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MacArthur: Hutchison pitching way into Blue Jays' rotation

Scott MacArthur, TSN 1050
3/14/2014 6:58:37 PM
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DUNEDIN, Florida – Surely, after Drew Hutchison's latest Grapefruit League performance, only injury or a couple of calamitous outings will keep him out of the Blue Jays starting rotation when camp breaks in a little over two weeks.

Manager John Gibbons wasn't taking the bait on Friday afternoon following his club's 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Red Sox.

"When we put the team together, we'll announce it at the end," said Gibbons. "Nice try, though."

Pressed further, Gibbons was only slightly more willing to share what everyone believes he's thinking about his 23-year-old right-hander.

"He's doing everything he needs to do," said Gibbons. "When the time comes, everybody will know."

Hutchison pitched five innings on Friday with his only blemish coming in the fifth, when a Corey Brown double cashed in Jonny Gomes. He struck out seven Red Sox, didn't walk a batter, scattered four hits and threw 51 of his 71 pitches for strikes. Once again, Hutchison commanded the strike zone.

Continuing the trend he set from the start of camp, Hutchison's fastball routinely clocked at 95 miles per hour.

Surely the young hurler knows he's pitching his way onto the team. Regardless, he insists he's not looking ahead, his post-start dance with the media as seasoned as his stuff on the mound.

"Stay in the moment," said Hutchison. "It doesn't do me any benefit to think ahead or think behind. You just focus on each pitch and continue to execute and perform."

The Blue Jays love Hutchison's will to compete. Coaches say he's not satisfied with being a big leaguer. He wants more; he expects to be a staff ace one day. Hutchison displayed that mentality in a full count showdown with Red Sox slugger Mike Napoli to lead off the second inning.

He lamented a two-strike change-up earlier in the at-bat. Napoli fouled it off. Hutchison felt he could have better gotten on top of the pitch. He went back to the fastball and, on the eighth pitch of the showdown, froze Napoli with a heater on the outside corner.

He addressed the approach to Napoli.

"When you get in that deep of a count, you've got to win that," said Hutchison. "It drives your pitch count up, so you've got to make sure you get him."

If the Blue Jays are to contend in the American League East, the club needs at least one pitcher to step up and pleasantly surprise. Hutchison fits the bill, although he isn't shocked in the least by his successful spring.

"No, I'm not surprised," he said. "As far as everybody else, I'm not really concerned about it. I prepared myself coming into camp to have a good camp and have a good year."

HAPP FEELS "GOOD"

J.A. Happ threw three scoreless innings in a minor league game on Friday. It marked his first appearance in more than a week with what the Blue Jays and Happ say inflammation in his back.

"I felt good," said Happ. "It was good. Exciting. I felt normal out there, which is really nice."

He threw 43 pitches, giving up a hit and a walk, while striking out two.

Happ was away from the Blue Jays for two days last Friday and Saturday. The Blue Jays say Happ was prescribed bed rest. Happ didn't want to miss any time.

"I wasn't too far away," said Happ. "It was just something we need to take a step backward in order to go forward. We tried to take care of it with a few things and I think it definitely helped."

What exactly was wrong?

"Just some inflammation," said Happ. "We think there was something that was kind of pushing on the nerve that was sending some discomfort my way for a little while. We tried to ease that and I think we've taken a step in the right direction."

The Blue Jays had a radar gun at Happ's start. Happ said his fastball clocked 91-93 miles per hour. He hopes to build to 90 pitches by his final spring start.

Happ didn't wish to address comments made last week by general manager Alex Anthopoulos that he's now competing for a spot in the starting rotation.

"My comment is no comment," he said. "That was probably disappointing to hear but there's nothing I want to say about it."

Manager John Gibbons has only one concern about Happ.

"We've got to make sure his back is healthy."

DIAZ BACK "HOME"

After one season with the Red Sox organization, infielder Jonathan Diaz is back where his career began.

"It almost feels like I never left," he said. "It feels like home. I was here for so long and I'm very familiar with a lot of the guys and the coaches, so it just feels like home."

Diaz, 28, was a 12th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2006. At 5'9" and 165 pounds, he's a smaller player known for his big glove. Often playing in the back end of Grapefruit League games, he's seemingly matched starter Jose Reyes big play for big play.

It has''t been an easy journey.

Diaz was the final cut from Blue Jays' camp in the spring of 2011. Playing at Triple-A Las Vegas, he'd gotten off to the best offensive start of his career. In mid-May, he and his wife Kerry were in the backseat of a Vegas taxi. The driver ran a red light. The car was t-boned. Diaz suffered a concussion. Kerry had broken ribs, a separated shoulder and a lacerated spleen. Both were knocked unconscious and awoke in hospital.

Diaz needed two months to recover from the symptoms.

"It was hard focusing, disoriented and all that stuff," he said. "The funny thing was, when I started running, my eyes had a hard time adjusting and they would wobble."

When he returned after the All-Star Break, Diaz was at Double-A New Hampshire. He would finish the season there. When Yunel Escobar went down in September, Diaz hoped for a call up and the chance to make his major league debut. It wasn't to be.

Fast forward almost two years to June 29, 2013, the day Diaz first appeared in a big league game. It was Fenway Park. The Blue Jays were there, but he was wearing a Boston uniform.

"It was just like, you're writing a story," said Diaz. "It kind of made me more comfortable because I knew a lot of guys on the other side. I knew what they did and I had a scouting report in my head already about all of the guys, so it made me more comfortable in my first game."

Diaz appeared in only five games for the Red Sox, spending most of the season with Boston's top minor-league affiliate in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Still, he'll be getting a World Series ring.

"It's very special," he said. "I wish I would have played a little bit of a bigger part in the whole process, but it's definitely something I'm going to cherish for a long time."

Just getting to the major leagues, when it appeared the taxi cab accident had taken away his chance, means more to Diaz now than he could ever have imagined.

"I feel blessed enough to finally make it to the big leagues last year because sometimes the windows in this game are very small and it could have been my only window," he said. "Luckily, I got the opportunity last year with Boston. That took away a lot of the emotional stuff that I had from the accident that maybe I'll never make it again because of it."

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