DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jo-Jo Reyes got off to a rough start in his quest for one of the final two spots in the Blue Jays' rotation.
Reyes struggled with his control during his two innings of work in a 6-3 loss to the Phillies on Monday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
The 26-year-old allowed two runs on two walks and one hit while throwing just 17 of his 31 pitches for strikes. Reyes sailed through the first inning, retiring all three batters he faced, but his struggles began in the second when he lost control of the strike zone.
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"I was under control, I was staying back and throwing strikes," Reyes said of his first inning. "In the second inning, I got out of synch just a tiny bit.
"My tempo was a little off. I was rushing it."
Reyes' struggles began with a four-pitch walk to designated hitter Ben Francisco. After retiring John Mayberry Jr. on a come-backer to the mound, Reyes once again issued a four-pitch walk.
Two batters later, Reyes left a ball up over the plate to Carlos Ruiz. The 31-year-old sent the pitch off the wall in deep left bringing home two runs.
"There was a difference between the conviction of his stuff between the first and second innings with him," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "Once the inning started to unravel on him, he started to elevate a couple of balls and that's just a matter of overthrowing a bit."
Reyes was a highly-touted prospect in the Braves' system when he was selected 43rd overall in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. During his first five seasons in the Minor Leagues, he never posted an ERA above 3.51 and was frequently placed on lists of the club's top prospects. But he had trouble translating that success to the Major Leagues.
His first opportunity came in 2007 when he made his debut at the age of 23. During his first stint, he went 2-2 with a 6.22 ERA in 11 appearances. The following year, he made 23 appearances, including 22 starts, but his struggles continued. He went 3-11 with a 5.81 ERA while walking 52 batters over 113 innings.
The California native was sent back down to the Minor Leagues and has recorded just 30 1/3 innings in the Major Leagues over the past two seasons. His fresh start came partway through the 2010 season when he was traded along with Yunel Escobar to the Blue Jays for shortstop Alex Gonzalez and left-hander Tim Collins.
During his first outing with Double-A New Hampshire, he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Reyes was shut down following his next start, though, because of a right knee injury.
Reyes enters his first Spring Training with Toronto seemingly over that injury that plagued him for most of the 2010 campaign. He is facing competition for a starting job from Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch and Marc Rzepczynski.
It's a heated battle, but Reyes does have one major factor working in his favor. He is out of options on his contract, which means he must be placed on the 25-man roster or the Blue Jays will risk losing him through waivers.
"It helps," Reyes said of not having any options left. "I'd love to be on the 25-man roster with the Blue Jays. I love the direction they're going, want to play with them and help them win. But at the same time, the business decision has to be made. If I'm in it, I'll love it and if not, oh well, but I want to be a Blue Jay and help them win."
Reyes is expected to come out of the bullpen in his next outing on Saturday against the Tigers. He will step aside from the starter's role to make way for Drabek. The two will continue swapping spots as Spring Training progresses in order to give each pitcher a fair shot at winning one of the two jobs.
If Reyes is going to be seriously considered, though, he'll need to improve the command of his pitches. While Reyes felt that his problems in the second inning came down to mechanics, Farrell thought there might be a mental aspect to that as well.
"All of a sudden, he gets into a situation where he's got a couple of men on," Farrell said. "If he's getting out of his mechanics, or if things are speeding up on him, that's more a mental thing rather than having the ability to slow things down, still make pitch to pitch and in that situation, he's one pitch away from getting a couple of outs."