TORONTO – Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston insists he’s not worrying about the ebb and flow of Roy Halladay trade talks, and that’s probably a good thing for someone with so many other things to keep an eye on these days.
Before watching Brett Cecil make a third straight impressive start, throwing seven innings of one-run ball in a 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon, Gaston was musing about the possibility of going to a six-man rotation by mid-August.
Cecil and fellow rookie lefty Mark Rzepczynski are both rapidly creeping up on the 150-inning limit the team would like to impose on them, and the Blue Jays aren’t exactly rife with candidates to fill in for them once they hit the limit.
Some help could come Friday in Oakland, when Scott Richmond of North Vancouver, B.C., is tentatively set to return from a shoulder injury and then there’s Shaun Marcum (elbow surgery), who is also closing in on a return, possibly next month.
How much they can contribute is a question mark, so even without the uncertainty about Halladay’s future, covering the team’s remaining innings this season is definitely an area that needs attention..
At least the 23-year-old Cecil (4-1) is doing his part to leave an impression, striking out seven and pushing his shutout streak to 18 innings before Carl Crawford’s solo shot in the sixth, helping the Blue Jays (48-51) bounce back after blowing an eight-run lead in Saturday’s 10-9 loss in 12 innings.
“He’s pitching well,” said Gaston. “I’m proud of the way they came back and played because (Saturday) was a tough day for all of us in the way we lost … and I think Cecil set the tone for us in the way he pitched.”
Cecil said he’s feeling fine despite shouldering a fairly heavy workload.
“The arm feels great,” said Cecil. “I knew they were going to limit my innings this year a little bit, but I’m just going to go out there with the same mentality every time I get the ball and hopefully give them six, maybe seven good innings and go from there.”
Scott Rolen, who like Halladay is the subject of trade speculation and declined comment afterwards, hit a three-run shot in the fourth, another run scored on a Vernon Wells double-play grounder in the sixth and Marco Scutaro added an RBI single in the seventh as the Blue Jays completed a trying and emotional homestand at 4-5 before a crowd of 30,610.
Twice during the past week fans bid a prospective farewell to Halladay, the biggest prize available ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, and they could see a vastly remade team by the time their team returns from a six-game road trip to Seattle and Oakland.
ESPN reported on its website that the Blue Jays turned down an offer from the Philadelphia Phillies of lefty J.A. Happ along with triple-A prospects Michael Taylor, an outfielder, pitcher Carlos Carrasco and shortstop Jason Donald for Halladay.
That comes after the Phillies are said to have rejected a Toronto request for Happ, double-A starter Kyle Drabek and single-A outfielder Dominic Brown for the ace right-hander.
The Angels have also reportedly upped their efforts to land Halladay, and there are whispers the Red Sox and Yankees may be pulling themselves into the mix, although the Phillies remain the perceived front-runner. A Blue Jays scout watched their single-A affiliate Clearwater play Sunday.
General manager J.P. Ricciardi declined comment, Gaston said before the game that he doubted the rumours were related to his club’s recent swoon, and Wells said his teammates were coping just fine with everything.
“Not really,” he said when asked if he follows the rumours. “I hear it if some guys talk about it, or just flipping through the channels. It’s all talk until something happens.”
Gaston agreed, saying, “guys are busy taking care of themselves and unfortunately that’s just the way this game is,” and he’s approaching things in the same way, planning around what’s in clubhouse right now.
Cecil has thrown 59 frames in the majors to go with his 49 innings for triple-A Las Vegas, while Rzepczynski has 22 1-3 in the big-leagues and a combined 88 in the minors. They probably each have between six and eight starts left.
Cecil outduelled Jeff Niemann (9-5), who allowed five runs in 6 2-3 innings, and is now unbeaten in his last six starts. His command, something that’s occasionally been an issue for him, was better Sunday and he feels “pretty good” about his progress to this point.
“I’ve taken my lumps,” he said, “and I think I’ve learned from them.”
Brandon League and Jason Frasor handled the final two innings as the Rays (54-45) lost for the third time in their past five games. The victory and Cecil’s recent improvement at least gave Gaston one less thing to worry about.
“I’d like to say he pitched ahead, but the thing about him is he never stopped battling,” Gaston said. “He might have gotten behind but he worked his way out of it and that’s what you kind of look for. Some people might start looking for the bullpen but he didn’t.”
Notes: Reliever Brian Tallet, who allowed five runs in six innings Saturday, is back in the bullpen and will be used, “as I need him,” said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. … The Blue Jays bullpen has had its ups and downs this season and entered Sunday’s play 10-20 with a 3.96 ERA, seventh in the American League. The reason? “I think it’s got a lot to do with the starters this year,” said Gaston. “The starters haven’t been carrying us into the seventh and eighth innings.” … Gaston on the recent struggles of closer Scott Downs: “His breaking ball is just not as sharp as it’s been before. He’s not locating like he wants to.” … It was Dog Day at the stadium and the Blue Jays reported that 324 dogs were in attendance.