself that there’s going to be everyday stuff (in his surgically repaired shoulder) from having played baseball since I was five,” but added “it’s feeling more natural, it’s getting there.”
Janssen will stay back in Florida when the team heads to Philadelphia for exhibition games Friday and Saturday against the Phillies to throw a bullpen and make one more minor-league appearance, looking to get everything in his game “just a touch sharper.”
“I threw some good sliders today, that was one of the pitches that I (wanted) to see something,” said Janssen, who struck out two hitters on three pitches before giving up a pair of weak doubles. “A couple (curveballs) I threw weren’t what I would have hoped, and the last few were more straight down and a little tighter spin.
“I’m a command guy, I’ve got to have those pitches, throw them at any time, it’s close.”
Dickey felt even better than that after recording two strikeouts and by his count 13 ground balls in the remaining 16 outs.
His results have trended noticeably upwards since allowing a run on five hits and a walk in five innings of work for the United States against the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic on March 14, all part of the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner’s plan.
“You have a certain set of expectations every outing in the spring, the first outing, you just want your body to feel good, and recover well, next you want to work on something, and when you get to that midpoint, you want to start putting it all together,” he explained. “That happened for me in that second game against the Dominican, I was able to springboard off that into the last couple of outings here.”
Wednesday’s outing was a quiet capper to what’s been a busy spring for Dickey, who made the move to a new team, offered his time to a relentless stream of visitors, pitched in the Classic and prepared himself for the regular season.
He’s remained pleasant and welcoming every step of the way, saying the level of demands on him was just right.
“It’s been crazy at times, but if you try to live by life mantra of moment to moment, then it’s easier to handle things and you really try to invest in whatever you’re doing in that place and that time,” he said. “It’s usually not more than you can manage, so I haven’t felt overwhelmed at any point in this spring.”
More of that calm cool will be needed with stage set to shift to bigger and better things.
Opening day is sold out, the Blue Jays announced that Rush frontman Geddy Lee will get things going with the ceremonial first pitch, and a big production that will be the city’s focal point awaits when a season filled with high but realistic expectations finally begins.
Dickey’s already picturing it all in his mind.
“It’s smart to do that, to try and put yourself in that position so it doesn’t take you out of where you need to be,” he explained. “But it’s hard to emulate something like that, especially with the closed roof, it’s going to be really loud and it should be a fantastic night for all of us. But I’ve pitched in Olympic games and even the WBC, when we were playing Mexico with the roof closed, it was really, really loud. They were allowed those Latin American noisemakers, I don’t know if we’re going to allow those in the stadium, but it was good preparation.
“That’s one thing the WBC did for me, it did allow me to be an environment that’s not going to be too foreign from what I’m going to be in opening night.”
How different things will be at the dome compared to previous opening days will be interesting to see, but after a spring that seemed like it wouldn’t end, Dickey and the Blue Jays are eager for what awaits.