Tallet savoring shot at rotation spot

Tallet savoring shot at rotation spot

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Brian Tallet really hoped that last season would not wind up being one big tease. When injuries began to wear on the pitching staff, the Blue Jays shifted the left-hander out of the bullpen and into the rotation. Tallet loved the new role and wanted nothing more than to have a chance to do it again.

As this Spring Training neared, Tallet received a phone call from Toronto pitching coach Bruce Walton, and the news was music to pitcher's ears: The Blue Jays were going to give Tallet every opportunity to make the Opening Day roster as a member of the starting rotation.

"Pappy called me a couple weeks before camp and said, 'Hey, you're one of my guys,'" Tallet said. "He said, 'You've been here. I know what to expect out of you. The organization knows what to expect.' They know I'm going to take the ball whether I'm sore, hurting, feeling great -- it doesn't matter. That's our job, to go out there and pitch."

On Sunday, Tallet took the mound against the Tigers at Dunedin Stadium for his Grapefruit League debut as a starter for the Blue Jays. The lefty's pitching line was not pretty, but Tallet has been in the big leagues long enough to know that getting worked up about spring stats is an ill-advised move. Tallet understands that throwing strikes and working out any kinks is what really matters.

That is something that Tallet -- a veteran of seven Major League seasons with 189 appearances under his belt -- has tried to help the younger pitchers comprehend. Toronto has a wide-open competition for rotation and bullpen spots this spring, and Tallet knows less-experienced pitchers can have a tendency to get caught up in trying to make the team.

Tallet has been there before.

"Three years ago, I was so worried about making the team," Tallet said. "I was putting so much pressure on myself every time I went out there in Spring Training to get everybody out. You've got to get everybody out. If not, you have no chance to make the team. It affected me and I didn't pitch as well."

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Tallet logged two rocky innings Sunday against Detroit, which scored four runs on four hits against the left-hander. In the first inning, Tallet yielded consecutive home runs to Magglio Ordonez and Ryan Striebly. In the second, the southpaw issued back-to-back walks with two outs before escaping the frame. Tallet struck out two and finished his outing in 45 pitches, including 29 strikes.

It was the type of performance that might have had a pitcher worried about his place in the rotation competition. Tallet shrugged it off and focused on what he did right. He was pleased that he threw 17 strikes among 22 pitches in the first, and the pitcher said he worked his curveball to help improve against left-handed batters.

"I gave up those two home runs, but I was throwing strikes," Tallet said. "I walked those two guys and that's just mentally staying sharp. That's the one thing I've got to do -- I've got to throw strikes. The only times I got in trouble last year were when I would get behind guys."

Last season, the 32-year-old Tallet moved into the rotation in April after starter Jesse Litsch was sidelined with a right elbow injury. When it was all said and done, Tallet made 25 starts, went 7-8 with a 5.41 ERA as a starter and finished with a career-high 160 2/3 innings. Tallet knows it was not the best season of his career, but there was more to it than that.

"It was by far the funnest year I've ever had," Tallet said, "because I got an opportunity nobody had ever given me, and that was to take the ball every fifth day and go out there and start. I relished it. I loved it. You don't complain. You just take the ball. And that's what they're giving me a chance to do this year and I'm loving every minute of it."

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said Tallet earned the right to compete as a starter this spring.

"This guy's been very durable for us in a lot of different ways," Gaston said. "Last year, he was a bit of a lifesaver for us, because we had so many guys down last year. He came in and did a pretty good job for us, really."

That is why -- even in the midst of a youth movement for the Blue Jays -- Tallet is a favorite to open the season in the rotation. Other leading candidates for rotation jobs include Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Marc Rzepczynski, Dustin McGowan and Brett Cecil, who are all younger than Tallet.

Will Tallet be disappointed if he is back in the bullpen come Opening Day?

"Yeah," he said. "I would be disappointed for the simple fact that I didn't pitch well enough to be a rotation guy. As far as the team -- if that's the best-possible team we can put out there, well, then that's fine with me. But I think I can be in the rotation and have it still be our best-possible team."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.