The last day of February served as a reminder that, regardless of the sexy moves a major-league team makes in the off-season, there is still a gradualness to the whole spring-training process, that the men-at-work aspect of the game must still be played out.
The Toronto Blue Jays used their first defensive shifts of the spring against Mark Teixeira and Travis Hafner in Thursday's 1-0 win over the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Toronto manager John Gibbons made it clear that he will be less doctrinaire in his approach to the shift compared to his predecessor, John Farrell, and former third base and infield coach Brian Butterfield. Gibbons said much will depend on how that day's starter feels about the shift.
"This year they've made it clear we'll have some say in it," Thursday's starter, Brandon Morrow, said. "They want some input. I'm comfortable with it."
Wednesday, Mark Buehrle took aside Ricky Romero and showed him a new cut fastball grip, then oversaw a throwing session in which Romero ran out the new grip.
There's a lot that goes on away from the batting cage, you know?
Esmil Rogers, the pitcher the Blue Jays acquired from the Cleveland Indians in return for Mike Aviles (whom Toronto acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the Farrell trade), was pulled aside early in camp by Jose Bautista, who told Rogers he thought he could pick up his pitch by the way he flared his glove.
Rogers now holds the glove behind his ear instead of in front when he brings the ball into the mitt, in order to hide his pitches.
It's left Rogers "in between" mechanically, in the words of bullpen coach Pat Hentgen.
And even though knuckleballer R.A. Dickey won the National League Cy Young Award in 2012, the Washington Nationals as a team hit .283 against him (30-for-106) with six doubles and three home runs. Dickey was 2-2 against the Nationals. Veteran Mark DeRosa, who played for the Nationals last season and is with the Blue Jays now, had one of those six doubles because the Nationals, in his words, "had his pitches."
So early in spring training, he mentioned the matter to Hentgen "and all those guys." They watched video of Dickey pitching, and in DeRosa's words, "It was obvious what he [Dickey] was doing."
Dickey, according to Hentgen, immediately addressed the issue. A younger Hentgen did the same thing when Blue Jays teammate Roberto Alomar came up to him one day and asked him to go for a walk in the outfield, where he showed Hentgen how he was tipping one of his pitches. Alomar suggested Hentgen hold his glove differently when he reached in to grip the ball – more like Jack Morris or Dave Stewart. A little lower, closer to the waist.
"Obviously, it didn't hurt R.A. that much because he won a Cy Young Award," DeRosa, the 25th man on the Blue Jays' roster, said. "And, you know, I didn't want to tell him about it at first because of the success he had. I didn't want him thinking about it."
DeRosa, of course, won't reveal how Dickey tipped his fastball. And he laughed when asked why the Nationals noticed it and other teams didn't.
"I have no idea," DeRosa said. "I'm not a big guy who steals signs or looks for tips necessarily. Ninety per cent of the time, if a guy does say something, I'll take a look at it on tape and brush it off if it's not blatant. That's really not something I want to get involved in. But it was just that I felt that we [the Nationals] had every pitch he threw. Doesn't mean we could hit it, but we had it, and I had better success than I should have had, so it was really one of the first things I wanted to address with him. Plus, I'd played with him before. I knew he would take it the right way.
"It's one of those things where you're my teammate now, and everybody's looking for an edge," De Rosa said. "Everybody wants to win."
Keep that in mind as the Blue Jays play out the Grapefruit League schedule, with several regulars leaving camp for the World Baseball Classic. It's the process that counts, not the results, and in the early going, the process has been impressive. There really is a lot that goes on.