Jays weigh remaining rotation options
Richmond's outing 'OK,' but Clement might not get another shot
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Matt Clement and Scott Richmond each took the mound for the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, but they were essentially pitching against each other. Both entered the day with a chance to continue to state their case for a spot in Toronto's starting rotation.
When it was all said and done, and the Jays had absorbed an 11-6 loss at the hands of the Twins at Hammond Stadium, Clement likely saw his slim window of opportunity come to a close. The veteran right-hander issued seven walks, was charged with nine runs and was pulled from his start with only one out in the fifth inning.
Richmond entered in relief -- not an ideal way to begin his latest audition -- and turned in a respectable performance following a rocky start. With two weeks remaining until Opening Day, the Blue Jays are weighing their limited rotation options, which still include Richmond and a pair of pitching prospects.
As for Clement, who is trying desperately to overcome years of right shoulder issues by grabbing a job in Toronto, manager Cito Gaston wasn't sure if the pitcher would receive another start this spring. The Jays are trying to line up their rotation for the beginning of the regular season, and that means the rest of the spring slate will be dedicated to the arms most likely heading north.
"I can't tell you that right now, to be honest with you," Gaston said when asked if the team would give Clement another Grapefruit League opportunity. "We're starting to get where we need to get innings for guys that are going to make this ballclub."
Gaston said the Blue Jays will have a better idea of how the rotation race is shaping up after Monday's game against the Reds. Toronto is handing the ball to left-handed prospect Ricky Romero, who is being given another shot at earning a job after being considered out of the running for the past few weeks. If Romero pitches well, it could change the Jays' thinking.
Romero's name re-emerged among the list of candidates after right-hander Casey Janssen complained of tightness in his throwing shoulder and was forced to exit his start in the first inning on Thursday. Gaston said Romero, who hasn't started a Grapefruit League game since March 7, has been working with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and displaying good results in Minor League outings.
"Arnsberg has been working with him, and he really says he's come on quick," Gaston said. "He retains well and I'm looking forward to seeing him tomorrow. I know he has the arm to pitch here, that's for sure. He really does."
That puts Romero back into a competition with Richmond and prospect Brad Mills for the fourth and fifth starter roles. Ace Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch and David Purcey currently have a hold of the first three slots. Gaston said the Jays haven't considered throwing lefty prospect Brett Cecil -- recently returned to Minor League camp -- back into the mix for a job right now.
"Not at this point in time," Gaston said. "We haven't talked about that at all. But, you never know, do you?"
The Jays might lean toward carrying Richmond and one of the prospects to open the season, especially after his performance against the Twins.
Richmond entered with one out and two runners on base in the fifth inning. He allowed three hits before escaping the inning, adding two runs onto Clement's line, but settled down, played damage control and blanked Minnesota for the rest of the game. Richmond finished with two runs allowed on nine hits with five strikeouts and no walks over 3 2/3 innings.
It was the second outing in a row that Richmond was forced to enter a game in the middle of an inning -- not an ideal situation for a starter.
"I'd like to start a fresh one just so I can get out of the wind-up my first time against a hitter," Richmond said. "It's tough coming in there, but it makes me a better pitcher. Those pressure situations, it's going to be like that in Toronto. I want to have that down pat. I want to be executing pitches in that situation."
Gaston felt Richmond's showing was decent enough, considering the circumstances.
"You know what? He came into a situation that you normally wouldn't come in unless you're coming out of the bullpen," Gaston said. "But he was OK. He wasn't as sharp as he'd like to be or as we'd like to see him either, but he did OK."
Clement, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2006, was charged with eight earned runs and finished with six hits allowed and 94 pitches (48 strikes) over 4 1/3 innings. The veteran was pulling out as many positives as he could after his performance, noting that he had great command of his slider and that it was his first time in three years that he was able to throw that many pitches.
Still, Clement understood that his outing, which included an eight-run fifth inning that was highlighted by a three-run homer by Minnesota's Justin Morneau, did not do him any favors.
"I've never been a great Spring Training pitcher," Clement said. "This year, I don't have much choice. Hopefully the Blue Jays, when they're deciding what they want to decide, they remember what I did up until that inning, not so much that inning."
If the Jays don't hand Clement another start, he'd likely be ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas. Should that be the case, Clement said he will have a tough decision to make. He can't opt out of his contract until late May, so his only way out of a Minor League assignment would be to either retire or hope that the Jays would grant him his unconditional release.
For now, Clement is just thrilled to come as far as he has with a surgically-repaired shoulder. If his journey doesn't include a return to a Major League rotation, Clement plans on considering his options.
"My contract doesn't give me many options," Clement said. "I guess what it comes down to -- I'm going to have to pray and think about if they don't keep me on this staff -- is my heart going to be into going there and pitching?
"I'm not going to sit here and try to state my case why I should be in that rotation at all. I think up until that inning, I've stated it pretty well. I've showed that I'm healthy. It's just going to come down to what they do as an organization.
"Are they going to go with their young talent? Are they going to go with some experience? They probably know what they're going to do."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.