Jeff Francis Adjusting To New Role

CBN’s Melissa Couto talks Jeff Francis and his switch to the bullpen, Justin Morneau and his RBI milestone, Brett Lawrie’s favourite ballparks, Travis Snider’s Wednesday night pitching debut, and more in this week’s ThrowinSmoke column

CBN’s Melissa Couto talks Jeff Francis and his switch to the bullpen, Justin Morneau and his RBI milestone, Brett Lawrie’s favourite ballparks, Travis Snider’s Wednesday night pitching debut, and more in this week’s ThrowinSmoke column

For a starting pitcher, being relegated to the bullpen can be taken as a slap in the face.

Jeff Francis, however, doesn't see it that way at all.

Designated for assignment by the Cincinnati Reds after his first and only start of the season last month, the left-hander from North Delta, B.C., was picked up two days later by the Oakland Athletics, who intended on using him as a long reliever.

On a recent trip to Toronto, Francis said he didn't mind the move -- and he wasn't using his new role as a stepping stone toward earning a spot in the starting rotation.

"The aim is to just give the team innings," Francis said after making his first appearance of the season for Oakland -- one scoreless frame in the A's 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays. "There's no goal other than to go out there and get outs. There's a role for me to fill here and I'm happy to do that."

Since his Rogers Centre appearance on May 24, Francis has pitched 6 2/3 innings in four outings for Oakland, giving up seven runs, nine hits and two walks, while striking out four.

The 33-year-old was drafted in the first round (ninth overall) by the Colorado Rockies in 2002, and won 17 games for them in 2007, helping lead the Rockies to the World Series that year. The following season, Francis pitched through shoulder soreness and finished with a 4-10 record and a 5.01 ERA before undergoing surgery that sidelined him for all of 2009.

Since 2010, Francis has gone 19-36 through 104 games (87 starts), with stints in the minor leagues along the way.

Though he's pitched out of the bullpen before, the Canadian says he hasn't quite gotten used to the difference in preparation.

"I'm still trying to figure that one out," Francis said. "It's not really straightforward. You just have to be ready at all times and you have to do what you can to help your team.

"Even if you go out there and pitch one day, they could need you the next day. That's different, but it's not something I haven't done before. I'm still learning the ropes though, that's for sure."

GET TO KNOW: BLUE JAYS 3B BRETT LAWRIE (Langley B.C.)

My favourite ballpark to play in: "Wow, I've been to a few really cool ballparks and they all have their distinct thing, so it's hard to pick.  [Lawrie-headshot] I've always liked going to Yankee Stadium, but I played in Pittsburgh this year for the first time and that was awesome.

"Pittsburgh, the background setting and whatnot, it's a beautiful ballpark and it's really cool to play in front of that. For the scenery part, I like Pittsburgh, but baseball-wise and the heroics of it all, I'd say Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, places like that. At Fenway, you walk down the same tunnel as all the greats from the 1900s and 1800s, so there's different histories with those parks and I like that."

The strangest thing I've ever seen on the field: "Oh wow, I've seen some crazy things. There have been crazy plays in the field, streakers, fans coming on to the field. You see great plays every day that you think 'I can't believe he made that catch,' or whatever it is, but these guys we play against are the best at what they do. You just hope you're not the one with the bat when stuff like that happens."

BLUE JAYS NOTES: Toronto has yet to sign its two first round draft picks, RHP Jeff Hoffman and C Max Pentecost, though general manager Alex Anthopoulos says he's confident deals with both players will be reached shortly. The Jays failed to sign their first round pick in two of the last three drafts. ... CF Colby Rasmus was back in the Blue Jays lineup on Wednesday for the first time in over a month. Rasmus was placed on the 15-day DL with right hamstring tightness on May 13. He was 1-for-4 with an RBI in the 7-3 loss.

CANADIANS IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES

After a slight cold streak last week, Colorado first baseman Justin Morneau has found his stroke again.  [Justin Morneau]

The New Westminster, B.C., native is hitting .381 in his last seven games, with 11 hits -- including three doubles and a home run -- and eight RBIs. He had four multi-hit games in a row from June 11-14.

As the Canadian Baseball Network's Neil Munro points out, Morneau surpassed Fredericton's Matt Stairs on the all-time Canadian RBI list by driving in his 900th career run (Stairs had 899) in Colorado's 8-2 win over the Atlanta Braves last Wednesday. Since then, the 33-year-old has picked up seven more RBIs, bringing his total to 907.

Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C., leads all Canadians in that category with 1,311 RBIs over 17 major league seasons.

NOTES: Seattle LHP James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) is still rehabbing the strained left lat muscle he suffered in early April. The Mariners expect to have him back around the all-star break. ... Former Blue Jays OF Travis Snider pitched the ninth inning of Pittsburgh's game against Cincinnati on Wednesday, giving up two runs but striking out Reds 1B Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.). Votto is hitting .320 with five RBIs in his last six games.

CANADIANS IN THE MINOR LEAGUES

The Vancouver Canadians have begun their quest for a four-peat.

Winners of three straight Northwest League championships, the short season-A affiliate of the Blue Jays had their home opener against the Spokane Indians Wednesday at Nat Bailey Stadium. The Canadians fell 5-2, evening their record at 3-3 after beginning the year on a five-game road trip.

Right-handed pitcher Andrew Case of Saint John, N.B., is the lone Canadian on Vancouver's roster. Case was signed by the Blue Jays last September, following his stellar performance at Tournament 12 -- where he pitched a no-hitter for the Maritimes team in the semifinal of the Toronto showcase.

The 21-year-old Case made his professional debut June 13 against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in Keizer, Ore., walking two batters and striking out one through two scoreless innings. He had been in extended spring training prior to the start of the Northwest League season.

NOTES: C/RF Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) is the Canadian Baseball Network minor league Player of the Week after hitting .529 for the class-A State College Spikes through the first five games of the New York-Penn League season.

WHEN HOCKEY MEETS CANADIAN BASEBALL

Members of the NHL champion Los Angeles Kings made a couple of Canadian baseball players smile when they brought the Stanley Cup to Dodger Stadium prior to L.A.'s game against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday.

Dodgers outfielder Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) and Rockies first baseman Morneau had their photos taken with the famous trophy.

   -- Follow Melissa Couto on Twitter @ThrowinSmoke

 

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Melissa Couto

My name is Melissa Couto. I'm a sports reporter-editor at The Canadian Press, where I've worked for the past two years. Mostly I work on the night desk, editing copy for print, online and broadcast, but I have been doing more and more writing recently. I also contribute to the Canadian Baseball Network, a website founded by renowned Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott.

 

I'm a graduate of Centennial College's sports journalism post-graduate program. Before that, I went to Western where I completed a BA and MA in American history (it's helped me impress people when we're watching Jeopardy). In all seriousness, my time at Western was valuable.  I walked away with a real passion for writing. When I took the post-grad program at Centennial, I learned to merge that love of writing with the love of sport that I've always had (particularly for baseball), and as they say, the rest is history.