DUNEDIN, Fla. – It didn’t take long for the Toronto Blue Jays to get back to their winning ways on the Grapefruit circuit. They took down the sad-sack Atlanta Braves (in 2016, anyway – the future looks pretty bright) with serious pitching, strong defence and timely extra-base hits.
Here’s what stood out about the Blue Jays’ 3-1 win on Monday afternoon:
The Blue Jays simply overwhelmed the Braves with the pitchers they trotted out in the game. Usually in spring training, and almost always this early in spring training, you’ll see a young kid or three take the mound, trying to impress the coaching staff while being ticketed for the lower minors, but not in this game.
R.A. Dickey got the start and was tremendous, facing the minimum over three innings, allowing a hit and a walk but having a pair of double plays turned behind him. After seeing the knuckler, the Braves had to deal with the 96-to-98 mph offerings of Aaron Sanchez, who looked terrific over his three innings save for a three-batter run with two out in the fifth in which he allowed Atlanta’s only run on three straight singles.
After Sanchez was done, out came Drew Storen, Brett Cecil and Roberto Osuna for a shutout inning each. That’s just not fair.
UNCLE CHARLIE IN THE HOUSE
Sanchez was a huge weapon in the Blue Jays bullpen last year when he could just come out for an inning and throw heat, but if he’s going to be in the starting rotation he needs multiple weapons in order to get hitters out multiple times through the lineup.
In his second outing of the spring, Sanchez’s change-up (which is faster than a lot of pitchers’ fastballs) remains a bit of a work in progress. He gave up a single to Gordon Beckham on an 0-2 change in the fifth inning, beginning that run of three straight hits that got Atlanta on the board.
But if the change isn’t quite there yet, Sanchez’s curveball definitely is. He flipped up some beauties on Monday, including one that struck out Kelly Johnson to end the fourth. Sanchez then started the fifth with a first-pitch curveball to Jace Peterson to get ahead in the count. Both of them gorgeous, and again, just not fair when you combine it with that big fastball.
MARTIN CARRYING THE CLUBS
Josh Thole got the start behind the plate with Dickey knuckleballing it up on the mound and only played while Dickey was pitching, leaving when his pitcher did after the third.
Thole, who completely reworked his swing over the winter in order to generate more power, joined Kevin Barker and me in the broadcast booth in the bottom of the sixth and stayed through the seventh. He says he’s a completely different hitter now, no longer happy to just hit little line drives over shortstop as he has his entire major-league career.
We’ll see if the change – he starts his set-up now almost like Julio Franco did, with his bat pointed out at the pitcher, though Thole’s hands are lower than Franco’s were – translates into success when it counts. Thole is 1-for-6 on the spring, his only hit a double pulled into the right-field corner, but three of his outs have come on deep fly balls to centre or right, his pull side, including one on the only pitch he saw Monday. That out advanced Junior Lake from second to third in the second inning, where he was ultimately stranded when Darwin Barney flied out to right.
More importantly, Thole was followed into the game by Russell Martin, who played the last six innings and likely played in a spring training game as a non-starter for the first time in over a decade. As Thole told us in the booth: “I told Gibby that it was about time Russ caddied for me.”
The Blue Jays’ spring sked continues with a visit from the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday. Barker and I will have the call for you live on the interwebs starting at 1:00 p.m. ET. Go to mlb.com and sign up for their audio package – it’s free for spring training, I promise. Gavin Floyd gets his second start of the spring for the Jays; he’ll face Tyler Duffey, who the Blue Jays pounded in his major-league debut last August. It remains the only loss of the young righty’s big-league career.