DUNEDIN, Fla. – Four batters into Gavin Floyd’s start in a minor-league game Friday, a wave of dark clouds spread over the sky ominously, and Toronto Blue Jays director of minor-league operations Charlie Wilson ordered everyone to take cover. The wind whipped pinned tarps, the temperature dropped and a lightning siren sounded. Yes, storms in the Tampa Bay area are so bad that they ring an alarm.
"You heard the thunder at first, and you’re like, ‘OK, it’s coming,’" Floyd recalled after the downpour ended, and he finished off his work by simulating game conditions in the batting cage. "Then all of a sudden you see this black wall of clouds, then the wind and everything picked up, then the siren goes off, like, ‘Oh, is that a tornado?’ It’s severe whatever it is."
While not ideal by any means, Floyd managed to make the best of things, getting up to 80-85 pitches in total. He threw 14 on the mound before the heavens opened up, collecting a strikeout while surrendering a bloop single and a walk, but came away pleased with the work he was able to accomplish under shelter.
"I was getting after it," Floyd said. "It wasn’t just a blank canvas, we had some hitters stand in there and treat it like it’s a regular game as far as counts and outs. (Catcher Tony) Sanchez and I were able to work on using my pitches in different locations, pitches that I haven’t necessarily been able to work on too much. Just get the pitch count to that level, and make the adjustments to get to that point."
Floyd and Aaron Sanchez are in competition for the final spot in the Blue Jays rotation.
EDWIN READY TO ROCK: Edwin Encarnacion enjoyed a batting practice session free of pain in his oblique Friday, and is set to play in a minor-league game Monday. The Blue Jays cleanup man plans to see more live pitching over the weekend ahead of the contest, when he’ll likely lead off several innings to get extra at-bats.
"No pain," he said. "We’ll see now when I start hitting BP if it’s going to be different."
By debuting in a minor-league game, the Blue Jays keep open the possibility of backdating a potential disabled list stint to March 25, minimizing the number of games he’d need to miss during the regular season. If he keeps making progress that won’t be a concern, but it’s unclear whether the lack of at-bats will ultimately affect at him once the bell rings.
"Sometimes you take 50 ABs and then when you start playing you go 0-for-20; sometimes you take only 20 or 30 ABs and you’ll be all right," said Encarnacion. "If I’m healthy, I’m going to be ready for opening day, if I don’t feel healthy, I’m not going to be ready."
Encarnacion tweaked his oblique while taking his first swings after recovering from the removal of an abscessed tooth, making for a rough spring so far.
"I know," he said. "It’s good that it happened now, not during the season."
BAUTISTA ON DECK: Jose Bautista, sidelined the past few days with a stiff neck, is expected to play Saturday against the New York Yankees. "He was going to play tonight, we banged him, he’ll play (Saturday)," said John Gibbons.
ROSTER CUTS: Right-handers David Aardsma and Chad Jenkins and left-hander Chad Girodo were reassigned to minor-league camp Friday, leaving the Blue Jays with 44 players in camp and the possibilities for a second lefty in the bullpen down to Randy Choate and Pat Venditte.
"Those are the two," said John Gibbons. "We haven’t seen Choate a lot, we’re going to try to give him some work this week. Venditte has pitched very good for us. We’ll see where that goes but (a second lefty) not something we have to have."
Aaron Loup, who would have been in the role, is throwing but is basically at the beginning of a spring build up following a bout of arm tightness. The Blue Jays could turn to a righty like reverse-split specialist Ryan Tepera to fill the role.
Choate, a late add to camp on a minor-league deal, has enjoyed a long career as a lefty specialist. Last year he appeared in 71 games for the St. Louis Cardinals but logged just 27.1 innings.
"That’s what he is," said Gibbons. "He’s been in the game a long time just basically facing one guy."