Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Morrow to Start Season on DL; Lawrie to Vegas

Our worst fears have been confirmed. And no, it's not that global warning isn't a hoax.

This morning, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that Brandon Morrow will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 23, due to inflammation in his right elbow, according to Gregor Chisolm.

Darn! Just when the competition for the final two rotation spots was getting compelling.

Oh yeah, and I guess losing Morrow, who has a history of arm trouble, is a little disconcerting as well.

This means that Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch, and Jo-Jo Reyes will get an extended audition for a spot in the rotation that will likely translate to one regular season start each.

While this shouldn't be cause for concern at the moment -- operative term: at the moment -- it is disappointing to see your projected #2 starter go down this late in Spring Training. And it just so happened to be on the same day that Brett Lawrie is officially handed his walking papers. That being said, the 21-year-old third-basemen posted solid numbers this spring, and really opened some eyes during his time in camp.

Over 39 Grapefruit League at-bats, Lawrie posted an average of .282 with two homeruns and six RBIs while adding three stolen bases. While his chances of making the big-league club were admittedly slim, it's not unreasonable to speculate that had he not suffered a 1/12 mini-slump over his last seven games in Dunedin, his case would have been decisively stronger.

For now, Lawrie will continue to refine his defensive skills at the hot corner under the desert sun with the 51s. Their season is set to begin April 7 in Fresno against the Grizzlies.

Your mother told you there'd be days like these, Jays fans.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reyes Getting Shafted?

Yesterday morning, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star ever so subtly intimated that despite the seemingly honest competition going on between Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek, and Jo-Jo Reyes for the final two spots in the Blue Jays' rotation, the contest, in reality, is as rigged as an Iranian election.

"Drabek is battling lefthander Jo-Jo Reyes and righthander Jesse Litsch for the last two spots in the starting rotation behind the trio of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil. It’s difficult to judge the contenders. Litsch faced a Tier 2 team of Twins on the weekend, Drabek pitched in a minor-league contest, while Reyes faces the starting lineup of the Yankees in Tampa on Wednesday night."

Griff raises a valid point. It seems as though Jays' management is putting the youngster Drabek and resurging Litsch in positions to succeed while Reyes is getting handed the more challenging assignments. Personally, I tip my hat to Anthoupoulos and Farrell. They're establishing plausible deniability in the most devious of ways.

In the event Reyes gets roughed up by the Yanks on Wednesday night and he's consequently consigned to 'pen or shipped to Las Vegas, it'll be only too easy for the Jays' brass to say they gave Reyes a legitimate opportunity to prove his worth as a starter and earn a spot in the rotation. They can put the onus entirely on his left arm, citing lousy performance as the reason for his potential demotion, when the truth is, the hurdles he had to jump were higher than his fellow rotation candidates.
Of course, I'm just making assumptions based on an observation that could be coincidence and could be cynicism, but it does make you think a little bit nonetheless.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Let It Snow, Baseball's Coming

When I got to my car this morning, the snow that enveloped it didn't exactly portend the momentous occasion that is just over a week away.

The event I'm referring to, of course, is Major League Baseball's Opening Day.

Far away from the Ottawa cold and subsequent rage that inevitably follows when you're forced to scrape snow off you're car in March, the Toronto Blue Jays' brass are beginning to finalize the roster that they'll be sporting come April 1st when the Twins head north to kick off the campaign.

However, there are still a number of issues that remain unresolved. Arguably the most pressing of which is who will take the fourth and fifth starter jobs in the Jays' rotation, alongside Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, and Brett Cecil.

Coming off a solid performance against the Twins in which he hurled 5.1 scoreless innings, surrendering only three hits while striking out seven, Jesse Litsch has certainly emerged as a favourite to win one of those jobs. While his career suffered a serious setback when he was forced to shut himself down for Tommy John surgery in 2009, Litsch's arm appears to have fully recovered, as has his hip, which was operated on last August. With a clean bill of health and solid numbers this spring -- 17.1 IP, 2-0, 3.12 ERA, 17 Ks -- Litsch will likely start the season in the rotation, looking to return to his 2007-2008 form where he posted an impressive 3.79 ERA over 48 starts and one relief appearance.

With the recent announcement that Mark Rzepczynski is no longer being considered for a starter's job, the two remaining candidates to round out the rotation are 26-year-old southpaw Jo-Jo Reyes and uber-prospect Kyle Drabek, 23.

While Drabek was generally considered to be a lock for a spot in the rotation coming into camp, Reyes has posted solid numbers this spring, and seeing as he's out of options -- meaning the Jays would be forced to put him on waivers and risk losing him to another team should he not make the 25-man roster -- the decision is anything but simple.

However, with a serious scarcity of southpaws in the bullpen, there is the possibility that Reyes is consigned to a relief role, joining David Purcey as the only lefties in the 'pen. This would allow Drabek, who's 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA and 9 Ks through 11 innings this spring, to slide into the rotation, as many believed he would, and begin developing into the future front-line starter many believe he can be.

The bullpen is another area that remains unsettled with just over a week remaining in Spring Training. With the putative closer Frank Francisco scheduled for a meeting with Dr. James Andrews later this week, it does not seem likely that he will break camp with the big-league squad. Even if he's still allowed to throw after his consultation with Andrews, which too often augurs an 18-month leave of absence, his arm will still need some stretching out before he's ready for regular season action. This along with Octavio Dotel's nagging hamstring injury means that Jon Rauch becomes the new favourite to assume closing duties, at least to start, leaving Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Carlos Villanueva, Casey Jansenn, Purcey, and Reyes to round out the rest of the relief corps.

As for the guys who swing the bat, there are still a few more decisions to be made, the most intriguing of which is whether or not Brett Lawrie, acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Shaun Marcum this December, will start the season with the big boys after an impressive spring.

Lawrie, who's as notorious for his mouth as he is for his bat, has done everything in his power this spring to avoid getting sent to Las Vegas for some more fine-tuning. The Burnaby, B.C. native has posted an average of .289 with 2 homeruns, 6 RBIs, and 3 stolen bases through 38 at-bats this spring, and has wowed even the biggest skeptics with his hasty and largely seamless transition to third base. That being said, his most recent performance -- an 0/4 day, including 3 strikeouts -- and Juan Rivera's unwavering presence in right field this Spring likely spells AAA for the hard-nosed prospect.

With Lawrie likely getting shipped to the desert, and Scott Podsednik's lingering plantar fasciitis, the Jays' bench will probably feature Corey Patterson as the fourth outfielder, with Mike McCoy and fan-favourite John "Prime Minister of Defence" MacDonald serving as reserve infielders.

Though there's still nine games left on the Jays' Grapefruit League schedule, the speculation is already in mid-season form.

So get out your boots and break out the ice-scrapers. Baseball's nearly here.