DUNEDIN, Florida – With the eyes of the Blue Jays front office firmly planted on him, starting rotation hopeful Marcus Stroman had an up and down three innings on Friday afternoon.
Stroman allowed three runs on four hits, striking out a batter and walking a hitter, too. He threw 46 pitches, of which 31 were strikes.
Getting the third out was the problem.
"The third guy in each inning kind of hurt me," said Stroman. "The first inning was a walk and then I kind of got lazy on the next guy when I got two quick outs and didn't execute my pitch. Definitely being better with two outs because that's when you want to get back in the dugout."
Stroman entered the game in the fourth, with the Jays down 1-0, pitching in relief of Mark Buehrle. Two quick outs later, he battled former Jay Jayson Nix to a full count and lost him on a slider. Catcher Dioner Navarro called for a fastball, but the brash, confident youngster shook off his veteran battery mate.
"Which I'm perfectly fine with," said Navarro. "We ain't kids, man. We're all growing men and we know what we've got to do. He had a pretty good idea of what he was doing. I've got a pretty good idea of what I'm doing. It was just a matter of execution."
The next pitch, the first pitch in the at-bat to Kevin Kiermayer, was a change-up left up in the strike zone.
"A lot of change-ups up in the zone get hit hard," said Navarro. "I think if he would have thrown it down, we would have gotten a ground ball to the infield."
In the fifth, Stroman struck out Sean Rodriguez and erased Desmond Jennings on a ground ball to short, but a double by Matt Joyce and RBI single by Wil Myers soured the taste of the inning. Two quick outs.
Manager John Gibbons, though, is impressed with Stroman's repertoire. The fastball pops the mitt, the breaking stuff is nasty and the change-up is developing. Stroman is working on the pitch with Brandon Morrow and is throwing a split-change-up, rather than using a circle-change grip. The pitch sinks and, when it's working, misses bats.
"It's just refining it, getting it in that strike zone," said Gibbons.
Earlier this week, general manager Alex Anthopoulos said, tongue-in-cheek, that Friday's outing was "very important" for Stroman. The Jays are stretching him out. Stroman could throw another three innings, maybe four, in his next appearance. They want to see consistently positive results.
He insists he isn't paying attention to the chatter that he, along with Drew Hutchison, could be the tandem that backfills a starting rotation led by R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle.
"It doesn't affect me at all," said Stroman. "It is what it is and I just keep my head down and work. Every time I'm out there I try to give it my all and today wasn't my best at all."
Mark Buehrle allowed a run on three hits in three innings on Friday. He was on the plate, throwing 31 of his 44 pitches for strikes.
"The change-up was probably the best it's been in three years that I can remember," said Buehrle.
Asked to confirm whether he meant the three previous springs or three previous seasons, he said he meant the latter.
"It was moving a lot," said Buehrle. "Guys were swinging and missing at it. There was good movement; dropping, sinking. It was just one of those days I wish you just soak everything in and do the exact same thing you did today and feel today."
ROMERO'S POSITIVE OUTING
Ricky Romero threw two scoreless innings on Thursday. He stranded two, two-out base runners in the eighth. The Rays' Mikie Mahtook singled, followed by a would-be inning ending ground ball from Curt Casali. A Maicer Izturis throwing error extended the frame. Romero picked up his teammate, striking out Richie Shaffer..
"I thought he was popping it," said Gibbons. "You know, the first couple he spiked, but after that he settled in. The thing I noticed the most, he looked nice and relaxed out there. He made some good pitches and he looked confident out there. That's something he's battling. They all battle that, but I thought he looked like he used to look out there.”
Romero isn't on the 40-man roster. His name has been uttered only on the periphery when the subject of available starting rotation jobs is discussed.
"The best we've seen him in a long time," said Gibbons. "I think he's moving in the right direction."
Colby Rasmus expects to resume baseball activities on Saturday. He's missed a week with neck spasms.
The centerfielder received a cortisone shot in an attempt to alleviate the problem.
"It's definitely helped," said Rasmus. "A couple of things I did, stretching out my back, whatever, and the way I slept that night kind of got my neck going and the treatment, it didn't react well to it and the neck just stayed spasmed up, so I got the shot and the dose pack and it seems to be helping."
Rasmus missed time during the first half of spring training last year with a sore muscle in his shoulder. He has experience heading into the regular season with fewer at-bats than first anticipated.
"It's just one of them things, I don't know," said Rasmus. "Baseball throws curveballs at you. You've got to be able to make adjustments and keep working with it, grind through it, find a solution and keep going."
Area motorists are thankful Rasmus is feeling better.
"I can look in my blind spot now," he joked.
JUST CALL HIM "JOHNNY BASEBALL"
General manager Alex Anthopoulos is impressed with reliever John Stilson this spring.
"He's been on the radar," said Anthopoulos. "He's a third round pick, he's one of our better relief prospects, we like him a lot. I think he's had a good camp so far."
Stilson, 23, was a third-round pick in 2011 out of Texas A&M. A four-pitch reliever, Stilson's fastball registers 92-93 miles per hour with sink. He's leaned on pitching coach Pete Walker, new bullpen coach Bob Stanley and consultant Pat Hentgen for advice. They're helping Stilson to slow the game down. In the past, when he's gotten into trouble, he's tended to rush his pitches.
SEITZER AND SON
Blue Jays hitting coach Kevin Seitzer watched as his son, Cameron, a Rays prospect, hit a two-run home run off Todd Redmond in the ninth inning of Tampa Bay's 6-3 win on Friday.
He's a proud father.
"Spring training is different than regular season," said Seitzer. "He does it against us in the regular season, I'm not going to be happy. It's just fun getting to watch your son play."
Seitzer appreciated Rays manager Joe Maddo''s decision to bring Cameron along for the trip to Dunedin. Kevin coached first base in the bottom of the fifth, a gesture by manager John Gibbons, when Cameron entered the game defensively.
Cameron is a first baseman. What did they say to each other?
"He goes, 'What's up pops?'," said Seitzer. "I go, 'Hello bud, this is pretty cool.'"