The words came easily for Brett Cecil until he was asked about his fastball velocity. Then he cracked his knuckles. "Yeah, absolutely," he responded when asked if it was a dead issue. Eighty-seven to eighty-nine miles per hour is the new norm, it appears, and the reality is that means Cecil's now a back of the rotation pitcher.
In order to maintain his status, certainly with the Toronto Blue Jays, he'll need to expand on Sunday's performance: four innings of four-hit pitching with two strikeouts and no walks in what would turn into a 10-2 Grapefruit League win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Hunter Pence singled in Shane Victorino in the first inning after Victorino tripled, the first run Cecil allowed in six innings.
Cecil made news when he reported to spring training 30 pounds lighter, which has allowed him to finish off his delivery easier and keep his fastball down in the strike zone. That's a trade-off the Blue Jays will make since Cecil seldom cracked 90 MPH in his starts last season, something he didn't do once the year before.
Dustin McGowan and Kyle Drabek are bidding for the final two spots and while Drabek will likely be sent down if McGowan stays healthy, the Blue Jays have been extremely impressed with the manner in which Drabek has taken to the mechanical changes they've made to help keep his body in line with home plate. Privately, Blue Jays officials will tell you Drabek's issues mirror those that plagued Ricky Romero early in his tenure with the organization.
The Blue Jays have been quick to praise Cecil this spring, which has led to suggestions they may also be talking about his trade value. For all his issues last year, including his demotion to Triple-A and losing nine of his last 10 starts, the Blue Jays stress that he pitched seven innings in nine of his 14 starts.
Cecil started to use his secondary pitches Sunday and was pleased with the results. So, too, was manager John Farrell. But it was how the pitches played off Cecil's fastball location that was the talking point for Farrell.
"It just adds to the overall deception of his secondary pitches," said Farrell. "When he forces hitters to look lower, then those mistakes he does make will hopefully turn into just fly balls, while a year ago they might have been hit with more authority."