TORONTO -- Brett Cecil entered Spring Training without a guaranteed job, but now finds himself as one of the most valuable relievers in the American League.
Toronto's left-hander entered play on Saturday riding a streak of 19 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. He hasn't allowed a hit in 40 at-bats, a stretch which dates back to May 28. The only walk over that span was an intentional pass on June 17.
Most of the talk regarding Cecil's success has been attributed to increased velocity on his fastball. But an improved curveball has proved to be just as vital.
"Basically, early on in the spring, he was looking for his velocity," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "The big question was, 'Is his fastball back?' He'd go into games and he'd just pump that fastball, [and an] occasional breaking ball.
"There was one game when he started pitching a little bit. He'd flip the breaking ball over early and then use his fastball. ... What it did was, it brought his fastball back into the strike zone -- because early on he was reaching back for maybe a little bit more, leaving it up high to his arm side. But the breaking ball seemed to get him back in [the] zone."
What has made Cecil's curveball so effective is his ability to consistently throw it for strikes. He can hit the strike zone with it in virtually any count, and also has the ability to have the pitch drop into the dirt when looking for a strikeout.
That has helped Cecil record 44 strikeouts in just 39 innings this season. He's also had the ability to be equally as efficient vs. righties and lefties. In the past, Cecil's splits have always been more favorable against lefties. But this year, he's limited righties to a .172 average and .559 OPS in 58 at-bats.
"I've always been confident in my stuff," Cecil said. "Even in Spring Training, I was still confident in my stuff. In Spring Training, they saw some stuff that was good and, obviously, there some stuff I needed to work on. Glad they gave me a chance, and I appreciate it every day, for sure."
Reyes' return sets up tough decisions for Blue Jays
TORONTO -- The return of Jose Reyes is imminent, and when it eventually happens. the Blue Jays will be faced with a tough decision regarding their 25-man roster.
Reyes went 1-for-4 with a double for Triple-A Buffalo on Friday night. He's expected to play for the Bisons on Saturday and again on Sunday, but could rejoin Toronto the following day for the start of a three-game series at Tampa Bay.
The big question surrounding this team is who will be sent down when Reyes' rehab from a severely sprained left ankle comes to an end. The odds-on favorite for quite some time has been infielder Munenori Kawasaki, but he has become a favorite of manager John Gibbons and those inside the Blue Jays' clubhouse.
"I think the first thing is his personality, what he brings every day," Gibbons said when asked what makes Kawasaki so unique. "He's someone that makes you feel good. Reyes is a lot like that, too -- upbeat, loves what he's doing.
"But there's just something about Kawasaki that's different. It's a great story. We signed him in Spring Training, didn't know much about him, but he came in and stepped up to replace one of our top guys and did a great job of it."
When Reyes initially went down on April 12, general manager Alex Anthopoulos publicly stated that he was in the market for help from outside the organization. To the surprise of just about everyone, that changed in the coming days when Kawasaki proved to be a relatively admirable fill-in after being called up from Buffalo.
The numbers certainly aren't spectacular. Kawasaki entered play on Saturday hitting just .229 but he does have a .341 on-base percentage, while playing consistent defense at shortstop despite somewhat limited range and a below-average arm.
It's pretty much impossible to gauge the impact a player like Kawasaki can have inside of a clubhouse. But for those who believe chemistry is important, the native of Japan has been a valuable component. That likely won't play a factor in the club's decision, but there's no question Kawasaki will be missed if he's optioned to Triple-A.
"Basically, the game comes down to numbers," Gibbons said. "Who you can send out, who you can't send out, what's going to help your team. That's usually the bottom line. But he's a big part of this, I'll tell you that, right now."
One option the Blue Jays do have at their disposal is returning to an eight-man bullpen. Toronto has been carrying an extra reliever for most of the season because of some inconsistent starting pitching. But with the staff having turned things around, it's possible the club could go back to a four-man bench.
Toronto had a streak of seven games of allowing two earned runs or fewer snapped on Friday night. It's a sign that the Blue Jays are getting what they need from the rotation, and opens up the possibility that relievers Dustin McGowan, Neil Wagner or Juan Perez could be on the way out. McGowan and Perez are both out of options, while Wagner has the ability to be sent down without being exposed to waivers.
"No doubt, we'll see how that shapes up," Gibbons said of going back to seven relievers. "We're not really sure what we're going to do. It's going to have to happen pretty soon, because Reyes isn't that far off. But we have guys down in that 'pen right now that we're looking to get into games because they haven't pitched in awhile.
"That won't be easy, either, because we have guys out of options and everyone is pitching really well, too. So whatever happens, it's not going to be easy."
Dickey still searching for consistency on the mound
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' pitching staff has turned a corner of late, but their ace is still searching for consistency on the mound.
Veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey surrendered six runs on seven hits in Toronto's 7-6 victory over the Orioles on Friday night. It marked the fourth time in his past six outings that Dickey allowed at least six runs, and a lot of it can likely be traced back to his mechanics.
Dickey spent the first couple of months of the season trying to battle through an upper back and neck injury. That caused a drop in velocity, and Dickey attempted to compensate by altering the release point in his delivery.
"I'm hopeful that [my velocity is] going to become more and more consistent," Dickey said. "It was good early on [Friday night], hit a little bit of a brick wall in the fifth and sixth innings, but for the most part I was pretty happy with the way the ball was moving.
"Josh [Thole] was telling me it was familiar to him from last year, so that was a good sign -- especially early on. But it's going to take me a little while to unlearn some bad habits, and hopefully it won't take me too long. But [I'll] keep grinding it out, and it'll turn for me as far as the mechanics go."
Dickey was able to get away with the subpar outing for at least one night. He did allow the six runs, but the Blue Jays earned a come-from-behind victory following a two-run homer by Munenori Kawasaki in the seventh inning and a walk-off single by Rajai Davis in the ninth.
That will help ease whatever frustration Dickey might be dealing with. But there's no question he's attempting to turn the page on what has been a disappointing opening stint with the Blue Jays. His ERA now sits at 5.15 with a record of 6-8.
"Just trying to compensate for some things," Dickey said of his mechanics. "Not that that's an excuse of any kind, but your body does choose the path of least resistance when you're nursing some things -- and that, for me, equals some bad habits. ... I'm trying to get out of those as quickly as possible."