Cecil has work cut out for him this spring
Jays left-hander allows three runs in 'B' game in first start
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Under the circumstances, Brett Cecil knows he does not have much room for error this spring. He is one of many young pitchers vying for a spot in the Blue Jays' rotation and every inning logged is an audition for the Opening Day roster.
That is why the small cut on Cecil's left thumb is becoming a larger source of frustration.
On Wednesday, Cecil was among a trio of pitchers who took the mound at Bright House Field in a "B" game against the Phillies. After Brandon Morrow and Marc Rzepczynski turned in solid performances, Cecil trotted in for his first outing of the spring. The appearance came six days after Cecil was originally supposed to make his Grapefruit League debut.
Cecil worked two innings with mixed results, but the Blue Jays had him only throw fastballs and changeups. That is because throwing breaking pitches -- curveballs and sliders -- could potentially open the still-healing wound on his thumb, which he sliced while recently preparing food in his kitchen.
"It's an unforunate thing that happened," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "There's nothing he can do about it, there's nothing we can do about it. I guess he is behind, because he's missing time by having a thumb that's cut and bothering him. It's not something that's good at all."
In a wide-open competition for rotation jobs, Cecil knows the minor injury could ultimately lead to a trip to Triple-A Las Vegas to open the season. Cecil entered camp as a likely candidate for one of the spots at the back-end of the starting staff, but he now appears to be behind Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brian Tallet, Morrow and Rzepczynski in the rotation race.
"Now I'm behind everybody," Cecil said. "Everybody is going to have one more outing than I do. How much it will effect me, I can't really say until the end of camp, obviously. But it's definitely frustrating when something as small as this sets you back so long."
Gaston added that it's too soon to say if any pitchers have started to separate themselves from the pack.
"I think it's too early," Gaston said. "We've kind of got our mind on who's going to be in that rotation right now. There's so many guys you can stretch out and so many guys you can't. We kind of have an idea, unless something changes, something happens, somebody gets hurt, and you have to move somebody else in there. But we're kind of prepared for that, too."
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Cecil, 23, allowed three runs on four hits with four strikeouts and one walk in his two innings, during which he threw 46 pitches, including 28 strikes. The left-hander labored through a 29-pitch sixth inning, allowing a three-run homer to Philadelphia's Cody Ransom before retiring an out. In the seventh, Cecil put two runners on base before striking out two and inducing a groundout to escape the jam.
Considering that he was limited to fastballs and changeups, Cecil thought the outing was decent.
"You learn something new every day," Cecil said with a shrug. "I gave up a three-run homer, but it was a good pitch down and in and he went and got it. Other than that, it was pretty good. I was down in the zone, so that's all I was looking for."
Cecil made 17 starts for the Blue Jays last year, but he does not feel that experience necessarily gives him an edge in the competition.
"Not really, because we had so many young guys come up," Cecil said. "We're all kind of in the same boat right now."
Morrow got the start in the "B" game and logged two shutout innings, allowing no runs on three hits with two strikeouts and no walks. The right-hander was pulled after throwing only 32 pitches, because he is scheduled to pitch again on Sunday on short rest. Morrow continued to work on his changeup and was pleased with the results.
"I kept the ball down for the most part," Morrow said. "I threw some real good changeups. That's what most of my swing-and-misses were on -- changeups. I didn't walk anybody and one of the hits didn't even get off the infield grass. I thought I threw the ball well."
Rzepczynski, who has been praised by Gaston all spring, was charged with one run on two hits with five strikeouts and one hit batter over three innings of work. The 24-year-old left-hander slipped into a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the third inning, but he limited the damage, allowing just one run and striking out the final two batters in the frame.
In that first inning of work, Rzepczynski logged 30 pitches, including 18 for strikes. Over his next two innings of work, the lefty threw 19 pitches (16 strikes). He was admittedly too "hyped up" when he first took the mound, but said he was able to regain his composure over the next two innings. Rzepczynski said he focused on throwing more fastballs and worked on his changeup.
"He looked like he was trying to overthrow," Gaston said. "I wish I had a [radar] gun on him. He was probably throwing harder than I've ever seen him. When he does that, he's in trouble. He got the ball down and he got back to the old Rzepczynski, as far as I'm concerned."
Gaston has said all spring that Rzepczynski will likely make the Opening Day staff unless the young pitcher begins to really struggle on the mound. Rzepczynski is trying not to think too much about where he ranks in the rotation battle, or if he will break camp with the Blue Jays.
"I'm just going out there trying to just improve out there every time," Rzepczynski said. "If it turns out that happens, great. If it turns out the other way, there's nothing I can do about that. I [need] to earn a spot. But if I pitch bad, I don't deserve it. So I'm just going out there trying to do the best I can.
"After that, hopefully everything will fall into place."
Cecil can only hope his unfortunate injury won't severely damage his chances of making the team.
"Will it hurt me? Maybe not. Probably not," Cecil said. "I've got to pitch well. I don't really have a freebie right now."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.