TAMPA – Mark Buehrle spun a gem on his 35th birthday, pitching as if he had evening plans to celebrate.
"Go home, drop the family off at the airport so time to go home and clean up the house and get it ready for getting stuff shipped," said Buehrle of what will be a quiet night.
Buehrle made his noise on the mound, tossing 6 1/3 innings of seven-hit, one-run ball against a Yankees lineup that featured every starter save for an injured Jacoby Ellsbury. He threw 94 pitches, 59 for strikes and was his usual efficient self, issuing no walks. He didn't strike out anyone, either.
The Blue Jays won 3-1.
"He's looked a little different this spring," said manager John Gibbons. "Everything's just right. His location's on. I think he's popping the ball a little bit better. Of course I saw him last year, I hadn't seen him in any spring before that but I know he's feeling good and I think he's a little bit surprised about how good he feels and that's a good thing."
Buehrle hadn't pitched in a Grapefruit League game since March 7. On that day, he threw 31 of 44 pitches for strikes and was insistent that his changeup was the best it had been in any game in three years. In between, Buehrle made two starts in minor league games.
Cognizant of his opponent, Buehrle threw fewer offspeed pitches on Sunday, focusing on his fastball.
"We face these guys a lot so I came out and just said, hey, let's work on a lot of fastballs, location," said Buehrle. "I don't want to say trick them because obviously I've been in the league for 12, 13 years so they know what I throw but just didn't want to show them everything."
The plan is for Buehrle to start on Friday night in Montreal, the first of two exhibition games the Jays will play against the New York Mets at Olympic Stadium.
Pitching coach Pete Walker draws up the assignments and didn't give Buehrle the choice of traveling or staying back in Florida to throw in a minor league game. That's just fine with Buehrle, who's looking to pitch in front of a large crowd, in a large stadium, this close to opening day.
"It definitely helps out," said Buehrle. "You get in that atmosphere, the adrenaline pumps a little more, there's a bigger crowd even coming here, everything just kind of clicks and it just becomes real once the game starts."
Friday's start won't be Buehrle's first at the Big O.
His only previous outing came on June 18, 2004, an 11-7 White Sox win over the Expos.
Buehrle pitched six innings but, as he put it, he got his "ass kicked." He allowed seven runs on 10 hits and got a no-decision.
Jose Reyes wasn't in the Blue Jays' lineup on Sunday, one day after leaving Saturday's win over the Tigers in the fourth inning with stiffness in his left hamstring.
"It feels a little better," said manager John Gibbons. "We still don't think it's a big deal."
Reyes is listed as day to day.
The Second Catcher
Erik Kratz and Josh Thole are in a battle for the second catcher's job behind Dioner Navarro.
It's going down to the wire.
"The number one job is going be able to catch Dickey," said Gibbons. "You want some offence but the number one thing (is) they've got to be able to catch Dickey."
Navarro played in 89 games for the Cubs last season, far and away his most since appearing in 115 games for the Rays in 2009.
With that in mind, the Jays anticipate the second catcher having to play more. Kratz offers more offence but Dickey is most comfortable pitching to Thole. Dickey's thrown 565 2/3 career innings with Thole as his battery mate. Henry Blanco, at 127 innings, ranks a distant second.
"I think they've both done a good job so it's a tough call," said Gibbons.
Dickey, as he did last spring when the decision was made to take Blanco over Thole, insists he doesn't have, and insists he doesn't want, input in the process.
Timeline for Roster Finalization
Gibbons hopes to have his final roster determined before the Blue Jays leave for Montreal, where they'll play two exhibition games versus the Mets on Friday and Saturday, before the club departs on Thursday evening.
"We'll have a good idea before that what the roster is going to look like," said Gibbons. "Of course, we'll bring some extra guys with us anyway but we'll know in the next couple of days; with the catching, anyway."