TORONTO -- Blue Jays reliever Sergio Santos has been working on his changeup for more than three years, but it might be finally getting to the point where it can become another lethal option in his repertoire.
Santos has an overpowering fastball and a wipe-out slider, but the addition of another reliable pitch could work wonders. It doesn't even need to be used all that often, but the fact that Santos has it in his back pocket means opposing hitters will have something else to think about in the box.
The right-handed Santos threw changeups on back-to-back pitches to Jacoby Ellsbury during Saturday afternoon's 4-0 win over the Yankees. The first was out of the zone, but the second completely fooled Ellsbury and resulted in an ugly, off-balance swing for a strike.
"I just felt like it was a good advantage to get him to two strikes and not throwing a slider yet," Santo said. "That's a pitch I feel is going to be big for me. I'm still working on it, but I hope it's another tool I can use to get outs."
Santos has actually been throwing the changeup since the start of his big league pitching career in 2010. He used it 7.8 percent of the time when he was closing for the White Sox in 2011, but the usage dropped to 3.9 percent of the time by 2013, according to FanGraphs.
The changeup is something that needs to be located down in the zone in order to be effective. If it's up in the zone, it's the type of pitch that can be attacked by an opposing hitter. That possibly led Santos to use the pitch less frequently, but it was a big point of emphasis during the spring as well as when Santos occasionally throws on the side.
"A lot better, as far as consistency," Santos said when asked to compare his changeup to the one he would throw a few years ago. "I truly feel like I can throw that pitch early in the count, late in the count, whether I'm behind in the count or ahead. It's one of those pitches that I'm starting to get a really good feel for, and hopefully I can continue that."
Wary of fatigue, Cecil making most of days off
TORONTO -- Blue Jays left-hander Brett Cecil is taking a less-is-more approach to the start of his 2014 season.
Cecil is trying to be smarter about his everyday routine in an effort to ensure he can get through the rigors of a 162-game schedule. Part of that involves monitoring how much he throws before games and making sure he utilizes all of his off-days.
The 27-year-old Cecil is coming off a year in which he made the All-Star team and established himself as one of the better left-hander relievers in the American League. The only problem was that Cecil also started running out of gas down the stretch, and that's something he wants to avoid this season.
"I won't even pick up a baseball [Sunday], and then we have a day off on Monday," Cecil said after throwing 19 pitches in a 4-0 win over the Yankees on Saturday afternoon. "I don't even plan to come in and get some light tossing in.
"Those are things that I'm changing. If I know I'm going to be down, there's no reason for me to even play catch or get loose. It makes no sense. Like I told [pitching coach] Pete Walker, I've been pitching for 17 years. If I can't throw for one or two days and not go in there and throw strikes, then something's wrong."
Cecil is a former starter who made a full-time transition to the bullpen last season. At the beginning of the year, he was feeling so good that all he wanted to do was pitch. There wasn't much concern about working multiple days in a row, and even if he wasn't going to get into a game, Cecil wanted to go through a full warmup prior to first pitch.
Veterans like Casey Janssen and Darren Oliver warned Cecil to "save some bullets" for later in the year, but since Cecil was feeling so good at the time, he just wanted to keep pushing through. Turns out the veterans' advice was right, as Cecil did eventually hit a wall and had to be placed on the 15-day disabled list in September with a sore left shoulder.
"If I knew I had the day off, I would go out for stretch and I'd usually throw," said Cecil, who posted a 2.82 ERA in 60 2/3 innings last season. "There was no reason to throw, but I'd still just throw. That's where I'm saving it. There's no sense to pick up a baseball either of those days. I'll come back and be fresh, ready to go for Tuesday."
• Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes fielded ground balls prior to Sunday afternoon's 6-4 loss to the Yankees. It was the first time he had taken the field since aggravating a left hamstring injury on Opening Day. Reyes isn't eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list until April 16, but the club remains optimistic he'll be able to go on a rehab assignment at some point next week.
• Melky Cabrera got a rare start in center field for Sunday's game. It was Cabrera's first start in center since 2011 and shows just how far he has come since last year's surgery to have a tumor removed from his spine.
"He couldn't have done that last year," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "[When] we had Rajai [Davis] here, it was a little bit different; we could move some guys around. ... He's not your ideal guy in center field, but he has played enough of it and he's got good instincts, doesn't panic out there and has a good arm. He can fill in, and he did a nice job with that."
• Left-hander J.A. Happ allowed two runs on five hits and one walk over five innings for Class A Advanced Dunedin on Saturday night. It marked the beginning of Happ's rehab assignment for a sore back, but there's currently no timetable for his return. Happ will likely have to settle for a role in the Blue Jays' bullpen when he comes back unless there's an injury or someone on the staff falters.