Opening day 2014: Santos discusses near-trade

Happy opening day to everyone. It’s a cool, grey morning in Tampa Bay and it’s expected to remain cloudy all day, but that won’t be a factor under the roof at Tropicana Field this afternoon. The Toronto Blue Jays are set to open the 2014 season against their nemesis, the Rays, at a place where they’re 54-84 all time. They haven’t won a series here since April 2007, going 0-19-1 since.

Working in the Blue Jays’ favour today is that R.A. Dickey is 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA in his past four starts at the Trop. Working against them is that David Price is 13-2 with a 2.45 ERA in his career against the Blue Jays.

It’s a four-game series to start the season and after stumbling out the gate last season, the Blue Jays will be focusing on not pooching the campaign in April this time. Here are the probables versus the Rays before they return home for three against the New York Yankees (2013 statistics):

Monday: RHP R.A. Dickey (14-13, 4.21) vs LHP David Price (10-8, 3.33)

Tuesday: RHP Drew Hutchison (0-4, 4.84 in minors) vs RHP Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76)

Wednesday: LHP Mark Buehrle (12-10, 4.15) vs LHP Matt Moore (17-4, 3.29)

Thursday: RHP Brandon Morrow (2-3, 5.63) vs RHP Chris Archer (9-7, 3.22)

It’s a big season for the Blue Jays at both the micro and macro level, as I discuss here.

In case you missed it, closer Casey Janssen hit the DL yesterday with left abdominal/lower back strain. Catcher Erik Kratz was recalled from triple-A Buffalo to take his place, with Sergio Santos bumped up into closer’s role.

The Blue Jays nearly traded Santos during the off-season as part of a three-way deal that would have sent him to Texas. It is believed Brett Anderson would have found his way to Toronto in return, although the exact details of the transaction have never leaked out. Santos flew to Dallas to take a physical and I talked to him about the experience during spring training.

“You try to keep them as even-keeled as you can just because you know anything can happen and the deal can not go through,” Santos told me. “But your mind wonders and you see yourself on a whole different team. I started looking at their schedule to see what was going on, so for a good 30 minutes it has your head spinning. But it’s a business and that’s what you have to really remember, that anything can happen. When I found out the trade didn’t go through, it took me another 15-20 minutes to get my head around that and that was it.

“Going into the winter meetings it was like, ‘All right, is something going to happen now?’ It was one of those things I tried hard not to pay attention to, because if I caught myself paying attention to it, I’d be thinking about way too many things.”

After you met with the Rangers team doctors and had your MRIs what happened?

“They said everything looked great. That was it. Then I got a phone call from Alex when I was about to board the plane for my flight back home to Arizona, and he said, ‘Look, it wasn’t you, there was somebody else in the physical that didn’t pass and the deal didn’t work out.’”

When did you stop worrying about another trade happening?

“I would say a couple of weeks before I was flying out to (spring training), I said, ‘All right, that’s enough time, I think, that something could happen.’ I tried to forget about it and really focus on, I’m going to be here, I’m going to be a Blue Jay. That’s the approach I took to it to eliminate the rest of the thinking.

“I tried to think of it as nothing happened this off-season that was any different. It’s a little hard to at times, but it is a business, I’ve been traded before so I’ve been through it.”

What did the way you finished out 2013 (1.69 ERA in 24 games after returning from elbow surgery) do for your mentally?

“Oh man, so many things for me mentally. It just gave me back that confidence that this is the guy I am, and I know when healthy, what I can do. I was blessed to get those last two months in and hopefully build on it and take it into this year.”

What did you like most about how you pitched?

“I would say the consistency of being in the strike zone, not walking as many people, pitching to contact, all that stuff. And then the consistency I had with the slider, being able to throw it for strikes and to be able to bury it when I needed to.”

When your slider is on, what’s happening?

“I can get over for a strike when I need to early on in the count, and I can throw it in the dirt with two strikes. You get such a good feel for it that it’s almost like you can throw two different types of sliders.”

How would you describe the bullpen’s collective approach?

“Our goal is to shorten the game up, to make it seem that if our starters can get us to the sixth with a lead then we’ll walk away with a win. We have such a versatile bullpen. We have guys who can come in, close innings, face a couple of hitters, and gets out when we need to. We have guys that can go two, three innings if a starter goes down. Hopefully it stays one of our strengths and can help us along the way.”

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