Blue Jays spring takeaways: Liriano dominant in second appearance

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons on what J.P. Howell will bring the club on and off the field.

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays picked up their third win in 13 tries this spring, scoring early and often against Jerad Eickhoff and the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday while getting outstanding work off their own on the mound in every inning save for the fifth.

Every Blue Jays starter except for Troy Tulowitzki had at least one hit, and Darwin Barney (2-for-3, sac fly), Kevin Pillar (2-for-3, 2B) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (3-for-3, HR) each had a multi-hit day.

Here’s what stood out to me about the Blue Jays win over the Phils:

FRANKIE WAS A MONSTER

Making his second appearance of the spring, Francisco Liriano became the first Blue Jay to complete three innings, and he did it in dominant fashion. The left-hander didn’t allow a hit, retiring all but one of the 10 batters he faced and striking out half of them.

The only blemish was a walk to Michael Saunders to lead off the second inning, but he overcame that by striking out the next three hitters.

Liriano used his devastating slider to great effect in inducing four weak ground balls — he didn’t allow a single ball to be hit out of the infield.

FINALLY, SOME GRILLED CHEESE

Set-up man Jason Grilli got into a game for the first time this spring and didn’t look rusty at all, throwing a perfect fourth inning against the meat of the Phillies’ order.

The 40-year-old struck out Howie Kendrick and Saunders around a routine fly out by Maikel Franco, battling hard with Saunders, which served the purpose of at least getting his pitch count into the double digits.

Grilli was the Blue Jays’ saving grace last season, coming over in a trade with Atlanta at the end of May and finally giving them a late-inning bridge to closer Roberto Osuna in which they could be confident, and they’re hoping for more of the same this year. He says he needs about eight spring innings to be ready to answer the bell on opening day.

Dominic Leone, a dark horse for the final spot in the bullpen, looked awfully good on Thursday as well, throwing a perfect bottom of the sixth. The righty, picked up on waivers from the Seattle Mariners in the off-season, struck out Saunders and Andrew Knapp around a grounder to short by Tommy Joseph.

FIRST TEST FOR KENDRYS IS NO TEST AT ALL

Kendrys Morales got his first action at first base as a Blue Jay. He played the first five innings in the field before being replaced by Justin Smoak.

Morales, who played just 16 games at first base in his two years with the Kansas City Royals (owing to the presence of Eric Hosmer more than anything else), didn’t have a single ball hit to him while he was out there, nor were any of the four throws he got from his infielders particularly challenging.

Morales is no better than third on the depth chart of Blue Jays’ first basemen, behind Smoak and Steve Pearce, but it’s hard not to imagine that he winds up playing a few games there over the course of the season. He’s not, as many seem to think, a total plug who is limited to DH only, and he’s likely to get another look or two on the field before the team heads north.

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The Blue Jays will look to put together their first win streak of the spring when they travel east on I-4 to Lakeland to meet the Detroit Tigers on Friday afternoon. Mike Bolsinger will make his first start of the spring, facing righty Jordan Zimmermann. Arden Zwelling and I have the call of the game for you online beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET — you can listen here.

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