Cecil shines in final bid for rotation spot

Cecil shines in final bid for rotation spot

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- All Brett Cecil can do now is wait. In the competition for rotation jobs, the young Blue Jays left-hander has stated his case emphatically, especially considering the pressure that accompanied his outing against the Phillies on Wednesday.

Not only did the start serve as a final audition for a spot on the Opening Day staff, but it was also an outing that required Cecil to face the two-time reigning National League champions. Philadelphia rolled out a lineup filled with All-Stars and sent ace Roy Halladay to the hill as Cecil's opponent.

Cecil was not rattled.

"He delivered," Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "He went out and did a great job, just an absolutely great job."

With one day remaining before Toronto will likely announce its Opening Day rotation, the 23-year-old Cecil shined over six innings at Bright House Field. The lefty limited the Phils to two runs -- one on a solo homer to Placido Polanco in the third and another on a solo blast by Ben Francisco in the fifth -- and six hits, finishing with four strikeouts and no walks.

It was the second consecutive impressive performance for Cecil, who held an All-Star-filled Red Sox lineup off the scoreboard over five innings in a road start on Friday. General manager Alex Anthopoulos was on hand to witness that showing from Cecil in Fort Myers, Fla., as well. Given his recent success, Cecil believes he's earned a spot on the staff.

"I think so," Cecil said. "But it's not up to me. No matter where I go, I'm going to keep working on what I'm working on and try to stay right where I'm at. If it so happens I go to [Triple-A] Vegas, I'll be ready for a callup, and if I break with the team, great."

Entering Spring Training, left-hander Marc Rzepczynski ranked higher than Cecil on the organizational depth chart. Rzepczynski showed inconsistent results this spring, though, and fractured the middle finger on his left hand during a start on Tuesday night. That eliminated Rzepczynski from the competition, putting Cecil in a better position to possibly make the team.

"He certainly has a chance," Gaston said. "We'll see what happens."

Early in the spring, Cecil slipped slightly behind the pack of starting candidates after a mishap in his kitchen. He cut his left thumb while slicing chicken, missed a start and was not allowed to throw curveballs or sliders for a short period of time. Cecil believes that was actually a blessing in disguise, because it gave him time to further develop his changeup.

In a "B" game against the Phillies at Bright House Field on March 10, Cecil made his first game appearance of the spring and was forced to use only fastballs and changeups. As the spring progressed, Cecil stuck with that approach, gained more confidence in the changeup, and then began working his breaking pitches and a newly-developed cutter into the mix as well.

"I'm kind of glad it happened," Cecil said of the early-spring injury. "My first outing, I had to throw fastball-changeup here. In the long run, I think it happened for a good reason. I didn't realize how good my changeup was until that day. It's been the same my last couple outings. It's become a good pitch for me."