DUNEDIN, Fla. — As Joe Biagini makes his way through spring training, and his pitch count continues to rise, he’s learning more and more about himself as a starter.
Take Tuesday. Biagini pitched into the fourth inning — starting an eventual 5-2 Toronto Blue Jays loss to the Atlanta Braves — for the first time this year, throwing 54 pitches (36 strikes) as he continues to ramp up for the regular season. About midway through the outing, he realized he was leaving the ball too high in the zone, a tendency that gave him trouble last season, and one he worked hard to correct over the winter.
So, he tried to get the ball down. But now it was coming out too low, as Biagini spiked several pitches and gave Russell Martin a good workout behind the plate.
But by the end of the outing, Biagini had gotten himself back where he needs to be, punctuating his day with a filthy 77-m.p.h. curveball to send Atlanta catcher Alex Jackson walking back to the dugout shaking his head. It was Biagini’s fifth strikeout of the day.
“The ball was getting up on me a little bit today more than it had in previous games,” Biagini said. “That may have had something to do with the rising pitch count and that’s just something that everyone has to kind of work through in spring training. I really got the taste of that last year in the middle of the season.
“I think I feel pretty good about everything. As long as I can just make sure that continuing to go forward I just take advantage of the reps, the pitches that I have available. And try to make sure that they stay low.”
Biagini’s curveball was particularly effective Tuesday. During a third-inning plate appearance by Dansby Swanson, Biagini flipped in a first-pitch curveball for a called strike before getting the 24-year-old shortstop to chase one out of the zone a pitch later. Swanson laid off a change-up to work the count 2-2, but then went fishing again for another curveball, and came up empty.
“The last couple games I threw more change-ups and cutters because that’s something I wanted to work on a little bit more,” Biagini said. “So, it was nice that I had some opportunities to throw [curveballs] and it looked pretty good today. I was pretty happy about that.
“It’s good practice to just go through and pitch a game like you would normally in the season, unless you’re specifically working on something. I think it’s good to be ready with everything and get a chance to just react to what’s called and try to throw it.”
Donaldson returns to the field
Josh Donaldson made his spring debut at third base Tuesday, converting his lone fielding opportunity in three innings of work. Donaldson’s been battling a sore right shoulder this spring, which limited him to DH duty up until this point.
After a walk and a single Tuesday, Donaldson’s made only nine plate appearances this spring, which is a little low for this point in camp. But he’ll have plenty of opportunities going forward to reacquaint himself with live pitching and get his timing down ahead of opening day.
“Really, if there’s one guy that you would say probably doesn’t need as much [spring playing time], it’s probably him,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “I don’t know why that is. But if he’s healthy and he’s not carrying some injury or something, he’s a guy who can go out there [without much spring playing time.] And that’s hard to do. Very few can do that.”
Donaldson will travel to Lakeland Wednesday as part of a Blue Jays split squad to play designated hitter.
Pearce and Stroman on the mend
Elsewhere on the injury front, Steve Pearce will miss a few days due to a mild left calf strain. He came out of a game Sunday after experiencing cramping as he warmed up ahead of the third inning.
The injury isn’t expected to jeopardize Pearce’s status for opening day, but it will open up more playing time this week for Teoscar Hernandez, who would be the first outfielder called upon if the Blue Jays had an injury at the big-league level. Hernandez is certainly looking to make the most of it, crushing a solo home run in his first at-bat Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Marcus Stroman will take a few more days off as he continues to recover from inflammation in his right shoulder. The Blue Jays have a tentative date in mind for his return to the mound, but aren’t sharing it publicly.
With just over three weeks until opening day, it’s appearing increasingly likely Stroman will miss the beginning of the season. Of course, the Blue Jays will live with that trade-off if the return is a healthy Stroman at the end of the season.
“The doctors feel good,” Gibbons said. “Once he gets going, the key is getting enough outings for him. We’ll kind of see where he is. We’re getting close to the season. But once he gets over this, they don’t think that’ll be an issue ever again.”