KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Brandon Morrow became the first Blue Jays’ starter this spring to both complete the fourth inning and work into the fifth, but in so doing, he got roughed up. Morrow’s seven runs allowed (six earned) was the highest total by any Jays’ pitcher this year — they came on seven hits and two walks over his 4 2/3 frames. Forty-one of the 71 pitches he threw were strikes.
It was Morrow’s slider that was the issue. A pitch he generally doesn’t break out until later in the spring — he’d only thrown it sparingly so far. Sunday, it wasn’t working.
"They got three or four hits on the slider," Morrow said, "and the home run at the end (that came on the last pitch he threw)."
Once he realized that the slider wasn’t working, Morrow did what any rational pitcher would do in a spring training game: "I just kept throwing it, trying to get it to break, trying to get it to do what I wanted. It just wouldn’t do it today. But that’s what we’re here for, to keep throwing those pitches, get it where we want it and I’ll keep doing it until I get it to where I need it to be."
The rest of the news was good for Morrow, who will start the Blue Jays’ second game of the season, April 3 at Rogers Centre against the Cleveland Indians. He reported that this game marked the first time all spring that he "really felt like myself with the fastball", and no matter what other weapons a pitcher has, of course, everything comes off the fastball.
As far as that elusive slider, which has been Morrow’s big put-away pitch in the past? He has a plan.
"I’ll probably go out and focus on throwing my slider this bullpen, and then next time in my pre-game and get it to where I want it." said the righty. "Today was the first time that I started letting them go, and maybe my arm was dragging a little bit on it. I just need to get on top and out front a little bit better. I expect it to be there, though."
After Morrow gave up his second home run of the game — both off the bat of Chris Carter — he was replaced by lefty Brett Cecil, who is competing for the final bullpen spot with Jeremy Jeffress. With Casey Janssen still on the mend from off-season shoulder surgery (he threw in a minor-league game Sunday afternoon), there’s an opportunity for both Cecil and Jeffress to make the team should Janssen be forced to start the season on the disabled list.
Cecil faced six hitters and got four ground balls (one of which got through), a strikeout and gave up a solo home run. It was his second straight strong outing, coming on the heels of 2 1/3 innings of a one-hit shutout against the Yankees on March 14, a stint in which he issued only one walk and struck out three.
Cecil said things are starting to click for him: "I’m finally starting to feel like I can set hitters up. I’ve got that feeling that I know what’s going to happen if I do what I’m supposed to, like the last guy I went sinker away and then I went cutter in and got a ground ball right back to me. I’m finally getting back to where I can see it happen in my head and then it does happen. Boosts your confidence a little bit."
The story for Cecil last spring was his dramatic weight loss, dropping 32 pounds. He says in retrospect, it was probably too big a change.
"Last year I was where I needed to be physically, as far as getting the weight off," says Cecil, "but maybe as far as pitching, there needed to be a little bit more there. If you lose too much weight, you’re not going to have anything behind the ball, but if you have too much weight you’re not going to have flexibility or any room to get out of your own way to finish pitches and be quick, so I think I’m at a really good spot right now having lost all the bad weight and put on a good ten pounds in solid weight."
Cecil is also very experienced in dealing with the darker side of social media. He was active on Twitter, but left the site as he struggled on the field last season, and his wife Jennifer — an even more active participant in that world — abruptly left Twitter last week, in the wake of the abuse piled on her when her husband got roughed up by the Yankees on March 10.
He says that as part of our wired world, social media can pull one in pretty easily.
"Everyone can tell you not to look at it, but it’s hard not to, and everyone can say they don’t, but they do. I do. Some guys it might fire up, some guys it might not. A lot of what I’m seeing is just some people not being very knowledgeable of what’s going on and just simply don’t know what they’re saying, and I’m fine with that. If somebody wants to think they know what they’re talking about, then that’s fine, but it does get a little irritating when people start bringing family into it."
When family becomes a target for the keyboard warriors, safe in their cloak of anonymity, that’s when emotions start to run high.
"There’s a couple of things I can’t really say, " Cecil said as he censored himself, "how it makes me feel, what I would do if somebody said that to my face or my wife’s face, but hopefully that never happens. I think it’s just a lot of people feeling that they have the freedom behind a computer, an iPad or a phone or whatever. Nobody’s going to see their faces, I know I’m never going to see their faces, or if I do I’m not going to know about it.
"I’ve always wondered, ‘If I’m signing this autograph for this guy, did he just write this crap about me on Twitter?’ I look every once in a while, but I don’t let it get to me. Like I said, it’s a lot of unintelligent people speaking of the game."
Monday is the Blue Jays’ third and final day off this spring, and they’re back in action Tuesday afternoon in Dunedin against the same Astros who both promise to be among baseball’s worst-ever teams this season and who have beaten the Jays twice by a combined score of 21-3. Mark Buehrle gets the start against Houston’s Jordan Lyles. Jerry Howarth, Jack Morris and I will bring you all the action on sportsnet590.ca beginning at 1:00pm Eastern, so be sure to join us!