Blue Jays spring takeaways: Casey Lawrence continues to impress

T.J. House was taken off the field after being hit in the head with a line drive leading to the game being called between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Detroit Tigers.

LAKELAND, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays’ win over the Tigers on Thursday afternoon was cut short by a horrifying incident in which Detroit catcher John Hicks hit a hard line drive off the back of Jays pitcher TJ House’s head with none out in the bottom of the ninth.

The ball ricocheted off House, went straight up in the air and was caught by Jays catcher Mike Ohlman, who then immediately rushed to House’s side.

The lefty lay facedown on the mound for 18 minutes before being loaded into a Polk County ambulance, and thankfully gave the crowd a thumbs-up after being strapped to a backboard and placed on a stretcher.

Manager John Gibbons told Sportsnet’s Arden Zwelling after the game that House was moving and talking the whole time he was down on the field, which is great news. Hopefully, he didn’t sustain a major injury.

The game was called with one out in the ninth inning, and rightfully so, but there still was a game, and so here are three things that stood out to me about it before the awful injury to House:

LAWRENCE LOOKING GREAT AGAIN

Casey Lawrence was bumped up to start the game in place of Mike Bolsinger (who wound up throwing the seventh and part of the eighth), with Gibbons saying that he wanted to take a good, long look at him because of how well he’s pitched so far this spring. The 29-year-old didn’t disappoint, dominating the Tigers over three innings of two-hit shutout.

The two hits were both popups that barely made it onto the outfield grass. The first fell in short right field with the Blue Jays’ infield shifted around to the left for right-handed pull hitter Justin Upton and the second dropped in shallow left-centre because of a miscommunication between incoming left fielder Ezequiel Carrera and outgoing shortstop Richard Urena.

Lawrence’s first walk was erased by a double-play ball on the next pitch, the second came leading off the third inning and was followed by a strikeout, one of the popups that fell in and another double-play ball.

The once off-the-radar righty is certainly no longer that, and while his odds of making the team are still quite long, there’s no doubt that the impressions he’s made so far this spring will be remembered by the Jays front office and coaching staff when they require reinforcements during the season.

A KEY AT-BAT

The Blue Jays basically put the game away in the second inning when they exploded for five runs off Tigers righties Jordan Zimmermann and reliever Jeff Ferrell, their biggest inning of 2017 so far. But it could have gone a lot differently if not for the efforts of one Jake Elmore.

Darrell Ceciliani led off the inning with a mammoth ground-rule double hit about 415 feet to right-centre and Urena followed with a fly out to centre that moved Ceciliani to third, bringing Elmore to the plate.

Elmore, who is vying either for a spot as a super-utility man or to be the first player called up from Buffalo when the Jays need one, fell behind Zimmermann 0-2 but worked his way back to a full count before stroking a soft line single to centre to score Ceciliani with the game’s first run. He didn’t take a big swing, nor did he hit the ball especially hard, but he put it in play and it found a hole.

So instead of there being two out and a runner on third in a 0-0 game, there was a runner on first, one out and a run in, and the floodgates opened from there.

Jon Berti and Juan Graterol each followed with soft line singles to centre of their own, Graterol’s scoring Elmore. Then Carrera hit a comebacker to the mound and Zimmermann’s throw home was wild, allowing Berti to score. After a walk loaded the bases and sent Zimmermann to the showers, Justin Smoak greeted Ferrell with a sacrifice fly and Anthony Alford doubled in another run with a shot to deep right.

RICHARD OOPS-RENA

One of the Blue Jays’ top prospects, Urena opened a lot of eyes last spring and has continued his strong play this year. Having just turned 21, he’s hitting .381/.409/.429 in 21 Grapefruit League at-bats and has generally played a very smooth shortstop (with the exception of an ugly defensive game on his 21st birthday against the Phillies), though his throwing accuracy could stand to improve.

But in Thursday’s win over the Tigers, Urena had two mental lapses that could have really cost the Blue Jays.

In the third inning, with a man on first and one out, Omar Infante hit a pop fly to shallow left. Urena went out, camped under it, and suddenly backed off, allowing the ball to land harmlessly beside him. It appeared as though he thought he was being called off by Carrera coming in from left field, but Carrera was still a good 10 feet away from him when the ball dropped.

In the fifth, Urena was off with the pitch to Elmore, who popped up to short right field. Urena failed to pick up the ball until it was too late, and was easily doubled up by Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez to end the inning.

Urena’s a terrific prospect, and seems to be on a fast track to the big leagues, having reached double-A by the age of 20, and these are the growing pains that almost all young players have to go through.

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The Blue Jays’ three-game spring "road trip" is over — they went 2-1 — and they’ll be back in Dunedin for a Saturday afternoon affair that we’ll carry on-air across the Sportsnet Radio Network. Jerry Howarth, Joe Siddall and I will have the call for you, with the pre-game show starting at 12:30 p.m. ET. Marco Estrada gets his first start of the spring, facing Vincent Velasquez, and Aaron Sanchez follows, making his first appearance. Listen here.

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