Blue Jays spring takeaways: Thole working on his power swing

J.A. Happ would pitch six strong innings but Toronto would give up a costly run in the ninth and lose 4-3 to the New York Yankees.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – It was a rare spring loss for the Toronto Blue Jays, just their fifth in 23 citric affairs this spring, but the second at the hands of the hated New York Yankees.

Here’s what stood out about Saturday’s 4-3 defeat:

JOSH POWER: Over the winter, Josh Thole completely revamped his swing in an effort to transform himself from a guy looking to inside-out little line drives over the shortstop’s head into a hitter with a little bit of thump.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the thinking is likely that if you’re going to hit .223 with no power, as Thole has for the last four years, well, you might as well hit .190 and hit the ball a long way every once in a while. John McDonald did the same thing, which is why he hit 19 home runs in the last 950 or so plate appearances of his career after hitting only nine in the first 1700.

Thole has been driving the ball this spring and he hit his third double of the Grapefruit season in the fifth inning, a shot to deep right field that short-hopped the wall and drove in David Adams to tie the game at one. He’s had nine regular-season doubles as a Blue Jay, in 302 at-bats. The three this spring have come in just 21 trips to the plate.

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A TALE OF TWO HAPPS: J.A. Happ’s biggest issue in his first go-around with the Blue Jays was an inability to be efficient with his pitches. He would often get ahead in counts and then start to nibble and pick at the corners of the plate, driving up his pitch count. It wasn’t unusual to see Happ having thrown 80 pitches by the fourth inning.

Saturday against the Yankees, though, Happ was the picture of efficiency through his first five innings of work. The lefty gave up a home run to Aaron Hicks to start the game, but then retired the next 14 hitters he faced without having a single ball hit out of the infield. Through five, Happ had allowed just the one run on two hits with no walks and had thrown only 53 pitches.

But in the sixth, that efficiency was nowhere to be found. Happ gave up a leadoff double to Carlos Puello, then got a couple of ground balls, one of which went for an infield single to put runners on the corners with one out. Alex Rodriguez was next, and he and Happ engaged in a ten-pitch battle finally won by the Yankee slugger with a line single up the middle, just over the glove of a leaping Andy Burns. A wild pitch followed, allowing the Yankees to take the lead on Mark Teixeira’s ground ball to third.

Happ threw 33 pitches in the top of the sixth, allowing two runs on three hits.

TOUGH INNING FOR TONY: Tony Sanchez has had a pretty non-descript camp, his first as a Blue Jay. The catcher, picked fourth overall in the 2009 draft by the Pirates, was released by Pittsburgh this winter and signed a minor-league contract with the Jays on the eve of camp opening. He’s gotten into 11 games, but has only had 16 at-bats and is hitting a quiet .313/.353/.375.

He was in the spotlight for the wrong reasons in Saturday’s loss to the Yankees. With the game tied in the ninth inning and one out, runner Deibinson Romero thought that ball three to Vicente Conde was ball four and began to trot to second base. Sanchez had him dead to rights, hung up between first and second and not even knowing he was hung up, but instead of running at him or throwing to second, he decided to throw behind the runner, to first base, and unfortunately airmailed it into right field, allowing Romero to continue on to second base, none the wiser.

Romero moved to third on a ground out, and was there with two out when Sanchez had a Roberto Osuna pitch pop in and out of his glove. Sanchez chased it down, with Romero holding at third, but when he slid to pick the ball up, Sanchez instead kicked it farther away, allowing the go-ahead run to score.

Two big errors in one inning in a tie game in the ninth during the last week of camp doesn’t leave a great impression on the big-league staff, although Sanchez did help his cause by singling with one out in the bottom of the ninth to put the potential tying run on base.

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