TAMPA, Fla. – Blue Jays starters were held to just two hits over the first seven innings against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, but the kids got hearts racing – well, as much as hearts can race in the Grapefruit League – and made the home side white-knuckle through the last two for a 2-1 win, just Toronto’s third loss in 15 spring games.
Here’s what stood out to me about the first game the Blue Jays played under the lights in 2016:
ONE BAD PITCH
Drew Hutchison got his second straight start at George M. Steinbrenner Field and threw 4.2 innings, matching Marcus Stroman for the longest outing by any Blue Jays pitcher this spring.
The 25-year-old righty retired the first five hitters he faced before giving up a line single to Chase Headley, and his next pitch was sent deep into the night by Starlin Castro for a two-run homer – the only pitch he’d like to have back. It was a fastball that crept up in the strike zone, but for the most part Hutchison was able to work down and he showed a strong, biting slider and good change-up as well.
Hutchison is behind the eight-ball in his attempt to be part of the Blue Jays starting rotation to begin the season. Last year’s opening day starter had an up-and-down 2015, with the valleys deeper than the peaks were high. He was sent down to triple-A Buffalo in August and wasn’t part of Toronto's post-season roster.
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Aaron Sanchez and Gavin Floyd would appear to be the front-runners for the final spot in the starting five behind Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey and J.A. Happ, with Hutchison and Chavez a step behind.
Hutchison has thrown 11.1 innings so far this spring and has allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits, with three walks and three hit batsmen to go with eight strikeouts. He’ll more than likely make his second straight opening day start, but this time with the Bisons, though he’ll be the first player the Blue Jays call upon when (not if) they have a need in the rotation.
BLINK AND YOU’LL MISS HIM
Arnold Leon was a quiet acquisition for the Blue Jays in the off-season, picked up from the Oakland Athletics for cash.
The 27-year-old had a terrific year for triple-A Nashville, earning a 19-appearance look in the bigs and posting a mediocre WHIP of 1.463 with the league hitting .291/.342/.437 against him.
One of the reasons the righty was available for a small return was because he’s out of options, and if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training the Blue Jays risk losing him on waivers.
Leon threw his fourth hitless inning of the spring in Wednesday night’s loss to the Yankees – he’s walked two and struck out a pair in his four appearances – but this one was by far his most efficient. Leon popped up Jonathan Diaz, got Ronald Torreyes to ground to short and retired Carlos Corporan on a grounder to first while using only four pitches.
His perfect frame was part of the 4.1 no-hit innings spun by the Blue Jays bullpen in support of Hutchison. Chad Girodo contributed four outs to the cause, Ryan Tepera three.
It may well come down to Leon or Rule Five selection Joe Biagini for the final spot in the Blue Jays bullpen -- both have looked pretty terrific this spring.
THE KIDS MADE IT CLOSE
Toronto's bats were stuck in neutral most of the night. With every healthy starter playing save for Ryan Goins and Chris Colabello, all the Blue Jays could muster over the first seven innings were singles by David Adams and Josh Donaldson. No runner had made it past second base until the reinforcements came in.
Andy Burns, who is having a terrific spring, got it started with a one-out double into the left-field corner in the eighth. He doubled and homered and drove in four the last time the Blue Jays were here. A batter later, Roemon Fields hit a line drive to right-centre that was cut off before it got to the warning track. He legged it out for an easy RBI double, scoring Burns to cut the Yankee lead in half. Fields then stole third – also with ease – but was left there as D.J. Davis struck out.
Down to their last licks, the Blue Jays again got a runner 90 feet away as Dalton Pompey sent a liner into the right-field corner with one out in the ninth and flew all the way to third base for his first – and the Blue Jays’ eighth – triple of the spring. Matt Dean drew a walk behind him to put the go-ahead run on base, but Kirby Yates struck out Jorge Flores and got Ryan McBroom on a shallow fly to right that almost dropped into no man’s land. Yankees right fielder Cesar Puello made a nice running catch and held on despite colliding with second baseman (and possible double agent) Diaz.
The most amazing thing about the two Blue Jays rallies late in the game was that at Steinbrenner Field, with a sellout crowd on hand, all you could hear were loud chants of “Let’s Go Blue Jays!” ringing through the stands.
The Blue Jays will split their squad on Thursday, with half the team headed east to Kissimmee for a real fake game against the Houston Astros. Brad Penny will start, with Roberto Hernandez, Chad Jenkins and Pat Venditte scheduled to follow. The rest of the team – including all the Canadians – will stay home for a fake fake game against the Canadian Junior National Team. Guelph, Ont., native Scott Diamond will get the start in that one. It’s a fake fake game because the result doesn’t count in the Grapefruit League standings, nor do any statistics accrued count citrically.
But it’s the fake fake game that Jerry Howarth, Joe Siddall and I will be broadcasting across the Sportsnet Radio Network, starting at 1 p.m. ET. It’s always a fantastic day with the 18-and-unders getting to press the flesh with the players with whom they hope to someday share the field in the major leagues.