Jays’ Estrada ‘ready to get this going’ after solid spring training debut

Marco Estrada talks with the media about taking the mound against the New York Yankees in spring training and how tough it is to see Marcus Stroman miss some time.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — After throwing only 11 pitches in his one-inning spring training debut Tuesday, Marco Estrada walked back to the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse feeling like he’d thrown a lot more.

“I could’ve kept going. But I did feel like I threw five or six innings,” Estrada said, relieved to have his Grapefruit League opener under his belt, and excited to continue building up his stamina. “As much as you run and work out, it doesn’t compare to being out there and actually throwing a baseball.”

Although he threw a baseball fewer than a dozen times, Estrada found plenty to be encouraged about. Seven of his 11 pitches were strikes, two swinging. He retired the three batters he faced on two lazy fly balls and a strikeout. His fastball was where it needed to be, sitting at 89-mph. His change-up felt good out of his hand, and was travelling at the 76-mph velocity he aims for.

And, most importantly, he was able to maintain a consistent arm action with his change-up — a particular point of emphasis for Estrada this spring as he tries to correct a bad habit developed in 2017, which he believes led to him tipping his best weapon.

“It was the one thing I was working on,” Estrada said. “I felt like my arm motion was exactly where it needed to be. And I actually looked up at the velocity and it was where it needs to be, too. So, I’m happy about that.

“I just want to make sure my arm goes through the zone and I’m not babying anything. Because then you telegraph it. It was something that I was working on and I took it out there and my arm motion was great.”

Estrada did cut off one of the change-ups he threw, as he tried to hit a tough spot down-and-away against a right-handed batter. And he would’ve liked to locate with a bit more precision overall. But otherwise, it was a positive first step in his spring progression.

Estrada had only thrown a handful of bullpens before Tuesday’s start, which was part of the reason why his outing was so short. From here, he’ll continue to work on building up his stamina, so that his next 11 pitches don’t feel as taxing as the last.

“I don’t know what it is about that. You’ve got to use every single little muscle in your body to throw a baseball. And I felt it today — I did feel it,” Estrada said. “We were kind of using this as a live BP. I just needed a few pitches. Get out there, take the fans in and all that stuff.

“I feel really good about it. As good as I can feel. I’m ready to get this going.”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Alford continues to impress

Blue Jays outfield prospect Anthony Alford continued his blistering start to the spring Tuesday, hitting a triple and a double in a pair of at-bats as the Blue Jays fell to the New York Yankees, 9-8. Add in Alford’s long home run in his final at-bat the day prior, and the 23-year-old is on quite a roll.

Now 4-for-9 this spring, Alford has been impressing Blue Jays evaluators by pulling the ball with more authority than he has in the past, and making aggressive decisions on the base paths.

“He’s got that electric speed, so he’s got a chance to be a player that can make a lot of things happen on the bases,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’s really swinging the bat. Everything’s just coming into its own for him.

“And you’re not going to find a better kid. He’s got it all. Not a lot of guys have the whole set of tools, you know?”

Alford will have a tough time cracking the Blue Jays opening day roster unless one of Toronto’s four primary outfielders suffers an injury that delays the start of their season. And, considering he’s made only 310 plate appearances above high-A, he’d likely benefit from some additional time in the upper-levels of the minors.

Considering how inherently athletic and talented Alford is, some overlook how inexperienced the football convert is as a ballplayer. He’s played only 301 career minor-league games, as injuries and the minor matter of playing NCAA Div. 1 quarterback have impeded his development on the diamond.

But Alford did make it to the majors for eight plate appearances in 2017 when the Blue Jays were desperate for an outfielder. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to see more of him in the majors at some point in 2018. Particularly if he continues hitting the way he has early on this spring.

“For a football guy that was really raw, he just keeps getting better and better every year,” Gibbons said. “There’s no telling how good he can be. We tell him, ‘hey, just keep playing, kid. Learn every time you’re out there. But let your natural abilities take over, too.’”

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