TORONTO -- Brett Cecil entered Spring Training without a guaranteed job, but now finds himself as one of the most valuable relievers in the American League.
Toronto's left-hander entered play on Saturday riding a streak of 19 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. He hasn't allowed a hit in 40 at-bats, a stretch which dates back to May 28. The only walk over that span was an intentional pass on June 17.
Most of the talk regarding Cecil's success has been attributed to increased velocity on his fastball. But an improved curveball has proved to be just as vital.
"Basically, early on in the spring, he was looking for his velocity," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "The big question was, 'Is his fastball back?' He'd go into games and he'd just pump that fastball, [and an] occasional breaking ball.
"There was one game when he started pitching a little bit. He'd flip the breaking ball over early and then use his fastball. ... What it did was, it brought his fastball back into the strike zone -- because early on he was reaching back for maybe a little bit more, leaving it up high to his arm side. But the breaking ball seemed to get him back in [the] zone."
What has made Cecil's curveball so effective is his ability to consistently throw it for strikes. He can hit the strike zone with it in virtually any count, and also has the ability to have the pitch drop into the dirt when looking for a strikeout.
That has helped Cecil record 44 strikeouts in just 39 innings this season. He's also had the ability to be equally as efficient vs. righties and lefties. In the past, Cecil's splits have always been more favorable against lefties. But this year, he's limited righties to a .172 average and .559 OPS in 58 at-bats.
"I've always been confident in my stuff," Cecil said. "Even in Spring Training, I was still confident in my stuff. In Spring Training, they saw some stuff that was good and, obviously, there some stuff I needed to work on. Glad they gave me a chance, and I appreciate it every day, for sure."