Monday, July 25, 2011

Those Lazy Sundays

So I guess yesterday wasn't the worst day of the year to be a Jays fan, was it? A couple of HOF inductions, a complete game shutout against a pennant winner from an enigmatic young pitcher. Hell, Brett Lawrie even went 2-4 with a triple and a couple of walks to continue his gradual, thorough obliteration of the Pacific Coast League during his rehab. So yeah, no biggie.
Sadly, I missed the first eight innings of Cecil's start, so I can't even begin to suggest to know why or how he did what he did, but it's hard to take it as anything but a great sign. There were reports of 94-mph fastballs, which would seem to suggest that this wasn't simply a case of a fastball-hitting team thrown off-balance by a left-handed thrower, but was actually a 25-year-old former first rounder displaying his peak form.  Tiny sample caveats abounding, Cecil has now struck out 27 versus 11 walks in 36 innings since his recall.

Maybe it's just something about that July heat. Remember, it was last July 2 that Brett Cecil went into Yankee Stadium, pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in throwing 6 innings of 1-run ball, and proceeded to put up a 2.23 ERA for the rest of the month. Brett Cecil, winningest Blue Jay pitcher, was born.

Brett Cecil was decent last year for all the reasons that JoJo Reyes wasn't decent this year. He averaged over 6 innings a start. He struck out 2 batters for every one he walked. He showed the promise of a 23 year old pitcher primed to improve through his prime beyond an innings-eater into something more, if not an "ace." Until a rocky September, he appeared to be improving by the month, like Brandon Morrow, not falling to pieces as ruthless major league hitters picked his delivery apart. Cecil was Squints Palledorous, 14-year-old ladies' man, the baby in the second-youngest rotation in the majors. He was playing with the big boys.

But in April, it started to come apart. Was he a future rotation fixture going through growing pains, or was he destined to be another shitty lefty journeyman? Bruce Chen's 2000 was better than Cecil's 2011 by almost any measure. Then again, Randy Johnson and Al Leiter didn't become the pitchers they would be remembered as until they were nearly 30. They say pitchers'll drive you insane, none more than young one and none more than the lefties. Of course Cecil was the one who would show up in spring training missing his fastball; he couldn't just get better on a linear curve, could he? Running a baseball team isn't that easy; if it were, Luke Hochevar would be a 20-game winner and Mike Piazza never would have made the bigs. Because in any given season a good player can implode or a bad player explode, baseball is never predictable (even when we think it is). If it was, who would watch? I'll be honest: over the past few years, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams have made golf and women's tennis boring for me. What's the point of watching a game when the outcome is assured?

I don't know if everything clicked last night and Brett Cecil is going to be the Blue Jays' newest incarnation of Roy Halladay for the next decade. More likely, it was a perfect storm of comfort, mechanics and luck, and he'll continue to be another enigma in a rotation (and a team) full of the unpredictability that marks young talent. But for every pure unbridled display of individual talent like yesterday's, ever closer the team shifts to playoff contention.

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