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Jays' Gibbons hands closer job to lefty Brett Cecil

By Mike Rutsey, Toronto Sun

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Brett Cecil (27) pitches in the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Brett Cecil (27) pitches in the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

DUNEDIN, FLA. - 

When it came to selecting his new closer, John Gibbons elected to throw a curve.

To the surprise of no one who has been following the team, the Jays manager handed the job, left vacant by the departure of Casey Janssen, to left-hander Brett Cecil.

A closer at all levels and certainly at the big-league level comes to the mound with the same qualifications.

They are right-handed, can throw smoke in the high 90s and if they can’t, they have a ‘trick’ out pitch such as a split-finger fastball or not-of-this-world changeup.

Cecil has none of that.

Like we said, he is a lefty which is not common due to the predominance of right-handed hitters in any lineup and his fastball sits 91-93.

It is also his second-best pitch.

His No. 1 pitch, his out pitch, is his curve which is a big breaker and rolls in not 12-to-6 put more 1-to-7.

Cecil was not even the top pick heading into spring training.

Hard-throwing Aaron Sanchez would probably have been tabbed to be ‘the man’ but due to the knee injury that wiped out Marcus Stroman’s season, Sanchez is now in the rotation and Cecil is now the guy — even though due to shoulder soreness early in camp he has yet to appear in a game.

That will change this week.

“Right now it would be Cecil,” Gibbons told the media masses.

“Earlier in the spring it could have been (Aaron) Sanchez but that’s not going to happen now.”

While Gibbons delighted the media with his message, official word had yet to filter down to Cecil.

“If that’s what he said, that’s great,” Cecil said when informed. “That was my plan the whole time, to do my best to get myself in that position, although I haven’t done much this spring. When the words come out of his mouth to my ears I’ll be very excited.”

Cecil may be the second choice but he comes to the office with solid credentials.

“He closed out four or five last year, he was really good in the eighth inning,” Gibbons said when asked what he liked about Cecil.

“He strikes guys out. He really has one of the better curveballs in the game. You never know for sure if a guy can do it but he deserves the opportunity. We think he can.”

What makes or breaks a closing candidate is not so much the quality of his stuff but his mental toughness. When you close, there are no do-overs, no second chance.

“You’ve got to be tough mentally because you’re going to blow some games and you’ve got to be able to deal with that and react and, of course, you’ve got to be very durable in that role,” Gibbons said.

“They’re a different breed. There’s something about that ninth inning. It’s the last inning of the game.”

As far as not having the usual closer stuff, Gibbons believes the quality of his breaking ball overcomes that obstacle.

“It’s a good fastball but his pitch is a curveball,” he said.

“When it’s on, it’s really unhittable. A curveball is a rare pitch in baseball these days, it’s more sliders. It used to be pretty common but it’s lost now. It’s his go-to pitch.”

A converted starter, Cecil has thrived the past two seasons in the bullpen.

“Yeah, the adrenalin rush is what I love most about being in the ’pen in general,” he said.

“It’s hard to get something like that not driving 200 miles (per hour) in a car. I feel like it’s along the same lines as that. There’s not many things you can do in life to get that feeling and that’s what I love most about it.”

“I would think that the situations I’d come into now that I am the closer would be a little bit less stressful than when I’ve come in in the past, coming in the seventh, eighth inning with guys on base,” Cecil said.

“Normally a closer comes in a clean inning, ninth inning, nobody’s on and that’s what a closer does. My approach will be the same as it always has been. There’s just a label on it now.”

Still, Cecil said he’d like to clean up in some areas.

“If I’m going to be the closer, the walks are going to have to come down which means my fastball command is going to have to get better,” he said.

“I’m hoping that I don’t have to go to my curveball so quickly in counts. I’m definitely not afraid to throw it in any given situation. They know that, I know that, my players know that. They joke about it all the time, give me crap about it all the time.”

Two years ago, Cecil came into camp fighting for a job. Not only did he make the team, he excelled and went on to earn a spot in the All-Star Game.

Last year he made six more appearances, 66, and lowered his ERA to 2.70 from 2.82 in 2013.

Now he’s the closer.

“If you had said that to me during 2013 I would have said ‘It’s possible’ but prior to that I would have told you you’re full of s---.”

 

Osuna, Castro the dynamic young duo

Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro continued with their impressive string of performances.

Facing the Tampa Bay Rays, Osuna made his first start and responded by throwing 3.2 shutout innings where he allowed two hits, walked one and struck out two. It was the right-hander’s fifth appearance of the spring and he has yet to allow an earned run.

Castro, who has a fastball that sits 97-99 mph and combines that with a swing-and-miss changeup, followed with 2.1 shutout innings.

The lanky right-hander allowed one hit, didn’t walk a batter and struck out four.

It was Castro’s fourth spring appearance — and over a combined 7.1 innings he has allowed just three hits while striking out seven.

The two have been the dual surprises of the spring. Castro is expected to make the team as a reliever while Osuna will probably start at triple-A Buffalo.

“They’ve opened our eyes,” manager John Gibbons said of the pair. “We’ll see where it all goes. They’re two young guys who are really ahead of the game.”

 

DIALING IT IN

RHP Steve Delabar, who closed out Saturday’s victory over Philadelphia in style by striking out the side, looks like a lock to be back in the bullpen.

“He’s been good all spring, he looks a lot like he did two years ago,” Gibbons said. “His velocity has kicked up a little bit. Last year he’d scatter (miss the strike zone) one hitter per inning. He was really good the year before, had pretty good command for a guy throwing that hard. That’s what he looks like now. It’s big for us, big for him. He’s moving in the right direction.”

 

MINOR MATTERS

RHP Drew Hutchison threw five shutout innings in a class A minor-league game. Hutchison threw 75 pitches and allowed four hits, walked one and struck out seven.

INJURY UPDATES

OF Kevin Pillar had an MRI two days ago and it came back clean and he took part in the pre-game batting practice Sunday. Gibbons said he’ll be off with the rest of the team Monday, have another round of BP on Tuesday and be ready to get back into a game on Wednesday when the Jays travel to Sarasota to face the Baltimore Orioles. The news was not as good for infielder Maicer Izturis who strained his groin in Friday’s game against the Rays.

“There’s a strain in there, so there’s no activity for 10 days and then we’ll see where he’s at,” Gibbons said.”

Gibbons added he does not expect Izturis will be ready for Opening Day on April 6.

 

NORRIS PUT SOME THOUGHT INTO IT

Daniel Norris may be all of 21 but in his last start he showed he is a thinking-man’s pitcher, not just a thrower.

In his start against Tampa on Friday, Norris gave up singles to the first two batters he faced.

His plan going into the game was to establish his fastball and then mix in his other pitches.

But after two line-drive singles early in the count off his fastball, Norris switched gears.

He changed his strategy and went to his sinker and off-speed pitches to take advantage of the Rays aggression and induced a series of ground-ball outs.

“My command was really good that day so I switched to two-seamers down in the zone and they beat it into the ground for ground balls,” Norris said Sunday.

Being able to change things up on the fly is an ability that some pitchers never learn much less a rookie who is trying to impress enough to make the rotation.

“It’s all about trusting your stuff,” Norris said.

“If they’re swinging early, there’s no need to try and pitch around that. If they’re swinging early, you might as well let ’em induce contact. It’s like if you’re going to do that I’ll just throw it down in the zone. I made an adjustment in my approach and it turned out to be a decent outing.”

Buck Martinez, who has been a big-league catcher, Jays manager and now a TV analyst, was impressed by what Norris showed, that he has the smarts to switch plans on the fly by what the batters are showing him.

“Often times you don’t see pitchers even recognize what a guy is doing at the plate,” Martinez said.

“He recognized what they were doing after two pitches. He’s so very aware and he’s athletic enough to make adjustments. He’s confident enough to know that the adjustments he makes are going to be effective. He’s a special kid.

“Being able to change your pattern midstream is the true key to being a successful major-league pitcher. If he can have the ability to say: ‘Oh wow, he shouldn’t be able to hit that pitch like that, I’ve got to make an adjustment and then make an adjustment is just remarkable.”

With young pitchers, often when the game plan isn’t working they panic and start throwing harder. That approach usually leads to disaster.

Norris, meanwhile, kept his cool, switched gears and took advantage of the Rays aggression.

“What happens in most pressure situations is that guys try harder,” Martinez said.

“The great line that Charlie Lau (famed hitting coach) used to use with pitchers and hitters was try easier. When hard is not working, you’ve got to back off. It looks like he’s (Norris) got that knack.”

 

 


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