Cecil shines in final bid for rotation spot
Young lefty holds Phils to two runs in six strong innings
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- All Brett Cecil can do now is wait. In the competition for rotation jobs, the young Blue Jays left-hander has stated his case emphatically, especially considering the pressure that accompanied his outing against the Phillies on Wednesday.
Not only did the start serve as a final audition for a spot on the Opening Day staff, but it was also an outing that required Cecil to face the two-time reigning National League champions. Philadelphia rolled out a lineup filled with All-Stars and sent ace Roy Halladay to the hill as Cecil's opponent.
Cecil was not rattled.
"He delivered," Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "He went out and did a great job, just an absolutely great job."
With one day remaining before Toronto will likely announce its Opening Day rotation, the 23-year-old Cecil shined over six innings at Bright House Field. The lefty limited the Phils to two runs -- one on a solo homer to Placido Polanco in the third and another on a solo blast by Ben Francisco in the fifth -- and six hits, finishing with four strikeouts and no walks.
It was the second consecutive impressive performance for Cecil, who held an All-Star-filled Red Sox lineup off the scoreboard over five innings in a road start on Friday. General manager Alex Anthopoulos was on hand to witness that showing from Cecil in Fort Myers, Fla., as well. Given his recent success, Cecil believes he's earned a spot on the staff.
"I think so," Cecil said. "But it's not up to me. No matter where I go, I'm going to keep working on what I'm working on and try to stay right where I'm at. If it so happens I go to [Triple-A] Vegas, I'll be ready for a callup, and if I break with the team, great."
Entering Spring Training, left-hander Marc Rzepczynski ranked higher than Cecil on the organizational depth chart. Rzepczynski showed inconsistent results this spring, though, and fractured the middle finger on his left hand during a start on Tuesday night. That eliminated Rzepczynski from the competition, putting Cecil in a better position to possibly make the team.
"He certainly has a chance," Gaston said. "We'll see what happens."
Early in the spring, Cecil slipped slightly behind the pack of starting candidates after a mishap in his kitchen. He cut his left thumb while slicing chicken, missed a start and was not allowed to throw curveballs or sliders for a short period of time. Cecil believes that was actually a blessing in disguise, because it gave him time to further develop his changeup.
In a "B" game against the Phillies at Bright House Field on March 10, Cecil made his first game appearance of the spring and was forced to use only fastballs and changeups. As the spring progressed, Cecil stuck with that approach, gained more confidence in the changeup, and then began working his breaking pitches and a newly-developed cutter into the mix as well.
"I'm kind of glad it happened," Cecil said of the early-spring injury. "My first outing, I had to throw fastball-changeup here. In the long run, I think it happened for a good reason. I didn't realize how good my changeup was until that day. It's been the same my last couple outings. It's become a good pitch for me."
Injured Rzepczynski out of rotation mix
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Marc Rzepczynski is admittedly frustrated and probably a bit embarrassed over the way his spring came to a close. The Blue Jays starter's bid for a rotation job came to a crashing halt thanks to a fractured middle finger on his left hand.
On Wednesday, Rzepczynski raised his pitching hand to show off a small black splint on the tip of the finger -- the one struck by a sharp grounder one day earlier. As he spoke about the unfortunate situation -- one that could have him sidelined for four to six weeks -- Rzepczynski looked at his hand in near disbelief. This is definitely not the way the pitcher wanted his spring to end.
"It's really frustrating," Rzepczynski said. "It's just bad timing. If it was six weeks ago in spring, it would be, 'All right, I'll be good by the end of spring and hopefully be able to break camp.' But now I'll be down here, heal up and the good thing is -- not that I want to give my arm rest -- but it's going to give me a little bit of time to get back."
With two outs in the fifth inning in an outing against the Yankees on Tuesday night, Rzepczynski was struck on the hand by a grounder off the bat of Ramiro Pena. Rzepczynski did not believe he broke his finger and was optimistic about being able to resume throwing in a few days. X-rays performed on his hand revealed a small fracture.
Rzepczynski has been instructed not to pick up a baseball for two weeks and he will be cleared to begin a throwing program at that point, if there is no lingering pain. In each his past two outings -- on Thursday and then on Tuesday -- the pitcher had a grounder ricochet off his pitching hand. Both times, Rzepczynski appeared to reach for the ball with his bare hand.
"It's just a natural reaction to do that," manager Cito Gaston said.
Rzepczynski, 24, entered camp as a favorite to land a job in the rotation, but a 6.10 ERA this spring saw his stock slip some in recent weeks. As things stand, Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero are the only locks for starting jobs. Brandon Morrow is the leading candidate for the third spot, leaving Dana Eveland, Brian Tallet and Brett Cecil in a race for the final two openings.
The Jays will likely reveal the makeup of their Opening Day roster on Thursday. Cecil started on Wednesday and was impressive over six innings against the Phillies. Eveland and Tallet appear to be locks for the staff, but Toronto is deciding if they should be in starting or relieving roles. The Jays hope to finalize all decisions before flying to Houston on Friday for a pair of exhibition games against the Astros over the weekend.
"We hope to set it before we leave, but we still have Houston," Gaston said. "We don't have to set our 25-man roster until Sunday, but we hope to do it before we leave. I like it that way, and I'm pretty sure [general manager Alex Anthopoulos] likes it that way, so we're not dragging people along and then sending them back."
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One player who won't be making the trip is Rzepczynski.
"It's just one of those annoying things that had to happen right now," he said. "I guess it could be worse, because I was assuming broken bones take four to six weeks. The doctor said two weeks and I should be able to start throwing. Basically, it's pain tolerance. Once I have no pain, it's good to go."
Frasor officially handed closer duties
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston indicated last week that he was leaning toward naming Jason Frasor the team's closer to open the season. On Wednesday, Gaston made it official, declaring that Frasor will be the primary ninth-inning specialist.
Frasor served as a part-time closer last season, leading the club with 11 saves, and Gaston did not see any reason to strip the right-hander of the job. The decision to hand the closing duties to Frasor means that left-hander Scott Downs and right-hander Kevin Gregg -- both with closing experience -- will begin the season as setup men for Toronto.
Gaston said it was important to name one primary closer instead of entering the year with a split role.
"I think it's real important, because guys kind of know where they stand," Gaston said. "But, the other guys down there -- Gregg and Downs -- all of them can close. They're all capable of closing. I hope that we have situations this year where we have three days in a row where we have a chance to close out and we'd use somebody different. I wouldn't pitch Frasor three days in a row."
Last year, Frasor went 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA over 61 appearances out of the Jays' bullpen. It was a career year for Frasor, who is eligible for free agency next winter. Over 57 2/3 innings, Frasor struck out 56 and walked 16, limiting hitters to a .209 average. He credits his success on the development of a strong changeup, which complements his hard fastball and slider.
Frasor was hoping to earn the closing role again this year.
"Some of the best pitchers in baseball are closers," Frasor said last week. "It's just the best job -- it really is. I think the other guys were hoping to get that role, but we're going to go with the one guy and, if it's me, I'm proud of that. I'm looking forward to that.
Marcum works five innings in final tuneup
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Shaun Marcum's final tuneup for Opening Day took place on the back fields of a Minor League complex on Wednesday afternoon. The newly anointed leader of the Blue Jays' rotation worked five innings in an outing with Triple-A Las Vegas.
"He looked really sharp," said Jays catcher John Buck, who was behind the plate. "He left one pitch up that a kid hit for a home run. Other than that, he looked great. And you could tell he was a little upset after that, and he just locked in and hit his spots."
In the five-inning appearance, Marcum allowed three runs on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks. The right-hander finished with 66 pitches in his final spring appearance. On Monday, Marcum is scheduled to take the mound for Toronto at Rangers Ballpark for an Opening Day start against Texas.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.