Blue Jays walk thin line of prepping for Grapefruit games, while avoiding injury

Blue Jays manager John Schneider confirms that Ricky Tiedemann is dealing with hamstring tightness, and won’t start for precautionary reasons, meaning Chad Dallas will get the exhibition opener start vs. the Phillies.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Facing your own pitchers during live batting practice is …

“Not fun. But fun,” George Springer replied with a grin. “You don’t want anything bad to happen, but at the same time, he’s trying to get his work in, I’m trying to get my work in, if you get hit or you hit a ball up the middle, that’s the game. It happens. But at the end of the day, every guy is out there trying to do something and every live in my eyes is always extremely productive.”

There was no harm, no foul for the Toronto Blue Jays through that portion of their spring camp. Although, earlier this week Isiah Kiner-Falefa had to shake off an Alek Manoah pitch into his back, and there was a sigh of relief when a Bo Bichette liner screamed just past Yusei Kikuchi.

It’s for good reason that manager John Schneider said, “you hold your breath a little bit every time you’re doing that.”

“It’s so tough for these pitchers that are so good to face their own hitters. They probably attack them a little bit differently than they would a team with a different uniform,” he added. “You want to get your work in and you want guys to hit the ball hard, just not at somebody. So it’s always a little bit of a slippery slope.”

The challenge now is avoiding injuries through the next phase of camp, which is a slate of 32 Grapefruit League games beginning Saturday when top prospect Ricky Tiedemann was supposed to start against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies.

During his conditioning work Friday, the 21-year-old lefty experienced left hamstring discomfort, said Schneider, so he was scratched. Righty Chad Dallas, who had a solid season between single-A Vancouver and double-A New Hampshire last year, will get the ball in his place.

Schneider called the decision on Tiedemann “precautionary right now,” adding that “we’ll get some further imaging” and reassess his status Saturday.

“Encouraging that he finished his conditioning, but taking it a little bit slow with him.”

Tiedemann’s progress is one of Blue Jays camp’s quiet areas of intrigue in a spring with relatively few available roster spots, particularly on the pitching side.

Provided that Manoah continues to rebound as expected, the rotation is set, leaving the impressive Tiedemann jockeying with others to be the first call up, should an extra start be needed.

Yariel Rodriguez, who may need a longer build up after not pitching last year while coming to North America, Bowden Francis and Mitch White, who is out of options, could fill the bullpen’s lone current opening as the bulk arm — if they’re not in the triple-A Buffalo rotation. Nate Pearson and lefty Brendon Little are also among the candidates for a multi-inning role.

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That wouldn’t be a likely role for Tiedemann, who logged just 62 innings last year due to separate shoulder and bicep issues. More than anything, he needs to pitch consistently.

At the same time, the Blue Jays also want to get him wire-to-wire, so managing his workload will be a season-long endeavour.

“We definitely have a goal (for innings) in mind, as we do with a lot of guys,” said Schneider. “But at the same time, it’s very, very fluid. You don’t want to cap it anywhere. You don’t want to hold him back if we don’t need to. So just trusting what we’ve done up and down the organization, especially at the major-league level and following that.”

Schneider broke the news about the start to Dallas while the 23-year-old was in the tub Friday and “he was like, ‘OK, great. See you tomorrow.’”

Dallas was slated to follow Tiedemann, so he figured he might be bumped up and laughed at Schneider’s description of his muted response to starting his first ever Grapefruit League outing.

“I think I gave him a hell yeah, or something like that,” he said. “It’s really exciting, but just got to keep everything cool and calm. It’s the same game, just different stadium, different teammates.”

Still, the outing will demonstrate how the organization regards the 2021 fourth-rounder, who posted a cumulative 3.65 ERA in 123.1 innings over 23 starts a year ago. His development, along with that of Canadian Adam Macko and righty Harrison Devereaux, both likely slated for double-A, is important in building a secondary layer of organizational pitching depth.

“For one, just being in this clubhouse with all these guys shows that I did better than the year before,” said Dallas. “It gives me a feeling of they trust me being out there on the mound.”

There’s a bit more intrigue to play out on the position-player side, where non-roster invitees Eduardo Escobar and Daniel Vogelbach are pushing for spots in a crowded infield/bench mix that includes Cavan Biggio, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Santiago Espinal, Davis Schneider, Ernie Clement and Spencer Horwitz. 

One factor to watch is Biggio working through a left shoulder issue – bicep tendonitis in the area that connects to the labrum. He estimates that he’s about two weeks behind where he’d usually be, although there should be enough runway for him to be ready for opening day.

A setback would change the Blue Jays’ calculus, of course, a refrain worth remembering now that the exhibition schedule is nigh, with the looming grind really set to begin.

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