CLEARWATER, Florida – J.A. Happ got the start in the Blue Jays' rain-shortened, Grapefruit League opener against the Phillies but it was Todd Redmond who left an early impression on his manager.
"Redmond's like anybody else, he's going to get hit every now and then but all we've ever seen out of him is good pitching and he gets guys out," said John Gibbons. "He's pretty polished."
The 29-year-old pitched two clean innings, the second and third, striking out a batter over 22 pitches. He got the win, for what that's worth on February 26, in a 4-3 game called midway through the seventh.
Redmond is among more than a half-dozen pitchers in contention for the last starting rotation spot. While not much can be made of one outing, Redmond's performance resonated following a comment Gibbons made before the game.
"Usually what happens, when there's a spot open, the guy that takes it, some of those guys have those springs where they're good all spring and there's no doubt about it ... a lot of times that guy from day one, man, he's standing out and there's no hiccups."
All Redmond's ever wanted is an opportunity. Here it is, less than three months before he'll turn 29. Think he's overwhelmed? Redmond's been around too long – eight minor league cities over nine seasons – to get rattled by the best chance he's had to crack an opening day roster.
"I'm an easy-going guy," said Redmond. "Just give me the ball, I'll go out there and pitch. Same thing as I do every day. I pitch."
Redmond made 17 appearances for the Blue Jays last season, 14 of them starts. He'd only made one previous appearance in the majors, a start for the Reds in 2012 that didn't go well. Familiarity breeds a sense of comfort.
"I have a little more confidence coming into camp. Of my stuff, not of me, just of my stuff. More trusting of my ability," he said.
As a starter last season, Redmond slowly earned Gibbons' trust, which allowed Redmond to pitch deeper into games. If he's going to succeed at the major league level, however, Redmond will have to vastly improve his numbers facing hitters for a second and third time through the order. Batters have a .627 on-base plus slugging percentage against Redmond the first time through. Redmond's OPS against spikes to .939 when the lineup turns over and .914 the third time around.
He insists durability isn't an issue.
"My entire career, if you look at my minor league side of it, I don't think I've ever thrown under 160 innings a year," said Redmond. "The workload. That's one thing I take pride in is being able to go out there every fifth day and take the ball."
Redmond's almost right. In the seven seasons between 2007 and 2012, he logged at least 160 innings five times and never through less than 145 innings.
Having worked a modified heavy ball program this offseason, he would typically stretch with the one-pound or two-pound weighted ball prior to throwing, Redmond says his should feels strong as he makes the push for a job in the rotation.
"He's been a good pitcher in the minor leagues," said Gibbons. "Every year he's pretty steady and he never really had that opportunity until he came here last year. If this is his year he makes it and he goes on to have a good year, he'll be a big league player and I don't think there will be any looking back."
DRABEK UNHAPPY WITH PERFORMANCE
Kyle Drabek was visibly upset with his first spring performance, a line that looked like this: 1.2IP/1ER/1H/3BB/1K. In his only full inning of work, Drabek threw 11 pitches but only four for strikes.
A candidate for that final rotation spot, he was most bothered by the lack of command.
"I've had it so good in all the bullpens," said Drabek. "It's just frustrating for me to kind of fall back into being wild a little bit. I know what I can do and that's not me."
"Kyle's whole thing, get it into the zone and he's fine," said Gibbons. "He's had a long layoff through the surgery. He pitched some last year but in a lot of ways, he's been out for so long it may be something that he can build back into."
The 26-year-old has a history of control problems. He's averaged 5.8 walks per nine innings over 169 1/3 big league innings. Returning from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery last season, Drabek vastly improved his walk rate, issuing just six bases on balls over 43 innings.
It took Jose Bautista all of three pitches to appear in midseason form. He smacked a 2-0, Roberto Hernandez fastball out of the park, literally. The drive to left field cleared the Phillies bullpen, the walkway behind the bullpen and the fence beyond the walkway.
"I don't know, for whatever reason, I feel like I'm seeing (the ball) better," said Bautista. "There's nothing that I could have done different. I'm not going to go to play winter ball right now. It's kind of odd because I haven't played since August. But I'm not complaining."
CABRERA LIKELY TO HIT SECOND
It's not even March, everyone is healthy, and manager John Gibbons is able to envision putting together a full lineup, something he wasn't able to do all of last season.
Jose Reyes will lead off and, as the plan was at this time last year, Melky Cabrera has the inside track to bat behind him.
"The only real downfall is he does hit a lot of ground balls but you look at what he's done the last few years, take away last year, and he's been one of the better hitters in baseball," said Gibbons. "We like guys there that can get a lot of hits. He's a switch-hitter, he can manipulate the bat a little bit, he knows how to do those things. Ideally, if he's the player we expect him to be, than he'd be a good guy for that spot."
One thing Cabrera doesn't do often is walk, an ideal trait of a two-hole hitter and something that would get him on base more often ahead of sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. After walking 56 times in 2006, his first full year in the big leagues, Cabrera hasn't had more than 43 bases on balls in a season.
A HEALTHY PERSPECTIVE
Nobody wants to read about or hear about injury as an excuse for the Jays disappointing 2013 year.
But a little perspective never hurt anyone, either.
Last season, manager John Gibbons had these six players – Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie – in the lineup at the same time on only eight occasions all year.
It happened over an 11-day period, starting on July 21 and ending on August 1.