Pinch-hitters power Blue Jays past Tigers in spring opener

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The Canadian Press
2/23/2013 6:13:30 PM
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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Lance Zawadzki paused when asked about the major league organizations he had been with.

Royals, Padres, Dodgers, Cardinals.

"I'm missing one," he said before remembering the Braves.

The 27-year-old infielder from San Antonio announced himself to Blue Jays fans Saturday with a pinch-hit grand slam in the sixth inning that snapped a 3-3 tie and helped Toronto to a 10-3 win over the Detroit Tigers in its Grapefruit League opener.

"It's just something special," Zawadzki, who has just 20 major league games under his belt, said of his first at-bat as a Jay. "It's something you wouldn't forget if it was real game or an intra-squad."

Fellow pinch-hitter Ryan Goins added a three-run shot in the seventh.

"I tell you he smoked it," Jays manager John Gibbons said of the Zawadzki blast. "Goins, he smoked his too. The wind always gushes out here, so that helps a little bit but those two balls were hit on screws."

Toronto starter Brandon Morrow, meanwhile, was caught in spring training limbo.

The Jays right-hander, withholding his prized slider until later in the pre-season, gave up a two-run homer to Detroit slugger Prince Fielder in his one inning of work.

"Part of you wants to go out and get in (the game), the other half is trying to stay back and stay under control," he said later.

Detroit (1-1) took the lead in the first when Fielder slammed a 3-2 fastball over the right-field fence with two out and Torii Hunter on base. Moises Sierra didn't even move in right field. He just turned and watched the ball fly over the fence.

"Obviously down and in for a strike to Prince Fielder is not a good pitch," said Morrow. "I wouldn't be throwing that during the season, but we're working on stuff."

A Victor Martinez single followed and pitching coach Pete Walker made his first visit to the mound of the season. Morrow struck out Andy Dirks to end the inning, giving up two runs on three hits.

Morrow, who likes a slow start to spring training, was only slated to go the one inning. He threw 23 pitches, 10 for strikes.

"First game of spring training, it's fine. We've got seven more weeks or whatever it is," he said. "Plenty of time."

Toronto has 33 more Grapefruit League games to go before the season opener at Rogers Centre on April 2 against the Cleveland Indians.

In the bottom of the seventh, Jeff Kobernus' drive to right-centre field almost turned into an inside-the-park grand slam as Toronto's Ryan Langerhans and Mike McCoy collided and went flying. But Langerhans managed to hold onto the ball.

McCoy headed to the clubhouse with a quad contusion after receiving attention on the field.

Zawadzki, who split 2012 with three triple-A teams, jump-started the Toronto offence with his grand slam off Ryan Robowski. Goins then made Melvin Mercedes pay for a pair of walks one inning later

Zawadzki spent 20 games with San Diego in 2010 but never homered. He was drafted out of high school by the Montreal Expos in the 48th round of the 2003 first-year player draft and again by the Cardinals in the 15th round of the 2006 draft, but did not sign. He joined the Padres after they took him in the fourth round in 2007.

Zawadzki's entry to the Jays came via a friend of Gibbons that the player knows through his work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes back in Texas. Zawadzki, then headed to the Royals camp, was introduced to Gibbons and the two have kept in touch the last two years.

He signed as a free agent in December, acknowledging that he had been slightly worried it had taken him so long to find a new baseball home.

Saturday's game was typical spring training fare. There were base-running gaffes and collisions in the outfield. But the 8,025 fans loved it, soaking in the atmosphere on a sunny 29-degree day at Joker Marchant Stadium where palm trees sway in the outfield.

And the dirtiest car in the parking lot got a free spruce-up, thanks to a local business.

The Tigers, their stylish 'D' painted behind home plate, are coming off a season that saw them lose to San Francisco in the World Series.

The retooled Jays are starting what they hope is a journey that will take them one better.

Emilio Bonifacio led off for Toronto and was followed by Maicer Izturis, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia, Josh Thole, Sierra, Anthony Gose and Ricardo Nanita.

Morrow was followed on the mound by Brad Lincoln, Steve Delabar, Esmil Rogers, David Bush, Ramon Ortiz, Neil Wagner and Chad Beck.

"We were scattering it a little bit today," Gibbons said of his pitching. "We weren't real sharp."

Bush got the win, going two innings without yielding a hit. Robowski took the loss.

"Bushie will help us before it's all said and done," said Gibbons. "He's got an idea what he's doing."

The Tigers went with their everyday lineup in their spring home opener, a move made for the fans, according to manager Jim Leyland.

The Detroit lineup was Austin Jackson, Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez, Dirks, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Omar Infante.

Lawrie drove in two other Jays runs with a single and Lind hit a sacrifice fly to account for another. Cabrera added a solo homer for the Tigers.

The game marked the official return of Gibbons as Toronto manager. He went 305-305 from 2004-08.

And while only a spring training affair, it drew the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"Good luck to the (at)BlueJays as they start spring training. Here's to watching some .baseball in Canada this October," he tweeted just prior to the opening pitch.

The visiting Tigers defeated Atlanta 2-1 Friday in their spring opener.

Notes: Toronto's Mark Buehrle will start in a split-squad game against visiting Baltimore in Dunedin on Sunday. J.A. Happ will pitch in the other game against the New York Yankees in Tampa. R.A. Dickey goes Monday against visiting Boston. ... After Saturday's game, the Blue Jays announced they have acquired right-hander Michael Schwimer from the Philadelphia Phillies for first baseman Art Charles. Schwimer, 27, made 35 relief appearances for the Phillies last season, posting a 2-1 record with a 4.46 earned-run average. To make room on the 40-man roster, left-hander Luis Perez was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

Adam Lind (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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