CLEARWATER, Fla. – They celebrated the 2008 World Series champions Philadelphia Phillies before Sunday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, and among the stories being swapped was a cautionary tale about closers and spring training – actually, spring training in general.
Rich Dubee, manager Charlie Manuel’s pitching coach on that team, recalled that the teams closer that season, Brad Lidge, tore his right meniscus in a workout late in February.
“What I remember most is we had to leave him behind in Florida for a week … and then he was perfect for the rest of the season after he joined us,” Dubee, who coached in the Montreal Expos minor-league system for three years, told Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen.
Indeed, Lidge was perfect: 48-for-48 in save opportunities. He saved seven of the Phillies’ 10 post-season wins, including the final inning of their World Series win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5.
So, good health aside, I asked Blue Jays manager John Gibbons how he knew when a closer was ready coming out of spring training. It depends, he answered. Sometimes its velocity, but in the case of Roberto Osuna, it’s not that easy.
“It’s different with him because he’s more of a command guy,” Gibbons said. “So, you take a look mostly at where he’s putting the ball.”
Osuna’s second outing of the spring was highlighted by a consistent 94-m.p.h. fastball and a change-up that pleased him. Disguising his arm speed on that pitch is on his ‘to do’ list this spring.
In all, Osuna sat down all three batters he faced, striking out Cameron Rupp on three fastballs, inducing an infield pop-up and ground out.
It’s the type of spring he’s been looking for; a return so far on an off-season investment in a new trainer and a more disciplined approach. It’s not just the disappearance of baby fat. As Gibbons noted, he’s got a bigger butt that can help deliver power.
Osuna has been quietly urged to shift the site of his off-season program from his native Mexico to the U.S. That may come in the future, but for now, he likes the decision to stay home.
Last season was an odd one for Osuna: His velocity was down, his peripherals improved, and, like Lidge in 2008, he started the season on the DL with neck spasms after a messy World Baseball Classic.
The Blue Jays almost seemed to be hiding Osuna last spring in what turned into a year of personal turmoil, too – becoming a new father and dealing with anxiety issues. His name surfaced in trade rumors, and capping it off was a loss in arbitration to the Blue Jays last month.
“I didn’t feel good at all coming into last season,” Osuna said. “I did something I probably shouldn’t have done in my training. I learned a lot with all the ups and downs … but I think the biggest thing is I learned about my body and how I need to keep it strong.”
Osuna’s done a whole lot of pitching in his first four major-league seasons. He’s also done a whole lot of living.
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In which we contemplate another side of Shohei Otani’s arrival in Anaheim, wonder how Spencer Dinwiddie and the Brooklyn Nets get stiffed so often by NBA officials, worry about Gabe Kapler’s over-managing and salute Taylor Hall, whose season is salt in the wound for the Oilers.
• There’s been so much interest in Otani becoming a two-way player that the flip side doesn’t get much attention: For him to DH, 38-year-old Albert Pujols will need to play more than the 34 games at first base he’s played in the past two seasons.
• According to analysis by Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight, the Raptors need to take a number in complaining about botched calls against them. #whining
• If Devon Travis is healthy don’t be surprised if Josh Donaldson hits third in the order with Travis and Curtis Granderson flipping the lead-off and second spots. Gibbons would like Donaldson in an RBI spot. #nochoice
• The most impressive sight in two days here: Lourdes Gurriel tripling Sunday, helmet flying off, hair on end. The attempt to turn him into Ben Zobrist has been helped by an over-the-top throwing motion instead of a side-arm whip. #intriguing
• Kapler has convictions: The Phillies rookie manager switched left and right fielders back and forth in the ninth inning against the Blue Jays scrubs. Kapler will maximize the placing of his strongest outfield arms all season. #timeschange
• The Blue Jays’ better depth is mitigated by Luke Maile as backup catcher, since on Russell Martin’s days off Gibbons can’t pinch-hit for him. Gibbons says days off for Martin will be just that in 2018: Complete days off, full stop. #nobueno
• Taylor Hall reached 30 goals for the first time Sunday, with a point in 25 games, the fourth time that’s happened since 1993-94 joining Mario Lemieux (28 in 1995-96); Sidney Crosby (25 in 2010-11) and Patrick Kane (26 in 2015-16). #nicejoboilers
Can’t say enough about Granderson’s presentation of the Major League Baseball Players Association’s side of the pace-of-play argument on Saturday, and I’m 100 per cent with him on the suggestion that time between innings could be cut down by running insert advertisements instead of breaking away from coverage for full-screen 15 or 30-second bits.
It’s done in automobile racing and soccer and Granderson has experience in this area having played for the New York Yankees, who were often featured on nationally-televised games with longer breaks.
If nothing else, Granderson’s statement was a carefully-placed suggestion that commissioner Rob Manfred might want to look beyond simply the players to address pace of play.