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The Globe and Mail

Blue Jays turn to guru to help with pitching program

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brett Cecil pitches against the Colorado Rockies in 8th inning AL action in Toronto on Monday June 17, 2013.


Less than an hour later the Toronto Blue Jays would drop a double dose of bad pitching news, revealing that Brandon Morrow and Luis Perez had setbacks down in Florida and that in the case of Morrow there was no indication about when he'd be back on the mound. But for now, Alex Anthopoulos moved to dispel the notion that the organization had taken a flyer on a new approach to the health of its pitchers.

You can understand why the hiring of weighted ball guru Jamie Evans as a consultant would lead to the idea that the Blue Jays general manager was full-speed ahead on getting to the bottom of the pitching injuries that have crippled this organization for the past two seasons. Evans, after all, is one of the men behind the velocity program that Jay pitchers Steve Delabar, Casey Janssen, Dustin McGowan and most especially Brett Cecil credit with helping build up and maintain arm strength.

The program utilizes the throwing of weighted balls with different grips to strengthen muscles behind the shoulders, effectively mimicking the act of serving a tennis ball without the normal breaking motion to a pitch. Delabar, who used the program to emerge from the scrap heap and now sits in the upper 90 miles-an-hour range with his fastball, introduced it to the organization last season.

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Evans will work solely with Blue Jays pitchers and minor-leaguers, but Anthopoulos was clear that: "We would never tell someone in our organization to do the program."

Evans, he said, is like any of the other consultants the team has – a yoga specialist, or the eye-training specialist that Rajai Davis, among others, utilize.

"We hired him because if you're going into our clubhouses and talking to players, there has to be a proprietary element," said Anthopoulos, adding: "I mean, you have 25 guys on a team and you can't hire 25 different consultants but if two or three of them have specific things they do and they feel it makes an impact and makes them comfortable? Great."

Cecil has been one of the biggest success stories for the 2013 Blue Jays. Going into Tuesday's second game of a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies, the bespectacled left-hander was riding a 16 2/3 -inning runless streak. He hasn't allowed a hit since May 28 – 35 batters ago – which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is the second-longest in the major leagues this season.

Cecil can be forgiven for thinking the weighted balls saved his career; he was a mess in 2012, showing up in spring training looking like somebody who'd gone on a crash diet and finishing with an earned-run average of 5.72 and a WHIP of 1.516. He was hard-pressed to break 83 mph in spring training that year, but this season he has flirted with 94 mph and sits 92.

But there are those within the organization who point out that Cecil's velocity is regained velocity, not brand new or found, which is why the Blue Jays brass sees the weighted-ball program as optional, not mandatory. And, yes, there are those who will wonder how much of it is science and how much is placebo. This is baseball, after all.

So do not expect any hocus-pocus. There is little doubt that this organization needs to look at how it drafts and develops pitchers and needs to do a better job of keeping them healthy. But Anthopoulos hardly sees this as a cure-all and the fact is there will be no short-cut for Morrow – who complained of aggravated tightness in his right forearm after Monday's messy 35-pitch, two-inning rehabilitation start at Class-A Dunedin and who is scheduled to see a specialist.

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"He still felt it when he pitched, so we're going to be cautious and just give him more rest; similar to what we did with Josh Johnson," Anthopoulos explained.

J.A. Happ is still at the bullpen session stage and Ricky Romero is – well, no, let's not go there, yet.

So for now, if it's magic you want look to Esmil Rogers – who gave up four hits and two earned runs over 62/3 innings in Tuesday's 8-3 win, which extended the Blue Jays' win streak to seven games – and Chien-Ming Wang.


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