FORT MYERS, Fla. – Before Anthony Kay went home at the end of the 2019 season, the left-hander sat down for a chat with Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker and bullpen coach Matt Buschmann. He’d just broken through to the majors after an uneven season at triple-A, making three appearances before a mysterious side injury shut him down. The primary topic of conversation was the way he kept falling off toward the third base side of the mound at the end of his delivery.
Essentially, they told him to stop doing that.
“The No. 1 thing they wanted me to do was stay directional toward home and work straight to home,” Kay said Sunday, after allowing two runs in two innings of work in the Blue Jays’ 5-5 tie with the Minnesota Twins. “It’s a bad habit. I did it in college (University of Connecticut) when I got in trouble and just looking back at some cues my coaches would give me, they told me that.
“It’s something I get into a bad habit with and it’s pretty easy to fix. So that’s something they wanted me to work on. If I do that, that will help with the off-speed and everything.”
Kay worked at it all winter and was better in his first game action of the spring, when the command of his fastball was solid and the command of his off-speed was not. He cruised through Ryan Jeffers, Josh Donaldson and Mitch Garver in the first before getting bled for a pair of runs in the second.
“They didn’t really hit me hard, just a couple of jam shots here and there,” lamented Kay. “They strung them together and that’s what happens.”
More important, from his vantage point, was getting his feet beneath him, after an unidentified side issue prevented him from taking the ball in the final week of the 2019 season.
Acquired along with A-ball right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson from the New York Mets for Marcus Stroman last July, Kay debuted at the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 7, striking out eight in 5.2 innings while allowing two runs. The New York Yankees got him for five runs in 4.1 innings his next time out, but his first big-league win came Sept. 19 in Baltimore, when he followed opener Wilmer Font with four innings of two-run ball.
“I got excited when I first saw him, I was like, ‘Man, that’s a good arm,’” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “When I saw how aggressive he was pitching inside, I said, ‘OK man, this guy’s got a chance.’ After that game (against the Rays) I was really excited. I’m hoping for the same thing – a guy that’s not afraid to pitch inside, has got good pitches, throws 94, 95.”
The side issue – “it never really got a final result on it, but it wasn’t anything serious so I kind of just let it be,” said Kay – quickly resolved itself and didn’t hamper him at all during the winter. His fastball velocity was back at 94-95 and he was right back throwing it in to righties without fear, Miguel Sano fighting one off just enough for a single that opened the second.
“I did a pretty good job of keeping it off the barrel and those guys like getting their hands extended, so if I can work inside then it definitely helps and it makes them uncomfortable,” said Kay, who has no reluctance about pitching in. “I mean, if I hit them, I hit them. It’s part of the game.
“I’m not trying to hit anyone but even if I’m not going to get strikes in there and I’m getting it off the plate a little bit, it definitely makes them uncomfortable, moving their feet.”
ROWDY DOES IT RIGHT
In the sixth inning, Rowdy Tellez came up with the bases loaded against Jorge Alcala and rather than trying to yank a ball over the wall in right, he cleverly stayed through the ball and lined a two-run single to left field.
“That was beautiful,” said Charlie Montoyo. “He stayed within himself, didn’t try to do too much and just went with the pitch. Last year could have been a ground ball to second and a double play. He didn’t try too hard. He can hit the ball the other way … that was a good at-bat.”
Tellez is amongst a group of five players vying for four available bench spots and the Blue Jays very much want his power on the roster. Base hits like the one he delivered Sunday will allow him to scale back the number of empty at-bats that accompanied his 21 homers last season.
“That’s more approach than anything,” said Montoyo. “His approach was to hit it where he did instead of trying to hit a grand slam.”
• Travis Shaw will be the primary option at third base for the Blue Jays on days they choose to rest Vladimir Guerrero Jr. How often might he end up on the hot corner?
“It depends,” said Charlie Montoyo. “I know he can play third because I’ve seen him and he’s a good third baseman. I’ll give him a heads up that he might be playing there (the next day) so he can take groundballs. Probably twice a week, five times every two weeks, who knows? But he’ll play there for sure.”
• Shaw will mainly play first base, replacing Gold Glove finalist Justin Smoak, who aside from being adept at picking balls in the dirt, also had a big wingspan to flag down errant throws.
“That’s big, because you need a first baseman who can pick balls in the dirt,” said Montoyo. “That’s huge for infielders, so hopefully (Shaw) is one of those and if he’s not, we’ll make him because he’s got good hands.”
• Right-hander Thomas Hatch, acquired from the Chicago Cubs for David Phelps at the trade deadline last summer, impressed during a clean seventh that included two strikeouts. Montoyo, literally, took note of his name on his scorecard.