Flashback Friday: Brandon Morrow's One-Hitter

Friday, September 28, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of The Star
The Toronto Blue Jays have a long-standing history of pitchers who have come so incredibly close to throwing a no-hitter. Of course, there's Dave Stieb who was just one strike away in back-to-back starts.

There's Roy Halladay who was one strike away from a perfect game in his second big league start. And then there was Dustin McGowan who also flirted with a no-hitter when he was just two outs away in 2007.

Brandon Morrow added himself to that lengthy list of near no-hitters by a Blue Jay, but there's nothing to be ashamed of for that. For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Brandon Morrow's one-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays on August 8th, 2010.

I said it the day following this incredible performance, but from the onset of that game, it felt like something magical was going to happen on the field that day. And early on, it certainly seemed like Brandon Morrow was destined to make history that day.

In case you need a refresher, check out the quick synopsis of Morrow's start via this video recap below.

I feel like this is one of those polarizing "where were you" moments for Blue Jays fans of this era. I can almost pinpoint exactly where I was when I heard that Brandon Morrow's ho-hitter was broken up.

It was raining, and I was on my way to my parents for some sort of family gathering. The radio coverage was spotty on the drive, but I managed to find a frequency that wasn't completely fuzzy. With two out in the ninth, I pulled over on a country road to listen what would be the only hit by the Rays that day.

Relive in agony as Evan Longoria breaks up Brandon Morrow's no-hitter.

Like many fans, part of me was hoping that the official scorer might give Morrow a break and score it an error in order to keep the no-hitter in tact, but alas ... there was the number one in the hit column for the Rays.

Try as he may, Aaron Hill could not keep the ball in front of him and the grounder deflected off his torso and into the outfield. Hill made a heck of a play just to get to the ball, so I can't fault him for not being able to come up with it.

While it must be incredibly deflating for a starting pitcher to come so close to a no-hitter, Brandon Morrow got right back to work and emphatically struck out Dan Johnson to finish the game and cap off a complete game one-hitter. After all, Morrow was still protecting a razor-thin one run lead.

Also, thanks to @NoWaveJays for reminding me about a spectacular catch that Vernon Wells made to preserve the no-hitter in the top of the 6th inning.

Brandon Morrow's reaction to the catch is just one of pure and sheer astonishment. It was as if Morrow couldn't believe what had just happened.

Wells crashed into the centre field wall and was diagnosed with what would be discovered as a dislocated toe. The situation was very akin to the catch that DeWayne Wise made in centre field to preserve Mark Buehrle's perfect game as well.

The funny thing is Wise was there for both instances, as he was playing left field for the Blue Jays that game and watched Vernon Wells make that incredible catch firsthand. Wells had to exit the game the following inning, and Wise took over in centre for the 7th while Travis Snider was a defensive replacement in left field.

That game marked many firsts for Brandon Morrow: it was not only the first complete and shutout of his career, but it was also Morrow's first start in which he struck out 12 or more batters. Brandon would finish the day with 17 K's in total.

That 17 strikeout performance ranks second all-time for Blue Jays pitchers, just one behind Roger Clemens franchise record of 18 strikeouts in a single game ... some pretty illustrious company.

Morrow induced 24 swinging strikes total that afternoon, and remarkably 14 of his 17 strikeouts were swinging strikeouts. Here's Morrow's final pitching line for the game:

Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA BF Pit Str Ctct StS StL GB FB LD Unk GSc
Brandon Morrow, W (9-6) 9 1 0 0 2 17 0 4.45 31 137 97 52 20 25 3 9 1 0 100
Team Totals 9 1 0 0 2 17 0 0.00 31 137 97 52 20 25 3 9 1 0 100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/27/2012.

Incredibly, he managed to strike out 17 Rays batters and finished with a Game score of 100. Just as a frame of reference, the highest possible Game score a pitcher can register is 114; and that's if he strikes out all 27 batters in order.

Brandon Morrow's one-hitter marked a turning point in his career. Up until that game, Morrow had a fledgling journey flipping back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. Once he one-hit the Tampa Bay Rays, there was no question that he was meant to be a starting pitcher.

The one-hitter may have been Brandon Morrow's Moby Dick that got away, but I don't doubt that he will eventually bag the white whale that got away from him on August 8th, 2010.

Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler: Not That Bad

Thursday, September 27, 2012  |  by 

The sky is blue. The sun is yellow. Edwin Encarnacion mashes home runs. Hawk Harrelson is the biggest homer in all of baseball. By now, these statements shouldn't surprise anyone.

As an outsider with no vested interest in the Chicago White Sox, watching a White Sox game with Hawk Harrelson's play-by-play is nearly insufferable. So I can only imagine what it must sound like for a White Sox fan.

I mean, I appreciate Hawk's enthusiasm for the hometown team ... because the last thing you want is your television play-by-play guy to call a walk-off home run as if it were a routine ground out. But I guess that's the fine line TV broadcasters must ride.

For as much flack as Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler catch from time to time, they're actually not the worst TV broadcast team in baseball. In fact, that Wall Street Journal article discovered the Sportsnet team was actually one of the least biased in baseball.

That's not to say they were one of the best, but it's nice to know that Buck and Pat are at least looking at the Blue Jays subjectively. I've never heard Buck and Pat use the phrase "us" or "we" ... unlike other team's broadcasters.

In recent years, Pat Tabler has gotten better at weaning off the "so strong" phrase and generally approaches the game sounding less like a fan and more like a professional. Buck Martinez still has his quirks of course (his pronounciation of "Encarnacion" for one), but overall he's not that bad.

I guess my only point of contention with Buck and Pat is they occasionally tend to fixate on a certain opposing player during a broadcast; Derek Jeter and Michael Young are prime examples. There's being unbiased, and then there's being biased towards the competition.

So in that aspect, Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler aren't really guilty of being homer broadcasters. The odd time they'll fawn over Brett Lawrie, but then again I'd probably do the same thing if given the opportunity.

As former players, I also find that Buck and Pat don't really add too much to the game in the form of personal experiences. Being a catcher by trade, there isn't really much into the way of insight from Martinez in the way of the pitcher/catcher relationship.

Buck will reflect on his playing time with some self-deprecating humour, which I can always appreciate. Because there's nothing like having a broadcast team which speaks like they're on a high horse and that much better than any player on the field.

By comparison, I find Alan Ashby on the radio broadcast does a tremendous job of dissecting the battery fellowship. In fact, Ashby isn't afraid to criticize a Blue Jays player if they commit  a baserunning blunder, fan on a particularly bad pitch or boot a routine ground ball.

That kind of honesty in a broadcaster is refreshing and something I wish we'd see more in the Blue Jays broadcast team. I'd rather have the commentators call it like it is rather than sugarcoat things, even if it does criticize the hometown Blue Jays.

For all intents and purposes, being a play-by-play or colour commentator for a Major League baseball team is not an easy job. Covering a team every night for 162 games a year requires a lot of patience. Night-in and night-out, you're being asked to fill 3-4 hours of programming, which is no easy task.

And sure, after all those games, commentators will develop certain crutches and catchphrases ... it's just the nature of the beast. Watching a Blue Jays game, you will surely hear plenty of baseball cliches. But as Drew indicated over Getting Blanked, less really is more.

Vin Scully has undoubtedly perfected the art of calling a game. Scully could read the phonebook from front to back and still have a captivated audience by the time he got to "Zobrist".

What Vin Scully does so well is that he doesn't fade into the background, but at the same time he's a great companion during a broadcast. The same can be said for Jerry Howarth; every time he opens the game with his greeting of "Hello, friends" ... I feel like Howarth's genuine friend.

A radio baseball broadcast is a bit of a different animal though, as Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby are tasked with presenting "theatre of the mind". The radio broadcasters have to paint a picture with their words; something Buck and Pat don't have to worry about.

That's why less is more in TV; dead air may be a detriment in radio, but in television, occasionally it isn't the worst thing in the world to have brief moments of silence and let the magic of the game unfold all by itself.

Here's where I'm torn as a fan; on one hand, I want the commentators to care about the team just as much as I do. I want their thoughts to echo mine during the TV broadcast. After all, what's so wrong about getting excited about a walk-off home run?

However, being a fan doesn't necessarily equate to a great broadcasting experience. I think a clear divide provides some perspective and allows a broadcaster to call a game subjectively. Most broadcasters try to keep the fans on an even keel rather than send them on a roller-coaster ride from first to last pitch.

I can't recall where I heard this (might have even been the DJF podcast) but I remember Jerry Howarth said something to the effect that he tries not to get too emotional and ride the highs and lows that come with a Blue Jays season, rather he just calls it right down the middle.

So keeping all this information in mind, it seems like Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler aren't nearly as bad a broadcast team as some would believe. Just remember ... it could always be much, much worse.

I Miss the Playoffs

Monday, September 24, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Deadspin
This fall marks the 20th anniversary of the Toronto Blue Jays first World Series Championship in franchise history. While we should be celebrating this momentous occasion, the 1992 World Series is a bittersweet reminder of an era that is well in the rear-view mirror.

Frankly, it's been so long since the Blue Jays have been in the playoffs that I'm beginning to forget what a postseason game is like.

How sad it is that there are some Blue Jays fans who have no memory of all about a contending squad? Can you believe there are some kids who are growing up as Blue Jays fans and only hear second-hand how the Blue Jays won two consecutive World Series?

I mean ... if it weren't for the banners hanging from the roof of the Rogers Centre, you might not know the Blue Jays used to be a dominant force in the mid-to-late eighties and early nineties.

There are days I dream of being there for a playoff game in Toronto. But like most fans, I'm starting to get tired of imagining what it would be like and would rather be experiencing it in person.

Now that the Washington Nationals have secured their first playoff spot in 30 years, the Blue Jays now own the third longest playoff drought in baseball at 19 years. 19 years, folks ... that is a damn long time.

In past years, the Blue Jays front office has really driven home the point that they are trying to build a perennial contender much like the glory days of the team from the mid-eighties and early nineties. Unfortunately, sometimes even the best plays go awry.

Paul Beeston spoke to the Toronto Sun last week, and it seems like after all the injuries and missed opportunities this season,  things are reaching a boiling point:
"I'm actually pissed off about it. And the reason being: Can you tell me who the favourite is in the American League? There isn't one. There's no one team to beat. Everybody's got a shot ... I'm more pissed off because that could have been us."
I can understand Paul Beeston's frustration because with the addition of the second Wild Card, merely hovering above the .500 mark virtually gives any team a legitimate chance at making the playoffs.

Beeston's statement didn't sound like it was directed at his team or even the competition, merely the situation that the Blue Jays are in. He sees the sudden surge of success the Oakland A's and the Baltimore Orioles are having and simply wants that to be the Blue Jays.

I definitely believe there is a little bit of envy going on with the Orioles and even the Rays these days. Baltimore had 14 consecutive losing seasons, and now it looks like they'll finally end their playoff drought this year.

The Tampa Bay Rays were the AL East doormat dwellers for nine of ten seasons, and then they totally came out of nowhere and made three playoff appearances in five years. And yet, the Blue Jays have been on the outside looking in while all the other teams in the division have made at least one playoff appearance.

Think back to when the Blue Jays were constantly at the top of the American League East. That was incredibly when just the division leader made the playoffs. So now with the addition of the Wild Cards, the Blue Jays chances are actually better than ever to make the postseason. And yet at the conclusion of this season, it will mark 18 seasons since the Blue Jays have been in the playoffs.

It's especially hard to stomach that Toronto really hasn't even been all that close to even making the playoffs since 1993. There was a brief period where they were in the Wild Card hunt in the summer of 1999, but that's about it.

I even remember in 2006 when the Blue Jays finished second in the division to the Red Sox and that felt like there was some sense of an accomplishment. When in fact Toronto finished the season three games from a Wild Card spot ... but it may as well have been 300 games.

By the tone of this post, I know it sound like I might have reached my boiling point as a Blue Jays fan, but I assure you that's not the case. This season has been one bad break after another, and even the players and front office would echo the same sentiments.

While I would love to see another World Series banner flying from the roof the Rogers Centre in the next few years, the Blue Jays don't even need to go that far to satisfy my thirst for playoff baseball in Toronto. Even if they only made it to the Wild Card elimination game, I'd be more than happy with that.

As we've seen man times in the past, even the best teams from Game 1 to Game 162 don't always win the World Series. Simply getting into the playoffs gives the Blue Jays a chance; and a chance is at least some semblance of hope.

I'll still be a Blue Jays fan even if the team doesn't make the playoffs for another 19 years. But I'd much rather tell my future children about the Blue Jays playoff berths in the 21st century rather than just the ones in the 20th century.

Flashback Friday: Aaron Hill's Steal of Home

Friday, September 21, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of The Star.com
Pound for pound, it's one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Personally, I never had the intestinal fortitude to pull it off in little league, as only the most daring baseball players have executed this play successfully.

A straight steal of home is one of the riskiest plays in the game, but there is great reward for the chosen few who decide to tempt fate at the plate. For this week's Flashback Friday, we look back at Aaron Hill's straight steal of home from May 29th, 2007.

I remember the game as though it were yesterday; the Blue Jays and Yankees were deadlocked in a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the 7th inning. Tensions were running high simply because the Yankees were in town, and games against them always create a playoff-like atmosphere at the Rogers Centre.

Below is the very brief replay of the steal of home ... and while the play happens in the blink of an eye, there's a bit of a back story that goes into how the complete events unfolded.

It's almost as though Aaron Hill was destined to steal home, as all the events that lead up to that moment fell into place for the Blue Jays. There was a left-hander on the mound, a runner at third, and what ensued gave Hill a window of opportunity.

Royce Clayton fouled a pitch off his foot, and spent a great deal of time outside of the batter's box shaking off the ill effects. Finally after about 50 seconds in between pitches, Aaron Hill decided that was the perfect opportunity to gun it to home plate.

With Jason Phillips standing at first base and Aaron Hill to his back, Andy Pettitte seemingly forgot all about Aaron Hill at third base. Pettitte was truly focused on the man at the plate, Royce Clayton.

Perhaps it was that delay in between pitches which threw Pettitte's timing off and allowed Aaron Hill to gain that fraction of a second head start on Andy Pettitte. Although the video quality is a little grainy, here's the leadup to the entire play at the plate.

Hill slid in safely under the throw by Andy Pettitte, and the tag by Jorge Posada was also high. That run scored gave the Blue Jays the 2-1 lead, and as you could tell by the video, the Rogers Centre absolutely erupted after the play.

I think I leap about five feet off my couch, and it looks like the one fan in the Action Seats did the very same thing. It was as if somebody pumped a shot of adrenaline into the collective bloodstream of Blue Jays fans.

The Yankees ended up getting the run back in the following inning, but the Blue Jays retaliated with another run in the bottom of the 8th which ended up being the eventual winner in a close 3-2 final for Toronto.

The most interesting thing about Aaron Hill's straight steal of home was the play wasn't decided upon on a whim; the coaching staff had actually put the possibility of a straight steal into the ears of the Blue Jays prior to the series opener.

Brian Butterfield was the one who scouted the Yankees prior to the series and put the straight steal into play, according to then manager John Gibbons:
"Before the game, Butterfield came up to me ... Butter knows these guys well, and he said, 'Hey, there might be an opportunity where we get a chance to steal home.' I said, 'Well, if it's there, go for it.' He put that on, and Hilly executed it perfectly. You don't see that too often. It was an exciting play."
Give credit to Butterfield for having foresight to use that information against the Yankees and expose the weakness by Andy Pettitte. Because it's not very often that a baserunner can swipe home plate while a pitcher is in the stretch.

Surprisingly, Aaron Hill wasn't the first Blue Jay to successfully pull off a straight steal of home. Raul Mondesi did it six years prior in 2002 against oddly enough ... the New York Yankees.

The Yunel Escobar Eyeblack Scandal

Tuesday, September 18, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Getty Images
Baseball is supposed to be a place where fans can get away from the everyday. No matter what stresses may trouble people, for nine innings fans can escape and enjoy watching their favourite team on the field.

Baseball is not supposed to be a place where you discover one of the players on your favourite team was a virtual billboard for a homophobic slur. It's not a place where morals and human rights should come to a head ... and yet here they are doing exactly that.

If you follow @James_in_TO on Twitter, you know first-hand that James is a big Blue Jays fan. He's there nearly every Blue Jays game snapping great pictures and posting them on Twitter for everyone to enjoy.

I've been fortunate to meet him on a few occasions, and he was even generous enough to let me sneak down beside him and catch the last few innings next to him in some spectacular seats at the Rogers Centre.

So I can't even imagine what it must have felt like when he came across a photo of Yunel Escobar with a homophobic slur written in Spanish in eyeblack on his face. James must have been shocked to learn one of the players he watches over 80 times a year had such a shocking phrase on his face.

Suddenly, it's not even about the game of baseball any more.

What once was a fun past time has now transformed into a soapbox for someone to display their beliefs to the entire world. And frankly, it makes me sick.

All I can say is Yunel Escobar should be ashamed of himself. It's absolutely inexcusable to think that somebody could get away with something like that, and thankfully the keen eye of James didn't let it go unnoticed.

Despite some attempts by reporters to get a clear answer as to why Escobar wrote what he did in the first place, we're left with more questions than answers. Frankly, any explanation Yunel could have given would not justify what he did ... it's simply wrong.

Behaviour or language like that may still be used in locker rooms around the league, but that doesn't make it acceptable to bring out onto the field. And how much worse does it make it that a statement like that was displayed clearly across a player's face?

I get that baseball is a sport where emotions are running high. Occasionally, people might say or do things that they wouldn't ordinarily. That it no way excuses people from their actions, but it's understandable how someone might have a temporary lapse in judgement in the heat of the moment. If you asked Brett Lawrie, I'm sure he'd go back and do things differently with Bill Miller.

It's an entirely different thing to the Nth degree that one would not only predispose that they're going to write a homophobic slur on their face, but that fact that they'd go through with it and display it in public to fans, teammates and opposing teams.

A lot of people are wondering why nobody on the coaching staff or anybody on the Blue Jays roster approached Escobar about what he wrote in his eyeblack. John Farrell said he didn't notice it, and all we can really do is give John and the players the benefit of the doubt that they simply didn't know.

Because if they did notice what Yunel did, knew the implications of the statement, and did nothing, then that's almost as bad as Escobar's actions. To sit by idly and watch a teammate do something like that makes me question the integrity within the Blue Jays clubhouse.

Ultimately, it was Yunel Escobar's decision to write that statement on his eyeblack, and he must be held accountable for his own actions. Whether he intended to offend or not, he made a conscious decision the instant he put a pen to his eyeblack stickers. 

Earlier this year, a young man streaked across the field at the Rogers Centre with the phrase "YOLO" painted across his chest. Admittedly, at first I thought this self-indulgent display was quite idiotic ... but that was before I found out what "YOLO" actually meant.

This young man's motivation was that he wanted to cross this off his bucket list ... after all, you only live once. In that respect, I kind of admire what he did since he at least had a purpose in mind while running across the field in a Speedo.

As far as I'm concerned, the moment somebody paints a message across their body, they are essentially endorsing that cause ... no matter how trivial or controversial it is. YOLO is a rather harmless statement, but what was painted on Yunel Escobar's face was indefensible, unjustifiable and unforgivable.

Unfortunately, I don't think the translator did Yunel Escobar any favours at that press conference. It seemed like he just kept reiterating the same point over and over again. "I didn't mean to offend anybody" was a common response to many of the questions.

It was tough to gather whether Yunel Escobar had any remorse for his actions. But from what his translator said, it sounded like Escobar didn't think there was anything wrong with what he did at the time ... which in my mind, actually makes it much worse.

There is no context which excuses the use of those words, especially from a public figure like Yunel Escobar. These are not things which are tolerated in the 21st century. Homophobic slurs in the workplace should not be taken lightly, and that includes ones used by professional athletes.

If anything, I think these guys need to be held to a higher standard. Yunel Escobar is a public figure, and what he did reflected badly on himself, the Blue Jays, and baseball in general. It truly is a black eye on the face of the organization.

In some realms, what Yunel Escobar did might even be considered a hate crime; so he should consider himself lucky if he only gets a slap on the wrist with a three-game suspension. The media, the fans, and just people in general won't be as forgiving, though.

I really do commend James for bringing this issue to light, because it couldn't have been easy for him. Since the offending player was a member of the hometown Blue Jays, one can only imagine how afflicted he was to reveal the photo in the first place.

I mean, this is a Blue Jays blog ... and here I am talking about how a Toronto Blue Jays player wrote a homosexual slur on his face. This is now much bigger than the Blue Jays and much bigger than baseball. It's no longer just a small incident; it's an issue of human rights.

Sometimes, I think some people forget just how powerful words can be. And sometimes, they don't even need to be spoken. Words can inspire ... but they also have the power to hurt others.

When the dust settles after all of this, I truly hope that Yunel Escobar realizes how badly those words he wrote can hurt people. Because this is one wound which will take an extremely long time to heal.

Building the Blue Jays Bullpen for 2013

Monday, September 17, 2012  |  by 

Going into 2012, it looked like Toronto Blue Jays bullpen was going to be a strong suit of the team. In fact, on paper it appeared as though their relief corp was going to be one of the best in the American League.

But that's the thing about bullpens; they might look great on paper, but ultimately the game is played on the field A group of relievers like that really needs to perform as one cohesive unit, not unlike Voltron.

Although Alex Anthopoulos did his best to bolster the bullpen at the trade deadline, there are actually still quite a few question marks going into 2013 as to whether certain relievers will perform well, or whether they will even return at all.

Here's now the bullpen looks to set up for next season.

Casey Janssen

Current Role: Closer
Projects As: Closer/Setup Man

As far as I'm concerned, the closer's job is his moving forward. He has done absolutely nothing at all this season to plant any seeds of doubt as to whether he can handle the load when given the ball with a lead late in the game.

The funny thing is when he inked his 2-year contract extension, I didn't anticipate Janssen would have pitched this well ... let alone as the closer. But lo and behold, he has come in and blown the doors off and really proven his worth as the captain of the relief corp.

Ideally, I think Casey Janssen would be best suited as a late relief or setup man to the closer, but again ... that's only if somebody else steps in and grabs the reins as the new closer. Simply put, it's his job to lose.

Steve Delabar

Current Role: Late Relief
Projects As: Late Relief/Setup Man

There's no question that Steve Delabar was the crown jewel that the Blue Jays acquired at the trade deadline. With over three times as many strikeouts as walks with the Blue Jays (39 SO/12 BB), one wonders why the Seattle Mariners even let him go in the first place.

A strikeout weapon like Delabar would play well in high leverage situations late and close, when the Blue Jays need to stop an opposing rally dead in its tracks. A true strikeout reliever with a devastating out pitch is something the Blue Jays have truly lacked these past few years.

My only fear with Delabar is that the league will eventually catch on to his split-finger fastball. As a relatively new reliever in the league, Delabar has the leg up on opposing hitters. But after the way he's carved up the competition, those teams will be getting lots of tape on him in the off-season.

Brad Lincoln

Current Role: Middle Relief
Projects As: Middle Relief

Years of control is undoubtedly one of the biggest things Alex Anthopoulos must look for when trading for relievers. At under three years of service time, Brad Lincoln certainly fits that mold of cost-controlled arms.

Lincoln's strikeouts per 9 innings have gone down a tick since coming over to the Blue Jays (9.1 with the Pirates compared to 7.3 with the Blue Jays), but his dropoff in whiffs may just be attributed from moving to the NL to the AL.

I still like Lincoln in the 6th or 7th inning role with the club next year, but not really in the high leverage situations just quite yet. Also the fact that he was traded for everyone's favourite former Blue Jays carnivore means it will still take me a little time to warm up to Brad Lincoln.

Sergio Santos

Current Role: N/A
Projects As: Setup Man/Closer

Of all the arms coming back to the bullpen next year, Sergio Santos is the big wild card. When he initially went down in injury in April, the pessimist in me suspected the worst that Santos might be gone for the year. So who even knows if he'll be ready for Spring Training?

Even though Alex Anthopoulos initially acquired Santos with the sole intention of making him the new Blue Jays closer, I don't think Santos will be entitled to enter next season with that role ... he'll have to earn it.

Again, I think the closer's job is Casey Janssen's to lose, but if he at all falters in the early part of the schedule, then Sergio Santos would obviously be the next candidate to step in and take over that role.

With his swing and miss stuff, the Blue Jays might actually be best served to use a combination of Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar in the 7th and 8th innings, or as situations may dictate with runners on base.

I really like what Santos' slider brings to the table, but the wildness of that pitch will inevitably lead to a lot of walks and a lot of wild pitches. Not something you necessarily want out of your closer, but better to come in save situations with no runners on base than high leverage situations with men on base.

It's easy to forget that Santos is set to make just $2.75 million in 2013 and $3.75 in 2014, which seems like a very reasonable salary for any arm in the bullpen. So it's not like his salary is so far any above anybody else's that they would be entitled to use him as closer moving forward.

That being said, I believe that Sergio Santos will grab the closer's position from Casey Janssen in 2013, and they could combine to be a very lethal 8th/9th inning duo the next few seasons.

Darren Oliver

Current Role: Setup Man
Projects As: Setup Man/Late Relief

It's virtually a no-brainer whether the Blue Jays will exercise their club option on Darren Oliver for 2013. The burning question is whether Darren Oliver is heading for retirement in the off-season, or whether he wants to come back for one last swan song.

Statistically speaking, Oliver is having one of the best seasons of his career, so he's definitely a candidate for regression if he does in fact come back for another go in 2013. But I can't imagine him dropping off so much that that he wouldn't be an effective member of the bullpen.

At this point in his career, Darren Oliver is allowed to call the shots. Even if he wanted to go into semi-retirement in the off-season, and then sign with a contending team at the 2013 traded deadline, I wouldn't even be that upset because he's earned the right to play for a winning team.

Jason Frasor

Current Role: Late Relief
Projects As: Late Relief

With 500 career appearances under his belt as a member of the Blue Jays, Jason Frasor has been the consummate mainstay in the bullpen the last number of years. Personally, I think he's been criminally underrated during his tenure in Toronto.

If the Blue Jays could bring him back on a one year deal plus an option, I think that would work out well for both parties. What you see with Jason Frasor is more or less what you get, and the organization more or less knows what to expect out of Frasor.

However, Frasor has been with the Blue Jays on a string of one-year deals. The White Sox decided to pick up his club option before trading him back to the Blue Jays, so perhaps Frasor will be seeking the stability of a multi-year contract.

After all these years, I think he warrants at least a two year contact, or maybe a one year contract plus option of they can get away with it. Frasor doesn't strike me as the type of guy who would want to test the free agent waters, so that could play in favour of the Blue Jays.

Brandon Lyon

Current Role: Middle/Late Relief
Projects As: Middle/Late Relief

Brandon Lyon has been a complete revelation this season. He has been unlike his former self, which is precisely why I'm leery of the Blue Jays making him a part of the bullpen moving forward. The likeliness of him reproducing his 2012 season are highly unlikely.

If the price is right, I'd be willing to roll the dice ...  but not at his current $5.5 million dollar salary. It seems like Brandon Lyon and Jason Frasor bring the same skill set to the roster, so I feel like the Blue Jays will bring one or the other back next year ... not both.

Aaron Loup

Current Role: LOOGY
Projects AS: LOOGY

Of the all the rookie arms that have been called up by the Blue Jays, Aaron Loup is the sole reliever that has managed to keep his job. Toronto called him up on July 13th from New Hampshire, and Loup has remained with the club ever since.

Aaron Loup has proven his worth as an effective left-handed reliever, predominantly in short stints where he's been brought in to get just one or two outs.

Since Loup's splits favour lefties (.163 versus lefties compared to .295 versus righties), he seems to fit the bill as the token left-handed relief weapon for John Farrell in the bullpen.

Brett Cecil

Current Role: LOOGY, Mop-Up/Long Relief
Projects As: Mop-Up/Long Relief

My, how things have changed for Brett Cecil this season. He didn't even break camp on the Blue Jays roster, then he had a brief stint in the starting rotation, and now he's back as a member of the bullpen.

While he's only logged a grand total of five innings as a reliever, the results thus far have been okay. Cecil's fastball velocity has mysteriously increased a tick, as he's been clocked around 92-93 MPH when earlier in the season he was topping out around 89-90 MPH.

Perhaps using Cecil in small doses is the key, rather than planting him in the starting rotation and seemingly feeding him to the wolves every five days. Maybe it's something as simple as Brett knows he's only throwing to 1-2 batters, so he's throwing as hard as he possibly can rather than conserving energy to go 5-6 innings.

I'm still not positive that Cecil will be able to handle the high leverage situations, but for the time being there's nothing wrong with starting him off in middle relief and going from there.

Flashback Friday: Roy Halladay's 10 Inning Shutout

Friday, September 14, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Sportsnet.ca
It should come as no surprise that Roy Halladay is one of the greatest arms that the Toronto Blue Jays organization has ever produced. Doc's career comes with many accolades; All-Star nods, two Cy Young Awards, a perfect game and no-hitter among the many of them.

While it's fairly easy to pinpoint the greatest single moments of Halladay's career, it's a little more difficult to sift through the myriad of excellent moments since Roy had so many amazing single-game performances.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at could quite possibly be the best start Roy Halladay ever had that most people have never even heard about; his 10-inning shutout on September 6th 2003 against the Detroit Tigers.

Now, I'm not sure if this game says more about Roy Halladay or the futility of the 2003 Detroit Tigers (who lost 119 games that year), but I'm willing to say it was the former. After all, it was Doc's 2003 Cy Young season.

A 10-inning outing by a starting pitcher is virtually unheard of these days, let alone a 10-inning shutout. I believe the last man to post a 10-inning shutout is none other than Roy Halladay's current teammate Cliff Lee, who did it on April 18th this season.

According to GameScore, this particular start was the fifth best start of Roy Halladay's regular season career, and came in with a GameScore of 90. That was actually just one of six games in which Halladay's GameScore has been 90 or higher.

In true Roy Halladay form, he was the model of efficiency as the game took a mere two hours and three minutes to complete, as Doc didn't even crack 100 pitches. Halladay held the Tigers to just three hits total and had a no-hitter in tact in the 8th inning.

Roy Halladay was just four outs away from recording a no-no before pinch hitter Kevin Witt broke it up with a double to left field. At this point, the game was still locked in a 0-0 tie, and Halladay had the wherewithal to keep it together and hold the Tigers off the board through the next 2.1 innings.

Second base was the furthest any of the Detroit Tigers would get that day, as not a single player advanced to third base or beyond against Roy Halladay. However, his teammates rallied in the bottom of the tenth to give Halladay his 19th win of the season and the walk-off victory.

Like I said off the top, it's a shame that games like these from Roy Halladay fade into the background ... and it's simply because there are so many of them to choose from. Just another reason to look back and reflect on how great Roy Halladay truly was with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Romero's Neverending Nightmare

Thursday, September 13, 2012  |  by 

What is there to be said about Ricky Romero that hasn't already been said? 2012 has truly been the worst season of his career, and just when it looks like it can't get any worse ... it does.

I think the photo above of the exchange between Ricky Romero and John Farrell says it all; Ricky couldn't even look his manager in the eye when he was taken out of the game. Farrell was just standing there in disbelief as his starter held out the ball, as if Romero was saying "here ... you figure it out".

What was also telling was Romero's head roll after Farrell came out to the mound to give him the hook. After Michael Saunders got on base with a single, John took some time in the dugout before eventually trotting out to the mound.

That just goes to show how little rope Ricky Romero has these days. By all accounts, it was still a very close game at the time, but John Farrell didn't want to take any chances with two men on and nobody out.

At the beginning of the season, Romero would've had the benefit of the doubt ... not any more.

The Blue Jays specifically skipped Romero's originally scheduled start against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, thus giving him nine days of rest going into last night's start. If he couldn't get it done on nine days rest against the Seattle Mariners, then when will Ricky Romero get it done?

Everyone seems to have a theory on what's been troubling Ricky Romero, whether he's hiding an injury or it's something wrong in between his ears. You can scroll through the Rolodex of reasons or excuses for Romero's downfall, but now that we're in September ... they've now all been exhausted.

At this point, fans might almost prefer that Ricky was suffering from an injury because then at least there would be some tangible reason for his horrendous season. Instead, we're left wondering when and if Ricky Romero will ever bounce back.

Despite all that's happened in 2012, Ricky Romero will still be a mainstay in the Blue Jays starting rotation going forward. The Blue Jays don't really have a choice other than to continue to keep him on the mound. The question is whether he can ever return to that borderline "ace" status he once occupied.

I really can't imagine 2013 being much worse of a season for Romero than 2012 has been. Then again, when Ricky hit rock bottom this season, he continued to dig himself further and further down to an unimaginable new low.

There may be just under three weeks left in the schedule, but October 3rd can't come soon enough for Ricky Romero. If the Blue Jays do in fact employ a 6-man rotation down the stretch, Ricky might be lucky to get another three more starts before season's end.

Even if Romero theoretically posted three solid starts to end the season, would that be enough to silence the doubts about him moving forward? I'm sure the Jays would love to have Ricky Romero finish the season on a high note, but it still looks like there's an incredible amount of homework he has to do in the offseason.

Eventually, Ricky Romero's neverending nightmare will come to an end ... whether it's by his interviention or simply because the schedule runs out.

Contact The Blue Jay Hunter

Monday, September 10, 2012  |  by 

The Blue Jay Hunter (Ian) can be reached via email at bluejayhunter@gmail.com or fill out the contact form below. Advertising inquiries may also be sent to the above address.

Signs of Life in September

A 162 game baseball season truly is a marathon, and not a sprint. With it comes a myriad of highs and lows. And at times, it can be difficult to see the forest through the trees.

Take last week for example; after a 12-0 drubbing at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles and a season high 15 games under .500, that was undoubtedly the lowest point of the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays season. However, it's amazing how things can suddenly change just a few days later.

It might just be a small victory, but the Blue Jays are no longer in possession of last place in the AL East. They also received reinforcements in the way of Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia. And of course, Toronto's now riding a 4-game win streak.

A few of the bright spots came in the way of Anthony Gose and Adeiny Hechavarria. Since making his second tour with the Blue Jays this season, Anthony Gose has almost looked like an entirely different player at the plate, and Hechavarria has been much improved as well.

It's been suggested that one of the main reasons why Gose and Hech have improved at the plate is due in large part to Chad Mattola joining the Blue Jays coaching staff. I'd tend to agree with that theory, since Dwayne Murphy's "grip it and rip it" hitting philosophy doesn't really play well to those young hitter's strengths.

In fact, apparently the Blue Jays are actually entertaining the idea of running with both Chad Mattola and Dwayne Murphy as hitting coaches next season.

One really encouraging sign from the road trip in Boston was the Blue Jays as a team were simply playing good fundamental baseball. The perfect example of that was the situation that lead to the winning run in Sunday's game.

With the bases loaded and Omar Vizquel coming to the plate, I'll be honest that I wasn't too confident that Omar would be able to come through in the clutch. And yet he came through a sacrifice fly which lead to the game-winning run.

Of course there was also Adeiny Hechavarria's bunt in Wednesday's game against the Orioles which got the ball rolling and lead to a four-run inning which ended up being the difference maker in the series finale.

Executing on fundamental baseball is one thing this young squad has had a tough time sticking to, but since that embarrassing 12-0 loss to the Orioles, the Blue Jays have performed those basics very well.

The battle for last place and pride is inveritably on the line, but I think seeing quality at bats from Toronto's young guns is the most valuable part about September baseball for the Blue Jays.

At this point in the season, the Blue Jays might not be playing for a shot at the postseason, but they're still playing for something in September.

Flashback Friday: Tim Johnson

Friday, September 7, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of The Star
It sounds like the plot ripped straight out of a dark comedy; a manager weaves some tales about wartime experiences to motivate his team. Only they find out down the road that it was all a hoax.

Most people probably wished it was just fiction, but the whole situation played out in real life. For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look at Tim Johnson's controversial and short-lived stint as manager for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Johnson's career with the Blue Jays began as a player, as he actually had a brief stint in Blue Jays uniform during the 1978-1979 seasons. Tim Johnson retired as a player following the 1979 season, and then bounced around as a scout and minor league coach.

Ultimately, an opening as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays presented itself after Cito Gaston was fired following the 1997 season. Tim Johnson was brought on as the successor to Cito, as he guided the Blue Jays to a highly respectable 88-74 record in his first year as manager.

But something didn't quite feel right in Blue Jays land ... there began to be rumblings that Tim Johnson wasn't quite who he appeared to be. Or at least, who he lead people to believe he was and what he experienced.

It was revealed that Johnson lied about horrific experiences in Vietnam, when in fact there was no truth to them at all. And not only did Tim Johnson fabricate lies about his experiences in Vietnam, but he also lied about being an All-American basketball player who turned down a chance to play for UCLA.

One of the incidents in question was when Tim Johnson opted to use Rogers Clemens instead of Pat Hentgen to pitch a series finale in Boston. After Hentgen responded unfavourably, Johnson quipped back saying something to the effect of "you don't know anything about tough spots ... pressure is in Vietnam."

Of all people, it was actually Roger Clemens who discovered Tim Johnson's secret. At the time, Clemens was a good friend of Johnson; and knowing of his wartime stories and that he was a big motorcycle fan, wanted to get him a present any veteran would be honoured to receive - a motorcycle helmet featuring the logo of his combat unit.

Roger Clemens asked around trying to gather some background info on Tim Johnson, to no avail. Clemens even went as far as to ask Johnson's wife, but she apparently knew nothing about it. And that was the beginning of the end of Tim Johnson's time with the Blue Jays.

Word got out quickly that Johnson spun a web of lies about his service time in order to instill motivation into his players. One would have thought that would have ended Johnson's time with the Blue Jays right then and there, but that's not what happened.

General Manager Gord Ash gave Tim Johnson the option to either resign or apologize. Johnson chose the latter, and remained on as the Blue Jays manager through the off-season. But the distractions became too much, as he was let go during Spring Training 1999.

Along with Pat Hentgen and Ed Sprague, Tim Johnson was also rumoured to have a tumultuous relationship with Blue Jays pitching coach Mel Queen. The two did not see eye-to-eye, which would create volatile environment for any organization.

Interestingly enough, after all these years, Tim Johnson has landed on his feet and is making a living as a manager in the minors and winter ball. For a while, he coached the Mexico City team, and most recently took over as manager for the El Paso Diablos.

There are others who are interested in telling the Tim Johnson's side, as there is currently a feature film in the words entitled "El Diablo: The Tim Johnson Story". The video below is a 10-minute teaser which I highly recommend you watch.

Make no mistake ... what Tim Johnson did was unforgivable. Fabricating a lie about serving in Vietnam in order to motivate players is pretty damn low. But watching that video above, I can't help but feel bad for the guy.

Tim Johnson obviously loves to coach, and that's why he continues to manage independent league teams today. He may never coach in the Major Leagues ever again, but one thing's for sure ... Johnson has a passion for the game of baseball.

And that's one thing Tim Johnson will never have to apologize for.

Would Farrell Fly the Blue Jays Nest?

Thursday, September 6, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Zimbio
You know how the old saying goes ... "if you love something, set it free. If you find out the Red Sox want what you have, either tell them to screw off or make them pay through the nose for it".

This is a subject I was hoping I wouldn't have to address simply because it initially seems so ludicrous that John Farrell would ever consider going back to manage the Red Sox. Much like the Toronto Blue Jays themselves, this is an issue that is going to have to be dealt with head on.

First of all, I'll give John Farrell credit that he doesn't want to discuss his status with the Blue Jays during the middle of the season. He's under contract through 2013, so as far as he's concerned, he just wants to get through this season before talking about the future.

However, it seems the worse things get in Red Sox land, the worse they want to poach John Farrell from the Blue Jays. And with the way Bobby Valentine has been acting lately, they're ready to run Bobby V out of town and anoint Farrell as their saviour.

If there are in fact any truth to the reports, it sounds like the Red Sox were close to prying John Farrell from the Blue Jays on a few occasions . It's really all just hearsay, but if at any point Farrell was actually considering going back to Boston, then Toronto has already lost him to the Red Sox.

For a manager who doesn't even have two full seasons of managerial experience under his belt, I've always wondered why John Farrell was so sought after by the Boston Red Sox. Would he really cure all the issues, or would he merely just become the next scapegoat in Beantown?

From Farrell's perspective, he'd probably love to ride into Boston on a white horse and restore some order to a franchise that has seen itself go down the tubes. Heck, isn't that why Theo Epstein left town .. because he wanted to be the one to bring the Chicago Cubs back to prominence?

The way the Boston media is portraying this situation isn't helping, but the way that the Blue Jays handled the Farrell situation in the offseason was very bizarre. After the rumours reached a boiling point that John Farrell was being recruited by the Red Sox, Toronto's front office finally instituted a "no lateral moves" policy.

Why didn't they just come outright and say "John Farrell is not going to Boston ... period"? It certainly would have doused the flames of speculation right there. However, it was just another instance where Alex Anthopoulos' reluctancy to comment on anything actually did more harm than good.

As much as AA wanted to keep Farell's contract details a state secret, he could have at least said Farrell was signed through 2013, and that also would have ended the speculation about who would be the new manager in Boston.

And once again, the Blue Jays would do well at the end of this season to nip these rumours in the bud by either signing John Farrell to a contract extension or at the very least just reinforce to the media that Farrell isn't going anywhere in the near future.

The Blue Jays don't owe it to the Boston media to put this rumour to bed, but the problem is that it's not just the writers and bloggers who cover the Red Sox that are writing about this; it's something that's garnered league-wide coverage.

In cases like that, it doesn't make sense to stick to continue to hook your wagon and cart to a no-comment policy, because by saying nothing, the Blue Jays are in fact are saying a lot.

If for some reason the Red Sox do get their prized possession in John Farrell from the Blue Jays, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. As much as it would suck seeing him go back to a division rival, there are plenty of internal candidates who could likely step in.

Brian Butterfield, Don Wakamatsu and even Sal Fasano are all viable candidates within the Blue Jays organization that could take over as bench boss if John Farrell leaves town. So it's not like Farrell has built his managerial equity so high that he's irreplaceable.

I would really hate to see John Farrell go to the Red Sox ... I really would. The fact that he'd be returning to Boston with all the new intel from the Blue Jays would be doubly unfortunate. But if Farrell's heart is in Boston, then let him go.

But make no bones about it, make the Boston Red Sox pay through the nose for him. They should ask for the most ridiculous package of players in return, and not deviate from that list no matter what. If the Red Sox want John that bad, they'll do the deal.

If John Farrell really loved the Red Sox organization as much as some folks would lead us to believe, he would've stayed there. Even though the prospect of restoring order to the Red Sox might appeal to him, there's also some merit in getting a team back to the playoffs that hasn't been there in nearly 20 years.

I'm hopeful that John Farrell is a loyal company man and wants to stay with the Toronto Blue Jays. Obviously he saw something in this organization ... that's why he applied for the managerial job in the first place. 

Did the Blue Jays Fix Adam Lind?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Zimbio
How is it that somebody can go from being a cornerstone of the franchise to suddenly being cast aside and nearly slipping through waivers? It might seem odd how a player can fall so far so fast, but such is the case with Adam Lind.

Admittedly, I had soured on the idea of Adam Lind as the everyday first baseman long ago. But with his recent play, I may just be warming up to the thought of keeping him in a Blue Jays uniform beyond 2012.

It wasn't really all that long ago that Adam Lind and Aaron Hill combined to be one of the best 1-2 offensive punches in the American League. But ever since 2009, Lind's career has been on a slow and steady decline.

After a few consecutive sub-par seasons, Adam Lind's descent into mediocrity became very evident this year. Being optioned  to the minor leagues and being taken off the 40-man surely must have been a huge wake up call.

Couple that with yet another back injury which sent him to the disabled list shortly after being recalled in early in July, and you could safely say that 2012 has been a tumultuous season for Adam Lind.

Some might indicate that Adam Lind might be a lost cause going forward, but if these past few weeks have been any indication, I think this 29-year old still has some gas left in the tank.

Perhaps the most promising sign with Adam Lind has been his renewed approach at the plate. Whether it was Dwayne Murphy or someone down in Las Vegas, they really did overhaul Adam Lind's batting stance.

Here's what Lind's stance looked like in early 2009 career year; very hunched over and his hands set somewhat far away from his body.

Compare that with a screencap from Opening Day 2012, and it's easy to see that Lind has veered far away from the batting stance that made him so successful in 2009.

While his feet are planted relatively in the same spot, Lind's back is much more upright in the screencap above. Perhaps a side affect of all those reps at first base these past few years, and he's merely just compensating.

It also looks like Adam's hands are a little higher up in a set position, and slightly closer to his body than in 2009.

And here we have the most recent example of Adam Lind's latest batting stance, and it really is night and day compared to his early days with the Blue Jays. After spending some time in Las Vegas, he's standing even more upright and his hands are even higher and closer to his shoulders.

The early results from this new batting stance seem to be working, as Lind is hitting .281 in 9 games since his early return to the Blue Jays on August 27th. And since coming back from his exile in Las Vegas, Lind has posted a .286 batting average and is OPS'ing .807. It's not the largest sample size in the world, yet it's a promising start.

He's not exactly tearing the cover off of the ball, but it's certainly a respectable line for a player who was thought to be a complete lost cause earlier in the season.

Part of the key of Adam Lind's second half resurgence can possibly be attributed to his lack of play in the field. He's started 24 of 31 games at DH since June 25th, leaving the first base duties up to mostly Edwin Encarnacion and David Cooper.

While Adam Lind has clearly shown he can play first base, I think the ill effects of picking balls out of the dirt and reaching for grounders has taken its toll on Adam Lind's back. So the fewer games he sees in the field, the better.

And let's not forget that his best season as Blue Jay was when he was strictly a DH and didn't field a position. Some players might need the distraction of hitting the field every half inning to take their mind off hitting, but I think Adam Lind has shown that he's one player where that's not the case.

If Lind can focus strictly on hitting again and only pick up a first baseman's glove on the odd occasion, that could very well be the way to maximize the potential out of him. And at a $5 million salary next year, I can't see the Blue Jays quitting on the Adam Lind project quite yet.

Say if the Blue Jays do in fact go out and upgrade at DH next season and sign someone like David Ortiz, that doesn't necessarily signal the end of the road for Adam Lind either. He could still be a potent bench bat and get the odd start against a right-handed pitcher.

Adam Lind may be bent, but I wouldn't say he's broken.

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