Blue Jays' rotation begins to face hitters

Blue Jays' rotation begins to face hitters

Blue Jays' rotation begins to face hitters
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Toronto's pitching staff threw to live hitters for the first time this spring on Sunday morning at the Bobby Mattick Training Center.

Left-hander Ricky Romero and right-hander Brandon Morrow were among the first group of pitchers to take the mound. The second group will go on Monday and that progression will continue through next week as the club gets ready for its first Grapefruit League game on March 3 against Pittsburgh.

"These are all the natural progressive steps, going from bullpen, to seeing some hitters in the box, to ultimately getting into a sim game and then games," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "But I think the most important thing we're trying to stress to every pitcher is to induce contact.

"I think there is a tendency for a pitcher to get on the mound and all of a sudden he's reverting back to midseason, and his reference point and some times their command, isn't going to be there. It's just a natural progression they have to go through. It's more about just throwing the ball over the plate, put the ball on the ground after contact is made."

The work this spring also marks the first step in what Farrell hopes will change the pitchers' thought process before the start of the season. Last season, Toronto ranked ninth in innings pitched by starters and fourth in innings by the bullpen.

Farrell would like to see those numbers reversed to ease the burden on the relievers and increase production from the starting staff. For now, that process has begun just through frequent conversations but Toronto's coaching staff is hopeful the words of wisdom become a reality.

"It's more a mindset because we can't take any shortcuts," Farrell said. "We have to take a progressive step from outing to outing to build them up appropriately.

"That doesn't mean we're expecting a guy to go nine innings right out of the chute but there are those games where a guy is maybe in that fourth inning -- where things aren't going quite his way -- that he's got to find a way to get through the sixth and possibly the seventh inning. We had too many of the games where it was the fifth inning and we were already going to the bullpen."