03/11/09 10:00 AM ET
Richmond returns from Team Canada
Right-handed prospect ready to contend for a rotation spot
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
Like Richmond needs any reminders about Canada's performance in the World Baseball Classic. After losses to the United States and Italy during the first round in Toronto, Canada was bounced from the tournament before Richmond could even take the mound for his home country.
"There's going to be a little ribbing here and there," Richmond said. "It's a little tough -- there's not much you can do about it. You just focus on, obviously, the goal at hand, which is here and making the team."
So, without a single pitch thrown in the Classic for Team Canada, Richmond returns to Spring Training with the goal of breaking camp with Toronto as a member of its starting rotation. He had hoped to use the international stage as a unique platform to showcase his abilities as a starting pitcher, but he'll have to settle for a Grapefruit League audition.
Canada manager Ernie Whitt decided against using Richmond in the opening two games, saving the right-hander for a critical must-win game against Venezuela. The only problem was that game never came. On Monday, Team Canada was upset by Italy, 6-2, and the Italians were the ones taking on the Venezuelans the following day.
"It's disappointing," Richmond said. "The guys, we had a great team there and it's just really disappointing. It's still difficult just watching the tournament, seeing Italy and Venezuela there and I watched a bit of that game yesterday. I had an approach against them and my whole [Classic] was preparing for that game and it didn't end up coming. It's just tough."
While Richmond was away with Canada, the Blue Jays were evaluating the other candidates for the two vacancies in their rotation. Prospects Brad Mills and Brett Cecil have caught the organization's eye, while right-handers Casey Janssen and Matt Clement have impressed as well. Toronto manager Cito Gaston said Richmond is still very much in the running, though.
"The whole coaching staff, we all like him," Gaston said. "We know that he certainly can keep us in the ballgame. We've seen enough of him to know that he's the kind of guy who can go out and give us some innings. It didn't hurt him at all. I know that he would've liked to pitch in one of those games, but he didn't. It's not going to go against him here."
Richmond, 29, is scheduled to pitch three innings in a Minor League game on Friday morning, representing his first mound action since he pitched against the Blue Jays for Team Canada during an exhibition on March 3. Richmond only pitched in side sessions while away for the Classic, but he doesn't feel he has fallen behind the other arms in camp.
"I'm ready to get back off that mound and pitch well," Richmond said. "I got some bullpens in up there and got my pitch count up. I feel like I'm right there, and I'm going to show them that I'm right there and I'm not going to miss a beat."
That would be great news for the Blue Jays, who entered camp with Richmond and Janssen tabbed as the front-runners for the pair of available starting roles. Last season, Richmond only made five starts for Toronto, but he made an impression on the organization, posting a 1-3 record with a 4.00 ERA and 20 strikeouts against just two walks over 27 innings.
His promotion last season interfered with Richmond's chance to pitch for Canada in the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Now, a similar opportunity to suit up for his country and start in the World Baseball Classic was dashed by Canada's early exit. Especially disappointing was the fact that Canada lost to Italy after such a tightly-contested opening tilt against the United States.
Richmond has already been asked by his teammates what that experience was like for him.
"Room full of American guys and they all enjoyed the first game," Richmond said. "Hey, it was a great game. They were asking a bit how that feeling was -- one of my best baseball experiences and then having two days later one of my worst ones. It was pretty much an emotional roller coaster."
But, now, it's back to business.
"I'm ready to pitch," Richmond said. "I've been waiting quite a while."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.