TORONTO – Like with several of the young starters turned into relievers a year ago, the Toronto Blue Jays are stretching out left-hander Anthony Kay this spring. What that means for his usage in 2021 is uncertain at this point, although his two clean innings in Sunday’s 6-4 win over the New York Yankees in the Grapefruit League opener, in which his fastball sat at 94.7 m.p.h., and topped out at 97, made for a head-turning debut.
“He was impressive because of how hard he was throwing,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “The one thing I noticed when he got here three weeks ago is that he was in really good shape. His fastball had life. It was good to see.”
What will be closely watched is whether the 25-year-old can sustain that uptick as he gets further stretched out. For now, the Blue Jays see Kay as part of a depth layer of starters behind the rotation, but another multi-inning southpaw coming out of the bullpen throwing gas like Ryan Borucki makes for an intriguing option.
Especially if a cutter he picked up from Borucki and eventually debuted last season continues to take the way it did Sunday, when one offered to Aaron Judge was fouled off and another to Luke Voit produced a routine flyout.
Refining the offering was one of his off-season focal points, while a priority this spring will be commanding his fastball more effectively, something he did against the Yankees as he tries to re-establish himself as a starter.
“I feel like last year I was getting behind a lot of guys and probably trying to do a little bit too much since I only had a couple innings to work with,” said Kay. “I felt like I could just try and overpower everyone. This year, I'm kind of just going straight after guys and doing a little bit better job with that will help.”
LET’S GET ROWDY
An announced crowd of 2,637 took in the game at George M. Steinbrenner Field, and while the wisdom of large gatherings, even with social distancing, amid the pandemic is up for debate, Blue Jays slugger Rowdy Tellez appreciated the slice of normalcy.
“I walked out about 40 minutes before game-time, 20 minutes before I needed to stretch and I just was staring at people and they're like, ‘Blue Jays stink,’ and I'm like, ‘Yeah, OK, but you're still here to watch us,’” Tellez said. “It's like a comforting feeling. Like when you get to the holidays and you got grandma's mac and cheese and you're like, ‘Yes. There it is. It's back.’
“It's cool to have them, it’s cool to have the cheers, it’s cool to have the boos, the weird random conversations. It's still not normal, but anything we can get at the moment, it's going to be something that's going to be cool to play in front of.”
Tellez, starting at DH, made the most of his two plate appearances, turning on a fastball from Michael King for a two-run, ground-rule double in the first, and then staying back on a curveball from Asher Wojciechowski and shooting it up the middle for a base hit in the third.
The change in competition from intrasquad-only action last summer camp to actual games this spring is another thing Tellez relished.
“Definitely when you go against guys you don't really know, it adds a competitive edge without you even knowing,” he said. “We have fun against each other, but as soon as you get out there, it's cutthroat, it's me or you. You have that drive and it's hard to bring that out when you're playing against your own guys. So for that competitive edge to come back out was a good feeling, that added adrenaline, having fans, it was a cool feeling.”
Continued progress from Tellez could complicate a lineup crunch the Blue Jays already face with four outfielders used to playing every day. Montoyo wouldn’t mind that one bit.
“Spring training games, but it’s good to see guys having good approaches already and Rowdy had a good game, he looked really good,” Montoyo said. “I’m a big Rowdy fan so I hope he does well.”
SEMIEN STEADY AT SECOND
Marcus Semien wasn’t particularly busy during his three innings of work in the field, but looked smooth and steady in his first action at second base since 2014 with the Chicago White Sox.
He made a routine grounder from D.J. LeMahieu look exactly that way in the first and then cleverly charged a slow Mike Tauchman chopper in the third and threw across his body while on the run for an easy out.
Montoyo wasn’t surprised, but is eager to see how Semien handles the double-play turn from the other side of the bag.
“I have a lot of confidence that he’s going to be alright,” said Montoyo. “Usually shortstops are OK moving this way (to their left). It’s when second basemen have to move to short that it becomes tough. He’ll be alright. But I’ll be watching when he turns double plays to make sure he doesn’t get hurt because he hasn’t done it. So far, I like what I’ve seen in practices. He’s done a good job.”
Cavan Biggio, getting the start at third base, made a strong throw across the diamond for the out after fielding a Miguel Andujar grounder in the third. … Bo Bichette walked in his two plate appearances, fighting back from 0-2 in the first and 1-2 in the second. … T.J. Zeuch, another likely depth starter, allowed one run over two innings. … Lefty Travis Bergen, traded to Arizona last summer for Robbie Ray, was reacquired from the Diamondbacks for cash. The deal means the Blue Jays almost literally rented Ray, who re-signed as a free agent, last season. … Power-armed righty Patrick Murphy was moved to the 60-day injured list with a sprained A/C joint in his right shoulder.