Blue Jays’ Tulowitzki: Healthy off-season ‘going to pay off this year’

Russell Martin, Justin Smoak, and Dalton Pompey all hit solo homers in the same inning to get the Blue Jays a 4-3 win over the Orioles.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – At no point of a baseball season does process matter more than results than during the early games in spring training, when players work at their own pace, and toward individual goals.

Take the Toronto Blue Jays’ 4-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Friday afternoon, when solo home runs by Russell Martin, Justin Smoak and Dalton Pompey — all off Andrew Triggs in the fourth inning — carried the day.

Troy Tulowitzki logged his first four innings of the spring, Martin caught his first five innings, while J.A. Happ, Brad Penny, Drew Storen and Roberto Osuna were among those throwing their first innings.

Lefties Chad Girodo, Wade LeBlanc and Pat McCoy each got some work, too, and their outings suddenly take on a greater sense of purpose with fellow southpaw Aaron Loup nursing a flexor strain that requires two weeks of rest and makes him unlikely to be ready for opening day.

Here’s a look at some of their days:

• Tulowitzki is among the players starting a bit later as the Blue Jays look to manage workload over the course of the year. He went 0-for-1 with a walk and turned a slick double play in the field. "Spring training games are definitely important but you don’t want to go out there too quick, you want to get your feet underneath you. I was out on those back fields, taking ground balls, running the bases a little bit. It’s definitely nice to get out there." The all-star shortstop heads into this season having had a full winter to workout. In August 2014 he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, and sent most of the off-season rehabilitating. The difference, he says, "is huge. It was the first off-season where I didn’t have to do any rehab, I was just trying to make myself a better baseball player, so I was excited about that, and I think it’s going to pay off this year."

• Happ allowed two hits in two innings of work, inducing three ground balls, including an inning-ending double play in the second. His first steps include a focus on fastball command, but throwing to a real opponent was also important. "You’ve been competing against yourself all off-season, mentally and physically, and to get out there against a different uniform is always fun, that was good," he said. "I wanted to throw strikes and for the most part I did that." He pitched with Martin behind the plate, Tulowitzki and Ryan Goins up the middle, and Kevin Pillar in centre field. "I think we’re going to be really solid, really strong defensively, that’s certainly a great feeling when you’re on the mound trying to execute a pitch, you have that much more confidence," he said. "You try to do your thing and trust that your defence is there, knowing they’re going to be well above average is nice."

• Happ is also working on getting to know Martin. "We’ve had several conversations already and it’s getting better and better as he learns how I pitch and I’m trying to learn how he calls a game and we get on the same page," he said. "(Building relationships) does take a little bit. That’s something I was saying last year (in Seattle), that’s a real issue, it can be if someone just jumps in there trying to catch you and he doesn’t know you real well. It’s going to take some time but I certainly think getting to throw bullpens from the start and throwing games is going to be enough time to get there for sure."

• Storen allowed a run on two hits and a walk before inducing a double play from Mark Trumbo to end the fifth inning. "You’re just trying to get your timing down and you’re pitching at a new gear when you go out there facing guys in a game situation, so it’s all about making adjustments," he said. "You’re going to leave the ball up a little bit so it’s about getting it down and getting it to sink a little bit." The thing he liked most about his day? "Just my adjustments. I backed up a couple of sliders and threw a good one there at the end to get a double play, and I threw a good changeup so it’s something to build off of."

• Osuna, competing with Storen for the closer’s role, allowed a run on a hit and a walk with one strikeout in the sixth. "I just tried to throw every pitch," he said. "I’m throwing the cutter right now, and my goal this year is to throw any pitch in any count, so I’m going to use spring training to use all those pitches. It’s weird to see me throwing a changeup in those counts but I want to try because I want to get those pitches ready for the season." This camp is a much different one for him compared to last year, when he forced his way on to the team with a dominant spring. He’s afforded the luxury of working on some things this time. "It is different but it’s the same goal," said Osuna. "I’ve got to do my job, do my best because you never know what can happen. I did a great job last year but it can change in one second. I’ve got to keep doing my thing and make good pitches."

• Girodo, a 25-year-old who pitched at three levels of the Blue Jays system last year and impressed in the Arizona Fall League, worked around a hit and a walk in a scoreless seventh. LeBlanc walked one in a scoreless eighth and McCoy allowed a hit and a walk while recording two outs before Chad Jenkins came in to record the final out. Manager John Gibbons said the Blue Jays won’t necessarily replace Loup with another lefty on the roster, but that would be the ideal set up.

• Marco Estrada threw his first side session of the spring in the morning after his back locked up while doing a core exercise called dragon flag. "We decided to go with a new workout and it didn’t work out too well," he said. "I’ve had lower back issues for a long time, it’s just never really affected me on the field. This one was pretty significant, it locked up on me pretty tight, and it’s been almost three weeks now. It’s not 100 per cent yet but it’s really close to being there." Estrada says he’s close to where he’d normally be anyway. He’ll have two or three more bullpen sessions before throwing in a Grapefruit League contest.

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