DUNEDIN, Fla. -- With Brett Cecil earning a trip back to the Minors following a rough spring, Joel Carreno and Kyle Drabek will join Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez in the Blue Jays' Opening Day rotation.
Manager John Farrell made the announcement Tuesday morning, saying it became "increasingly clear" after Cecil's poor outing Monday that he needed time in the Minors to improve his command. That opened up a spot for Carreno, who was sent to Minor League camp earlier this spring after falling short in his bid for a bullpen spot.
Drabek earned the final spot based on his consistency this spring and Aaron Laffey's struggles against right-handed hitters.
"I've had a month to figure it out. Any pitcher should be able to figure it out by then," said Cecil, who gave up 13 runs (11 earned) on 15 hits and six walks while striking out four over his last two spring outings. "I'm not disappointed in anything at this point. I really gave them no choice and really didn't help myself out any.
"It bears a strong resemblance to how I felt in 2010, being optioned down and knowing what I had to do the first month or two being down there. I'm not saying it'll go the same way, but hopefully it does."
The order of Toronto's rotation is not yet set. Romero will start on Opening Day, followed by Morrow, and Alvarez is the fourth starter. Either Carreno or Drabek could take the third spot, with Farrell saying he was leaning toward Carreno.
W: Perez (1-0) L: Asencio (0-1)
Toronto has three off-days over the first 12 days of the regular season, so one pitcher -- likely Carreno, who could then move into the bullpen -- might only have to pitch once before April 21. By that time, Dustin McGowan (plantar fasciitis) shouldn't be too far away from returning.
Cecil, who went 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 Major League starts last season, will be the No. 1 starter for Double-A New Hampshire. Laffey will take the mound for Triple-A Las Vegas' first game.
"As we've stated all along, we were going to make every evaluation available to us, not just in Spring Training but when we look back to a year ago," Farrell said.
Farrell and general manager Alex Anthopoulos met with all of the pitchers involved in the decision early Tuesday morning. Farrell said Cecil took his demotion "as a professional" and recognized that he needs to put in the work to regain his command on a consistent level. Assigning him to Double-A, where he'll take Carreno's spot, made for a smoother transition, but Cecil said he was given a choice and preferred the "true environment" at New Hampshire.
Asked how long he had been concerned about Cecil, Farrell said no spots in the rotation had ever been guaranteed to anyone other than Romero and Morrow. It was not just about Monday's 11-hit, seven-earned-run outing, and Farrell downplayed the idea that Cecil's declining velocity was an issue in his demotion, saying it was a secondary issue compared to his inability to locate his pitches.
"For the people that think velocity is what it's all about, obviously that's not the case. It's about location," Cecil said. "If I was throwing 88-91 [mph] [Monday] and locating, the results would have been much different."
Different results would be welcome for Drabek as well, though he's looking to turn around his fortunes from 2011, not this spring. The right-hander struggled through a disappointing rookie season, posting a 6.06 ERA in 18 big league games and a 7.44 ERA in 15 Triple-A starts.
Drabek overhauled his mechanics over the offseason, aiming to direct his movement toward home plate and to minimize how much he falls toward first base. He hopes that will help him get back to being the pitcher who posted excellent numbers throughout his previous years in the Minors, and that would boost his chances of holding on to a job in the Blue Jays' rotation.
"Last year, making the team was real special. It's always going to be special to me," Drabek said. "But the experience I had last year, I'm just looking forward to having it again. ... I don't want a year like that, but I learned a lot from it. I can tell this year that some of the things I learned and changed have helped me out a bunch.
"It's really just keep doing what I'm doing, and hopefully it all works out."
As for Carreno, Farrell said the 25-year-old right-hander has been stretched out enough to pitch five or six innings per start in Minor League camp. He struck out five batters with only one walk in five innings of Grapefruit League play but gave up four runs (three earned) on four hits in his final outing before being sent down.
Carreno pitched out of the bullpen last season, throwing 15 2/3 innings over 11 appearances and recording a 1.15 ERA with 14 strikeouts. That was his only experience pitching above Double-A, and he only logged 134 2/3 innings with New Hampshire last year. His career Minor League numbers are impressive, however: a 3.11 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 3.34 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 587 innings.
"He was here competing for a spot in the bullpen. Once he didn't land one of those spots, we sent him out quickly to get stretched out," Farrell said. "The fastball-slider-changeup combination gives him three pitches to attack left-handers with, and we like the added power that he provides and the sinking action keeps the ball on the ground."