A call for arms
Finalizing rotation is top priority for Jays
Throughout spring training, CNNSI.com will feature regular dispatches from Sports Illustrated staffers assigned to scout camps in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
TEAM: Toronto Blue Jays
SITE: Dunedin, Fla.
WEATHER: Bright sun, breezy, mid 70s
PLAYER I SAW WHOM I REALLY LIKED: Paul Quantrill. The 32-year-old right-hander has been a reliable middle man for the Blue Jays over the past five seasons, but impressive performances by rookie Bob File early in the spring sparked some talk around camp that Quantrill could be nudged out of his bullpen job. Quantrill threw well in Toronto's intrasquad on Wednesday; rookie manager Buck Martinez was especially impressed by the movement and velocity on his slider. If Quantrill has that pitch all season, he and left-hander Dan Plesac will give the Jays one of the league's better lefty-righty bullpen combos.
AROUND THE HORN
On their final day of workouts before the exhibition schedule begins Thursday, the Jays sped through an intrasquad scrimmage designed to get pitchers some non-bullpen work, let hitters see some live pitching and get everyone off the field by noon so players could make the team's afternoon golf outing at a Dunedin country club. It was also moving day: After working out at their cramped minor league facility for the first two weeks of camp, the team will spend March at Dunedin Stadium. It's not the Skydome, but at least there are kitchen facilities: Players had to tear through boxes of Papa John's pizza for their post-practice meal today.
The site of the clubhouse being packed up -- not to mention the early end to the workday -- was a life preserver for those drowning in the mind-numbing monotony of early spring training. "Everybody likes this day," said Martinez. "We can finally move on from conditioning and physicals and start playing some games."
Martinez has his work cut out for him during the exhibition schedule: He has to piece together a rotation from of a group of starters high on potential but devoid of an obvious ace. He and pitching coach Mark Connor both said they liked the way right-handers Esteban Loiaza and Roy Halladay threw in Wednesday's scrimmage, but Martinez admitted there are zero guarantees in the group from which he'll choose his rotation. "You look at the Yankees and you know what you'll get from [Roger] Clemens and [Mike] Mussina and El Duque and the rest," he said. "We have a feeling about Loiaza. We have a confidence level with Joey [Hamilton, who missed most of 2000 with elbow problems] if he's healthy. We have expectations of Chris Carpenter and we think Halladay will be good."
The pitching uncertainty is compounded by the Mike Sirotka saga, which hangs over Toronto's camp like smoke from those brush fires wreaking havoc about 100 miles east of here. The Jays are waiting for a ruling from the commissioner's office on whether the trade that sent David Wells to the White Sox in exchange for Sirotka will be rescinded or modified. Meanwhile Sirotka, who hasn't thrown a ball since arriving in camp, finished a two-week program of shoulder-strengthening exercise on Wednesday and will be examined by team physician Dr. Steve Mirabello on Thursday. Martinez said the Jays should be able to decide on Friday whether Sirotka has any chance of pitching this season.
But all those concerns were on the back burner during Wednesday's workout, probably one of the easier days the players will endure this spring. Raul Mondesi and Carlos Delgado, who were on opposing teams for the scrimmage, spent most of the game talking trash to each other in Spanish. Mondesi, who had two singles, playfully complained that every time he reached base Martinez sent his "team" out to play defense, depriving Raul of a chance to swipe some bags. Forgive the Jays for getting the laughs out of their systems today. Things get much more serious tomorrow and Saturday: Toronto will face the Yankees -- Dwight Gooden and Clemens will start -- in back-to-back games. As Martinez said, the Jays are "jumping right into the fire."
Sports Illustrated staff writer Stephen Cannella will check in periodically
with reports from his tour of spring camps.