TORONTO – The Blue Jays play the rubber match of their three-game series with the Yankees on Sunday.
With a win, Toronto (3-3) would head into its first off-day of the regular season above .500 and with the Astros coming to town for a three-game set starting Tuesday.
KRATZ'S FIRST START
Catcher Erik Kratz was looking forward to being behind the plate for Drew Hutchison's start on Sunday afternoon.
“I like his demeanour,” said Kratz. “I like how he goes after hitters and he's not afraid of contact. He's going to go right after these guys and I'm excited about it.”
It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Kratz. Acquired from Philadelphia in the offseason, along with pitcher Rob Rasmussen, it was assumed Kratz would have the inside track to be Dioner Navarro's backup because he's an offensive threat.
Kratz lost the job to Josh Thole, who has a lengthy track record catching knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, but was recalled in time for opening day when Casey Janssen went on the disabled list.
“They've been up and down for sure,” said Kratz. “When I got sent down I was disappointed but when I got called back up obviously you're excited again. It's something that, it's part of the game, it's part of where I'm at in my career.”
He understands the business and knows there are limited opportunities to impress. But Kratz is familiar to the organization, the Blue Jays drafted him in 2002, and he's confident he's built up enough of a resume during his time in Philadelphia. He hit 18 home runs in 375 at-bats over the last two seasons.
“I can't sit here and say, 'Oh man, this one at-bat that I'm going to get off the bench is going to make or break my season,'” said Kratz. “It's something that you do have to take advantage of your opportunities. I've been fortunate to have opportunities in the big leagues so I've put together a little bit of a resume.”
Should he be called upon to catch Dickey this season, Kratz has confidence in his ability to receive the knuckleball.
“It's as good as it's been,” said Kratz. “I think he said it right and he knows the pitch the best. I definitely improved. Is there room for more improvement? Absolutely. I think it's something that, getting that comfort level out in those games, lights are a little brighter than in spring training. Just the more reps I can get the more comfortable I'll get.”
WALDEN “SHOCKED” AT CALL-UP
Needless to say Marcus Walden was surprised when his contract was purchased from Triple-A Buffalo on Saturday.
“I was definitely shocked,” said Walden. “I saw that they were calling up Chad Jenkins. I didn't hear of a 10-day rule, I had no knowledge of it, so my skipper called me in and I was shocked. Really shocked.”
The 10-day rule to which Walden is referring applies to players optioned to the minor leagues. Players on option already are on the 40-man roster and if they're sent to the minor leagues, they must spend 10 regular season days on option before they're eligible to be recalled. The lone exception is to be an injury replacement when someone on the big league roster is placed on the disabled list.
The Blue Jays intended to recall Chad Jenkins but, because he's on option, he isn't eligible for call up until April 10, the 11th day of the regular season.
Walden wasn't on the 40-man roster, hence his contract being “purchased,” and so he was selected as Jeremy Jeffress' replacement when Jeffress was designated for assignment.
Walden, 25, is a sinkerball pitcher who relies on ground ball outs. His career minor league strikeout rate of 5.4 per nine innings reflects his approach.
He missed most of 2009 and all of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Walden made a number of adjustments to his training regimen as a result.
“Ever since then I've kind of changed a lot of stuff about working out and doing a lot of things to get myself ready to pitch,” said Walden. “At the end of the day I think it's paid off.”
Walden swears by yoga; he estimates he participated in 40 to 50 sessions in the offseason. He's considered one of the strongest players in the Blue Jays' organization and he credits yoga.
“I think it's something, it kind of gets people to be more limber and more flexible,” said Walden. “If you've got really big, strong, tight muscles it does you no good. The more limber you are, the more flexibility you can have, the looser your muscles are to help with not having injuries.”
For the first time in franchise history, the Blue Jays' first three wins of a season have come with the club scoring fewer than four runs in each of the victories.
The starting pitching, with the benefit of improved defence, is off to a much better start than last year.
It's early but the Blue Jays' 3.78 starting staff ERA has the team on track to vastly improve on last season's 4.81 ERA amongst starters, which ranked second worst in baseball.