DUNEDIN, Fla. — There was a distinct difference between the two Toronto Blue Jays pitchers who alternated throwing live batting practice on the main diamond at the Bobby Mattick complex in Dunedin Tuesday morning.
First came veteran Mark Buehrle, painting corners and snapping off beautiful breaking balls, and after he’d thrown an “inning” of work against Jose Reyes, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio, out came once-and-future closer Sergio Santos throwing absolute BBs.
After Santos’s first delivery, a good, hard fastball strike to Bonifacio, a coach leaning on the batting cage said, “That’s a little different from Buehrle, huh?”
It is, and it’s great news for the Blue Jays that Santos, limited to just five innings of work in 2012 because of shoulder problems that required surgery, is popping the catcher’s mitt again, looking free, loose and easy out on the mound.
“I feel just as good (as before the injury),” says Santos, “if not even better. I feel so good, I feel healthy, the ball is coming out great, I feel like I’m in the best place I need to be — where we have a month and a half to fine-tune a couple of things and get ready for the season.”
The batters he faced thought his pitches looked as good as he felt, and let him know, which Santos appreciated.
“I got positive feedback from all three of those guys, and it’s always nice when your peers give you that positive reinforcement. It’s been a lot of work to get to this point and I’m just happy that I’m feeling great.”
Manager John Gibbons is impressed, as well, saying that he’s seen Santos look “very, very good” in the early spring, and that he plans on using him the same way he would use any other reliever in camp, while still being mindful of the fact that “(Santos) he missed that whole year … he’s gotta get his feet wet, get back out there and get that feel again.”
Santos, who didn’t get to pitch much last spring because he was working in the bullpen refining his change-up (he still swears up and down that that was the case, not that they were hiding his shoulder issues, which he insists didn’t really crop up until the season started), was thrilled to hear that he’ll be used normally during this year’s Grapefruit League season, saying, “I wanted to put myself in a position where I would be just like any other guy, where this is my day to throw, I’m throwing. That’s why I busted my butt this whole off-season, and so far, so good — it’s paid off.”
That change-up on which he spent last March working continues to develop, to the extent that Santos feels he has another weapon to put away left-handed hitters along with his high-90s heater. In 2011, Santos’s last healthy season and only his second full year in the bigs, lefties had an OPS against him that was 250 points higher than righties’. Granted he was incredibly dominant against right-handed hitters, destroying them to the tune of a .130/.229/.243 line, but if he could even things out that would make him that much more effective.
Remember, this is a guy who struck out an incredible 13.1 batters per nine innings in his breakthrough 2011 season — and he’s going to be the set-up man! Santos is fine with handing the ball off to closer Casey Janssen, behind whom he once played shortstop in the minors.
“Casey had such a great year last year — hopefully he’s healthy and back from his small clean-up and hopefully he has the same kind of year he did last year. We’re definitely going to need it because hopefully we’re playing in October. My goal is to help this team in any way I can, whether that’s being back at closer or throwing in the seventh and eighth inning — any way, in my small part, that I can help the team, I’m more than willing to do it, and happily do it.”
Add in the big, strong right arms of Steve Delabar and Esmil Rogers and the crafty-leftyness of Darren Oliver, and you have a Blue Jays bullpen that has a chance to be every bit as dominant as their tremendous starting rotation.
IN YO FAES:
- The fact that Brett Cecil and Jeremy Jeffress are out of options, meaning they would have to be exposed to waivers in order to be sent down, doesn’t necessarily mean they have the inside track to make the team over other bullpen candidates such as J.A. Happ, Brad Lincoln and Aaron Loup. According to Gibbons, “It’s an important year for us, so we’re going to go with the best team. Alex’s approach, and I agree with it, guys may be out of options — in the past, it’s a year you don’t know for sure, you’re not as optimistic, you might want to try to hold onto some guys because they’re out options. This year, we’ve got to go with the best team. I think he agrees with that, so some of those guys, they’ve got to perform.”
- Gibbons revealed the beginnings of his springtime starting rotation as the Grapefruit season gets underway with Saturday’s game at Lakeland against the Tigers, which will be broadcast live on Sportsnet and across the Blue Jays Radio Network. Brandon Morrow will start the opener, and a pair of lefties will get the call as the Jays split their squad on Sunday — Buehrle handles the home game against the Orioles, while Happ will throw at Tampa against the Yankees. Most of the regulars will not make the trip to Lakeland, so that the home fans get to see the stars in Sunday afternoon’s home opener, but Gibbons believes that J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind will all be on the bus to Tigertown.