Brett Cecil Turns In Another Strong Outing

Josh Johnson wasn’t the only Blue Jays pitcher I was impressed with Friday night.

Brett Cecil looked great for a second straight appearance and his extra velocity appears quite real. After starting the seventh with a walk and a double, Cecil retired the next three straight via strikeout.

The lefty got Shane Victorino swinging on a changeup, Jackie Bradley Jr. on a 94-mph fastball and then punched out Pedro Ciriaco with this nasty curveball to end the inning.

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Cecil came back to face Ellsbury in the eighth and struck him out with another sharp curveball. He has looked very good and has the potential be a big weapon out of the bullpen, especially if he can put away right-handers – something he has struggled to do over his career.

The left-handed Cecil faced four righties – two of which are switch-hitters – and two lefties over his 1 1/3 innings of work. He threw 19 of his 26 pitches for strikes and mixed in five different offerings, including his seldom used changeup once. He told me in spring training he wanted to incorporate the pitch more this year after abandoning it once transitioning to the bullpen last season. He threw eight curveballs and so far it’s looking like an out-pitch for him.

ROCKY START

Hard-throwing righty Jeremy Jeffress made his Blue Jays debut Friday and didn’t turn in a strong performance.

Jeffress worked the ninth and needed 29 pitches to get out of the frame. He surrendered a leadoff homer to Will Middlebrooks to start the inning – the first batter he faced all year – and also issued a pair of walks before Toronto entered the bottom half of the ninth down, 6-4.

The pitch Middlebrooks hit out was a 95-mph heater that tailed too much inside. Catcher J.P. Arencibia was calling for a fastball away but the pitch ran into Middlebrooks’ wheelhouse.

In Jeffress’ defense, it was the first time he pitched since an exhibition game against the Phillies on Saturday – that’s nearly a week off. That’s not an easy spot for him to come into.

In fairness to manager John Gibbons, closer Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar and Darren Oliver were deemed unavailable after working back-to-back nights. Esmil Rogers and Cecil had already thrown and Gibbons elected to hold Sergio Santos back in that spot, leaving lefty Aaron Loup as the only other option.

The leash was already short for Jeffress and it doesn’t help him that the Blue Jays are going to cut a reliever once Brett Lawrie returns from the disabled list. Toronto is currently working with an eight-man bullpen, with seven being the preferred number.

One, it gives teams an extra bench player, which allows for a manager to get more creative in later innings with pinch-hitting and defensive purposes or in the event of injury. Also, when carrying eight relievers, there is a good chance someone is going to sit a lot and turn cold, which is exactly what happened to Jeffress.

With Jose Bautista out, the bench was down to two players Friday and one of them was backup catcher Henry Blanco. After Gibbons pinch-hit Mark DeRosa for Adam Lind in the sixth, the bench was down to one. That’s a problem.

The 25-year-old Jeffress threw 22 fastballs and seven curveballs, per Brooksbaseball.net, and maxed out at 97.4 mph.

OFFENSIVE NOTES

Jose Reyes went 4-for-5 with a solo home run and two doubles.

Rajai Davis went 2-for-4 in his first start of the season.

Blue Jays batters struck out 11 times, including four from Emilio Bonifacio and two from Colby Rasmus. The duo has struck out a combined 13 times in 30 at-bats this season.

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