ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Drew Hutchison meant business when he arrived in Dunedin for spring training. He had a point to prove: he's back, and he's not worried about his surgically repaired elbow, as he enters what he hopes will be his first full season in the major leagues.
"I expected make the team and now I'm ready to go perform," said Hutchison after his final Grapefruit League start on March 27.
Manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Pete Walker rave about Hutchison's poise. They love his mound presence. They've been thrilled with his bounce back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery dating back to his appearances in the Arizona Fall League.
Hutchison, a command and control pitcher, routinely pumped his fastball to the plate at 92-94 miles per hour, painting the corners along the way.
"We like him," said manager John Gibbons. "He's got a chance to be a real good one. Ever since he had the Tommy John he's thrown better than he was."
Results in spring training often don't matter. With Hutchison, they did. He was competing for a roster spot. He needed to show the Blue Jays he was healthy and could be consistently effective. As a young player, just 23 years old, with options, he needed to drastically outperform veterans who were out of options.
He accomplished all that with a 1.80 ERA and 0.800 WHIP in four Grapefruit League starts, and gets the nod in Tuesday night's second game of the season-opening series in Tampa Bay. Not that it surprises him.
"I thought I'd come into camp and do exactly what I did," said Hutchison. "That's my expectation level and that's what I feel I would be able to do."
Hutchison often repeats variations of the word "expect." He has high expectations of himself, he expects to succeed; he's expecting a long and healthy career. He speaks with supreme confidence but without a hint of arrogance. It's all matter of fact.
"I don't understand, at least from my perspective that's just the way I've approached things and that's the way I've always been," said Hutchison. "I expect that out of myself and now it's time, spring training's over and it's time to go perform and win because that's what it's all about."
Whether Hutchison's approach translates into a successful season will be known only with the passage of time. Gibbons and Walker are looking for someone on which they can rely. The club has a reasonable idea of what to expect from R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. It isn't clear what the Blue Jays will get from Hutchison and Brandon Morrow, both because of their respective injury histories and because neither has shown the ability, yet, to be a front-line starter over the course of a full season.
"He's a pitcher," said Gibbons. "It takes effort for him but he's kind of an effortless type guy. I think he's going to have a big, big year for us. I really do."
Surely Hutchison must have had his doubts during the laborious rehab of his elbow?
He insists he didn't.
"That's just the way I've always been," said Hutchison. "I just expect a lot out of myself and I expect a high level from myself. That's not to try to be, you know, that's just how I am."