By: Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Fla. – A pair of veteran Blue Jays made their spring training debuts as part of Toronto’s 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Nine games into the Blue Jays grapefruit league schedule, Troy Tulowitzki and Marco Estrada both took the field for the first time in front of a packed house at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
Having been under the Florida sun since mid-February, the two were excited to formally kick off their exhibition season.
“I’ve thrown three bullpens and to go out there and throw two innings already, it’s kind of quick,” said Estrada following a pair of scoreless frames. ”It did feel a little awkward to be out there but it’s to be expected.”
For Estrada, his first in-game assignment was all about getting loose, feeling comfortable on the mound and establishing fastball command.
“I told Russ (Martin) today that I don’t want to throw any cutters, don’t really care to throw any curveballs. Let’s just work on fastballs and if I get a chance to throw a few changeups then great but I’m working on my fastball command right now.”
Facing the minimum through two innings, Estrada allowed a hit and struck out one batter on the afternoon. In all, he threw 18 pitches, 11 of which went for strikes.
“To get out there and actually face some hitters, it puts your mind at ease," he said. " You try and build off that. I just wanted to feel comfortable out there which I did.”
When asked about his starter’s first exhibition appearance, John Gibbons told reporters that he liked what he saw out of Estrada on Sunday.
“It was vintage Marco,” explained the Blue Jays manager. “First time out he was changing speeds, getting pop-ups, fly ball outs, things like that.”
In addition to getting Estrada his first grapefruit league appearance, Gibbons was also happy to get his star shortstop some at-bats on Sunday.
“It’s always good to get Tulowitzki on the field,” added Gibbons. “ He hadn’t been out there yet and now they’re all starting to play. The only one really missing is (Josh) Donaldson. Now we can start getting things going.”
Now 32, the five-time All-Star says he appreciates the team’s decision to ease their veterans into game action this spring.
“It’s pretty natural,” explained Tulowitzki after receiving two at-bats on Sunday. “When you’re playing, you start to build a routine and know what works best for you in spring training. If you feel like you need more AB’s then you go up to the manager and you tell him. (Being ready) will be based on how I feel, not necessarily off results.”
In his final tune-up before leaving camp to take part in the World Baseball Classic, Marcus Stroman got the start and faced 12 batters allowing four hits, striking out three and surrendering one earned run over 2 2/3 innings of work.
Jose Bautista continued his torrid spring by notching another two knocks in the loss. Also departing the Jays to take part in the WBC, he’s now batting .563 (6/16) with four extra-base hits in six games this spring.
“(He’s looked) almost too good. He’s got to slow down a little bit.” joked Tulowitzki when asked about his teammate's impressive start.
“(Bautista) is obviously a great player. With how things played out, I think he’s really happy to be back. He always plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder but (now there’s) maybe an extra chip to prove to maybe some teams out there that he’s worth a little bit more than what he got (in free agency).“
The Blue Jays will enjoy an off day tomorrow before picking things back up again with an exhibition tilt against Dalton Pompey and Canada's WBC entry on Tuesday.