Notes: Burnett throws simulated game
Rios, McGowan garner accolades; Thomas gets rare day off
ST. PETERSBURG -- If A.J. Burnett had his way, the pitcher would come off the disabled list and promptly rejoin Toronto's rotation. The Blue Jays will certainly accept his input, but the Toronto brass is still going to meet to decide the next step for the recovering right-hander.
On Wednesday morning, Burnett baffled a handful of Gulf Coast League hitters during a four-inning simulated game at Tropicana Field. The starter tested out his entire arsenal in a 61-pitch session and reported no lingering discomfort in his right shoulder, which has been the culprit behind two DL stints this season.
"I felt great," said Burnett, who is 5-6 with a 4.31 ERA in 15 starts this season. "I was throwing the ball really good. My curveball was sharp and I'm sure my velocity was up. I'm definitely ready."
Burnett's next day to pitch -- whether that's in a Minor League rehab assignment or with the Blue Jays -- falls on Monday, when Toronto opens a three-game series at home against the Yankees. As things currently stack up, Monday is the next scheduled turn for rookie Jesse Litsch, who was recalled from Triple-A on June 28 to fill in for Burnett.
With the way Litsch has performed, posting a 1.71 ERA over five July outings, Toronto may be hesitant to pull the 22-year-old out of the rotation. Toronto right-hander Josh Towers, who isn't likely a part of the plans for 2008, is scheduled to start again on Tuesday. Both pichers may start as planned, considering the club may opt to have Burnett make at least one rehab appearance.
"I don't know and I would hate to speculate on that," Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said. "[Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi] and the rest of the gang, I'm sure we'll all probably put our heads together and figure out what will be best for A.J. Stuff-wise, he looked like he could pitch in the big leagues.
"It was unbelievable, really," he continued. "His stuff was outstanding. His sinker to both sides of the plate looked really, really good. His four-seamer had power to it and late life, and his curveball was the curveball that everybody knows."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said that he thinks Burnett needs to pitch in a Minor League game before being activated from the DL. Then again, the manager knows the decision isn't solely up to him. Gibbons said he will meet with Ricciardi on Thursday to discuss the situation.
Award winners: On Wednesday, right fielder Alex Rios and starter Dustin McGowan were named Toronto's Player and Pitcher of the Month for July, respectively, in voting by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Rios, who hit .340 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 26 games, was a unanimous selection for the monthly honor. Toronto's lone All-Star led the club with 35 hits, which was tied for the eighth-highest total in the American League for July. Rios was also tied for fourth in the league with nine doubles.
McGowan edged out right-hander Shaun Marcum for the July award. McGowan went 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA in five starts and only allowed 24 hits over 32 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old right-hander also limited batters to a .205 average. Marcum went 3-2 with a 4.75 ERA in July.
Thomas sits: For the first time this season, Frank Thomas wasn't in Toronto's starting lineup for consecutive games that included a designated hitter. The 39-year-old Thomas said that he requested the day off on Tuesday, and he didn't mind resting on Wednesday, either.
"Yesterday, I wanted to take off, because my timing's been off," said Thomas, who is hitting .250 with 16 homers and 54 RBIs. "That's basically it. It's all right to take a couple off sometimes."
With Thomas on the bench, Gibbons gave 39-year-old veteran Matt Stairs a turn as the DH. Toronto's manager said he wanted to start Stairs, who entered the game hitting .278 with 14 homers and 39 RBIs, in consecutive games, because "it's only fair to him."
Leading off: Gibbons may want to think twice before using second baseman Aaron Hill as the leadoff hitter again this season. On Tuesday night, Hill spelled left fielder Reed Johnson in the order's No. 1 spot and went 0-for-5 against Tampa Bay. In four starts in the leadoff position this season, Hill has gone 0-for-18 at the plate.
Arms race: Toronto's pitching staff fittingly concluded July with a 2-0 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday. In the season's fourth month, the Blue Jays' arms posted a 3.40 ERA with five shutous -- totals that ranked first in the AL. Toronto's rotation recorded a 3.37 ERA for July, and the pitching staff as a whole has led the Majors with a 1.72 ERA and four shutouts since July 21.
Did you know? The Blue Jays finished July with a 14-12 record. That marked only the second time since 1999 that Toronto posted a winning record in the month. The other occasion came in 2005, when the Jays went 13-12 in July.
Coming up: After an off-day on Thursday, Toronto right-hander Roy Halladay (11-5, 4.04 ERA) is slated to take the mound in the opener of a three-game set against the Rangers at 7:07 p.m. ET on Friday at Rogers Centre. Texas will counter with righty Kevin Millwood (7-9, 5.95 ERA).
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.