DUNEDIN, Fla. — Top Blue Jays pitching prospect Ryan Borucki made his third appearance of the year Friday, allowing a run on a hit over two innings while striking out one. His stuff was as effective as it’s been all spring, earning him six ground balls over eight batters faced. Considering what happened his last time on the mound, it was a pretty good feeling.
“I definitely was champing at the bit to get back out there,” he said. “They just pounded me last week.”
Six days prior, Borucki took the mound against the Minnesota Twins and had one of the worst outings of his young career. He allowed five runs on five hits and a walk, getting through only four outs of a scheduled two-inning appearance. Nothing he did was working.
“It’s just baseball. It happens — it happens to everybody,” Borucki said. “Really, once the game’s over, I don’t take it with me. Obviously, as a competitor, I want to get back out there and show my stuff off. So, I just work towards that.”
Part of that work was enforcing a key adjustment that allowed Borucki to turn his results around Friday against the Baltimore Orioles. While he pitched almost exclusively on the outside half of the plate last Saturday against the Twins, Borucki focused on establishing his game on the inside half Friday, before beginning to pick away at the outside corner.
Borucki’s always going to have his best success on that outter half, particularly with his change-up — his best pitch and one he’ll often throw several times consecutively. But hitters can hone in on that location if Borucki isn’t consistently throwing strikes on the inside edge.
“Yeah, my last outing I didn’t throw a pitch inside at all,” he said. “To get them off the outside corner, you have to work in. And that’s what was really working for me [Friday].”
Spring training outings can be uniquely challenging for a rotation prospect like Borucki, who’s destined to begin his season in the minor leagues and is coming into games to face only a handful of batters out of the bullpen. You don’t get a chance to implement a proper game plan like you do during the regular season, when you can dictate which looks you want to give hitters the first, second, and third time through the order.
You also aren’t exactly sure when you’re entering the game, or which hitters you’ll be facing, which makes preparation tricky. On Friday, Borucki at least knew he’d be following Aaron Sanchez, a right-hander who relies heavily on using his two-seam fastball away. Borucki thinks that following Sanchez as a left-hander helped the adjustment he made to his game plan work to even greater effect.
“It made my stuff a little bit better, a little more effective than last time,” he said. “It was good to go out there and just focus on trying to get outs.”
Another big difference was Borucki’s velocity. Borucki generally works with a 90-92 m.p.h. fastball, but on Friday it was sitting at 92-93 m.p.h., and hit 94 a handful of times, which made his change-up that much more effective.
Borucki was certainly amped up for the outing and an opportunity to bounce back from the Minnesota game, which likely helped the velocity. So, too, did the fact he knew he was only in for two innings, which meant he could be much more aggressive with his gas tank and pacing.
It’s also March, and Borucki’s coming off a long winter of lifting and conditioning, meaning his arm is feeling as strong as it will all year. He doesn’t expect to keep seeing those 94s on the board as the months wear on. But it was nice to have.
“It’s early in the season. My arm’s fresh. Probably by July I’ll be back down to 90-92,” he said. “But as of right now, I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong.”
Borucki’s on track to begin his season atop the rotation at triple-A Buffalo, gaining more upper-level experience and refining his game. But he’ll be right at the top of the list for a major-league call-up if the Blue Jays have a need sometime during the season. And it’s his ability to make key adjustments from outing to outing like he did Friday that’s put him in that position.
“You know what, he’s going to be good,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’s just learning the ropes now. He’s got a great arm. Everything about him, you like. Now it’s just experience. Just fine tuning a couple things here or there.”