Jays' Buehrle, Estrada make quick work of Phillies

CLEARWATER, FLA. -

Mark Buehrle and Marco Estrada pitched as if they were both double-parked in a tow-away zone outside Bright House Stadium on Saturday and the Philadelphia Phillies didn’t have a way of slowing them down.

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Both Blue Jays pitchers filled up the strike zone in each of their two-inning stints, shining examples of Major League Baseball’s thrust to speed up the games and reminding everyone that there’s nothing like a strike-thrower to cut through the ennui of a four-hour afternoon at the ball park.

They raced through the first four innings and while the pace slowed considerably after that, Toronto’s 4-2 victory was still over in 2:30.

Working with catcher Russell Martin for the first time in a game, Buehrle had impeccable command of all his pitches and was able to work so quickly that pitching coach Pete Walker stopped by to deliver a message that he thought the lefty was working too fast.

Buehrle gave up a first-inning leadoff single, then another single as he took a hot grounder off his right foot. From there Blue Jays pitchers erased the next 18 hitters until Steve Delabar gave up a single in the seventh inning.

Buehrle got out of the first on a pop-up and a double play started by first baseman Daric Barton.

A creature of habit, Buehrle doesn’t know how to slow down. Or at least it goes against his nature.

“Pete actually came over said he thought we were working a little too fast,” said Buehrle. “But I said I’d rather Martin just give me the sign and I’ll slow it down. I don’t like waiting on the catcher, thinking or looking over at the bench for signs. I’d rather he keep it going fast and then, if I need to slow it down, I can.”

That said, Buehrle just shrugged his shoulders about his 1-2-3 second inning.

“In the second, I felt like I was doing the exact same thing as the first,” he said with a laugh.

The results are secondary to the process. Buehrle was thrilled to be spotting his pitches on both sides of the plate so early in the spring.

“Couldn’t have hoped for anything better,” he said. “I hit my spots the way I wanted to. If you told me I was going to do this every time out, I’d take it. It was only two innings, but I was hitting my locations.”

Buehrle’s quick work is too fast, even, for the new in-between-innings clock that is supposed to speed up the game. When he finished his warmups before the game, he saw he had more than half a minute to spare

“I didn’t quite know when I was supposed to be out there,” he said. “I get through my warmup pitches and I’m ready and I realized I had beat the clock by 30 seconds. My plan is to not change anything and just go out and throw my eight warmup pitches, same as always. It’s kind of hard because I’ve always had the habit where as soon as the third out is made, just run out there and get ready. It’s going to be hard to change that up.”

Estrada, who is part of the competition for the job of fifth starter, was even more efficient. He faced the minimum six hitters in the third and fourth, got four groundball outs, one strikeout and one flyball out. He, too, was all over the strike zone. In his initial appearance in game action, he struggeled with the timing of his delivery and command. Not this time.

“I felt more comfortable,” said Estrada, traded to Toronto by Milwaukee for Adam Lind. “My timing was there. I threw some good changeups today and a couple of good curveballs.

“I have to get everything timed up right. When you take time off in the offseason, it takes a while to bring it back together.”

Estrada is largely a fastball-changeup artist. He also throws a curve and is working on reviving a fourth pitch, the cutter, that he hasn’t deployed since 2011.

“The changeup is my go-to pitch but, when you have good fastball command like I did today, it makes it easier. I can throw a mediocre changeup and get away with it just because the location of the fastball is better. You always build off the fastball.”

The cutter was an effective pitch earlier in his career, putting a third option in a hitter’s head. He said he went away from it in 2012 because his fastball-changeup combo was so effective.

“(That) 2012 was a pretty good year for me and things were going well, so I just went away from it,” said Estrada. “I threw a little harder then and now I don’t throw as hard, so it’s time to mix something else in. It’s hard to be a starter and throw just two pitches. You want a good curve and if I could mix in a cutter, it would be good for me.”

Estrada has been a swingman in the past, starting some and relieving some. He’s stretching out this spring as a starter, but knows he could end up in the bullpen.

“Everybody would love to start,” he said. “I, for sure, want to start. Even though I’ve had a lot of time in the pen as a big-leaguer, I’ve always wanted to start. I’m working as one, I’d like to be one, but if the opportunity is not there, I have to do whatever it is that will help these guys out.”

BUEHRLE HAD 'EM ALL FOOLED

Down deep, Mark Buehrle knew that his incredible start to the 2014 season was a mirage.

Buehrle had the best start of his career, going 10-1 in his first 12 starts before reality stepped up to the plate.

“I was just tricking everybody and fooling them at the beginning,” he said on Saturday. “Obviously, 10-1, I’m not that good. I had luck on my side, we were scoring lots of runs early in the game, I had defence behind me, the bullpen was holding my leads. It was just a perfect storm of everything.

“Later on, we weren’t scoring as much, I was giving up more runs early and when I did get leads, the bullpen wasn’t holding them. When you have that many wins early, I wasn’t a changed pitcher, everything was just going my way.”

On June 1, Buehrle beat the Kansas City Royals 4-0 for his 10th win. It would take him 10 more starts and nearly two months to get his 11th. Despite that slump, he still made his goal of 200 innings in his last start of the year.

His approach has rubbed off on young starters Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison, who both understand the value of a 200-inning season over and above more glamourous stats.

“That’s a good mark to go for because if you get to 200 innings, you’re going to get your strikeouts, you’re going to get your wins, everything else is going to fall into place,” said Buehrle. “When you’re going deep in games, you have a better chance to win.”

CECIL RELIEVED HIS SHOULDER IS OKAY

With almost a month left before the start of the regular season, the Blue Jays are treating Brett Cecil’s inflamed shoulder with great care to nip any lingering injury in the bud.

Cecil developed some soreness that arose after his first bullpen session of the spring 10 days ago. He had missed the start of camp with a nasty flu bug that laid him low for the first couple of days.

“I have myself to blame because, when I came back after being sick, I probably got after it a little too hard in the first bullpen of the spring,” said Cecil. “I was excited about getting back out there.”

Cecil pitched through some mild soreness in the team’s intrasquad game last Monday, but has not pitched since. On Friday, he went for an MRI just to confirm there was no structural damage.

“Basically, it’s just inflammation in my shoulder,” said Cecil. “That’s it. I brought it forward to go get a precautionary MRI to make sure we were treating the right thing so we could get it out of the way as soon as possible.”

Cecil is being treated with anti-inflammatories and expects to start playing catch again on Tuesday, with an eye to getting back into a game by next weekend.

“It’s not going to take three weeks or anything, but it is a lesson learned,” said Cecil. “When you get sick, you lose a lot, more than you may feel. If that were to happen again, I would wait to throw a pen until I had some more light throwing in. Thankfully, it’s just inflammation and that can be taken care of quite easily.

“We’re just going to let it calm down. The MRI didn’t show anything. It’s frustrating that I can’t pitch in a game for the next week, week-and-a-half. On the flip side it’s comforting to know it’s not something that could take longer.”

SEVEN IS A CROWD AT SECOND BASE
At some point over the next month, the Blue Jays’ second base picture will come sharply into focus. Either that, or manager John Gibbons will go cross-eyed trying to figure it out.
“We’ve got so many balls in the air that it’s a little bit confusing if you want to know the truth,” said Gibbons before Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Phillies.
There are as many as seven candidates in training camp looking to emerge as Toronto’s starting second baseman. They range in experience from 10-year veterans Maicer Izturis and Ramon Santiago, down to young Devon Travis, who hasn’t yet played a game above double-A.
In between are Jonathan Diaz, Steve Tolleson, Ryan Goins and Munenori Kawasaki.
Who could? Who might?
“They’re all battling out there,” said Gibbons. “Travis doesn’t have a hit yet but I’ve been impressed with his defence. A lot of guys, when they’re not hitting, their defence suffers but it’s been just the opposite with him.”
Later in the day, Travis took care of that first hit, ramming a single up the middle in the fourth inning.
“Santiago looks good. Goins is off to a great start with the bat. We know what Tolleson is, what Kawasaki is. Izturis is getting two games off, back-to-back, just to guard him a little bit from the injury he’s coming back from.
“It’s still way too early to tell.”
As much as the Jays like Travis’ potential, it might be asking too much to break in two raw rookies in the same year. That would be the case if Dalton Pompey takes the centre-field job. In the end, the second base job might come down to Izturis and Santiago. One could be the starter, the second could be the utility man. Both can play in a pinch at shortstop if needed. And Travis, if he comes fast, would be only a two-hour car ride away in Buffalo.
“You look at Izzy and Santiago, they’ve been good players at the big-league level,” said Gibbons. “Reliable. They know their game. You know what you’ve got with them.”


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