By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Florida – Andrew Case couldn’t wait to get this season going.
After missing some time early last year, the Toronto Blue Jays organization sent the 24-year-old right-hander to the Australian Baseball League this winter to make up for lost time, and now he’s eager to keep working in Dunedin with the Class-A Advanced Blue Jays.
Case spent just under a month back home in Saint John, New Brunswick after his season with the Lansing Lugnuts came to an end last year. From there, he went to the instructional league in the Dominican Republic to gear up for joining the Canberra Cavalry in the ABL.
“Some of those boys could really play,” he said. “There are no easy outs. In pro ball, one through nine is pretty stacked, and some lineups might have had a couple weak hitters, but their weak hitters are as good as the weak hitters over here. There are no easy outs over there.”
Case got into 13 games and threw 17 2/3 innings for the Cavalry over the winter, after missing 50 games last year because he failed to appear for a requisite drug test he was summoned to take two Decembers ago.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound righty had moved back to Lethbridge, Alberta, where he had once played at the Prairie Baseball Academy, but didn’t go through the proper channels to register his change of address, and the test he missed was to take place in Toronto. Case failed after not appearing, and was originally suspended for 76 games, before appealing and serving 50.
He was excited for a chance to make up for some lost time in Australia, with the Blue Jays organization supporting him.
“That last game [when Canberra was knocked out of a playoff spot] kind of shattered us, but we made it right to the end and made every game count,” Case said. “Australia was amazing. I had a blast. I went to a lot of the beaches. I missed out on the [Sydney] Opera House but other than that on the off days we killed the beaches, and I was really grateful for the opportunity…
“I loved the chance to go over there. I’m grateful to the Blue Jays. That means they’re kind of behind me and they have my back, and as [bad] a situation last year was, I’ve gained more maturity through that, and I’m taking care of my business now in Dunedin, so we’ll see what happens the rest of the year.”
From Canberra, Case returned to Lethbridge so that he could keep throwing before spring training, and stay ready for the year ahead, making sure to report his whereabouts every step of the way. After an off-season without any time to rest his arm, the hurler is still making adjustments to his workload, but is enjoying the challenge each day brings.
“Some days I feel great, some days I’m tired, but every day is a new day,” he said. “This year, I’ve thrown multiple innings at one time too. Last year, it was usually cut down to an inning-and-a-third, or something like that, just to be available for the next day. But this year, if you’re ready to go, you’re ready to go, and you’re going to get innings.
“They also said when they told me I was coming here, they don’t want me to be the best closer in the Midwest League, because they have a good closer in the big leagues. They want me to be the best pitcher I can be, to try to make it to the big leagues.”
Out of spring training, Case understood that he was going to break camp with the Class-A Lugnuts, returning to Lansing for a third season. He knew he could take advantage of the opportunity there, but was ecstatic to learn that instead he would be staying in Dunedin in the Florida State League, moving up a rung on the minor-league ladder.
“I was on the Lansing roster,” Case said. “I was excited. I feel that I was old enough to be the leader, have my [closing] role back in the bullpen. I’ve been there and I know the route, so I could be a leader, show the boys the way, and then when I got called in to come here it was exciting. I’m not saying I didn’t want to be here from the start, and that I didn’t think I had the chance to be here from the start, but when opportunity comes, jump on it.”
Managing Case for the third time is John Schneider, who had the reliever in both Vancouver and Lansing before they both moved up to Dunedin this year. So far this season, Case has allowed multiple runs in just two of his outings, with a 1.64 ERA in the other 11 innings and nine games he’s thrown in. Including the two appearances that have inflated his numbers, the right-hander has racked up 14 strikeouts and walked two this year, and his skipper couldn’t be happier to have the competitor in his bullpen again.
“He’s one of my favourites, man,” Schneider said. “He competes and he has a great time doing it, which I love, and you can count on him in big situations. So he has had some ups, had some downs, but it’s just a compete factor that he brings every day, it’s second to none. You’re not afraid to put him in tough situations. If he can locate his fastball, and his slider, which he did for me last year very well, he’s going to be fine at this level.”
In addition to his bread-and-butter pitches, Case has been working on adding to his repertoire, starting to try to build some confidence in Australia and bringing his changeup and cutter back to Florida with him for the season.
“In Australia, obviously everything is all about the team, it’s not just individual, and I loved it,” Case said. “Going there, I really wanted to build more confidence in my changeup. People say it’s there, but in my mind, it’s not. I don’t know why. And when I’m having a catch with [fellow Canadian reliever Tom Robson] every day, I work on a cutter. He says it’s really good but I still don’t have the confidence to throw it either.”
With 97 appearances and 135 innings in his four years of pro ball, with a 3.00 ERA, 39 walks, 117 strikeouts, and 26 saves over that span, Case knows that even the worst-case scenario in failing to execute his new pitches isn’t the end of the world, but he still wants to try to perfect them before bringing them into the situations he is used to facing on the mound.
“In meaningful games, the worst thing that could happen is that I could be all over the place and start walking people,” Case said. “That wouldn’t happen if I stick to my command, and pitch my sinker-slider [combo]. I can get the outs we need, help the team win, and that’s more beneficial.”
He has slowly been trying to bring his cutter and slider into games, getting away from them very quickly when they aren’t working for him.
“I did that the other night, threw a couple cutters to [catcher Danny] Jansen, and I threw my slider,” Case said. “The cutter wasn’t working, so I just scratched it and went back to my slider. I’ve thrown a couple changeups that actually worked, and I’ve thrown a couple changeups that haven’t even been close, forty footers, so then I think let’s scratch that and go. Nothing too bad has happened in a game, it’s more so if I have time to go during a bullpen with the pitching coach, I’ll work on it then, work on it in flat grounds during long toss, and get the real feel for it…
“Ideally, you never want to get beat by your third pitch. I have two pretty decent ones that I can throw at any time with command, I’ll keep those. But to even flash in warmup that I have multiple pitches, and if I’m shaking multiple times, it throws the hitter off guard. Even if they’re terrible, absolutely, I show them.”
Schneider is happy with the work his pitcher has been putting in to get his pitches game-ready, and believes that all Case needs is a little more time before they will prove effective.
“He’s always thrown a changeup, but he gets fastball-slider happy,” Schneider said. “But as a pitcher, you’re always trying to evolve to the next level you’re at, and to the hitters you’re facing, so if he can throw his changeup to a left-handed hitter, it’s going to give him more weapons to open up when he does get two strikes, with his fastball and his slider.
“So he’s working right now on quick-out pitches, with the cutter to a righty, or a swing-and-miss pitch to a lefty with the changeup. It’s baby steps. You don’t want any pitcher thinking about too many things out on the mound, so he’s working on it slowly to try to address that and bring it into the games.”
While he continues to work, Case is enjoying his time in Dunedin, and playing on the most Canadian roster in all of professional baseball. The Blue Jays began the season with five Canadians, including Case, Robson, Jordan Romano, Connor Panas and Mike Reeves, and has four since Reeves was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire.
“I love playing with all the Canadians,” Case said. “As [Reeves] says, ‘Don’t mess with us, because we’ve got a lot of Canadians on our team.’ I love working with them, we’re best friends. Again this year like every year, our lockers are me, [Jordan] Romano, Robson, together. And I throw with Robbie every day. It’s cool that we’re friends on and off the field. It’s not just because we’re Canadians, we’re brothers. It’s pretty cool.”