TAMPA, Fla. -- It’s early, but don’t tell that to Blue Jays left-hander Anthony Kay.
Making the start in the Blue Jays’ Grapefruit League opener, Kay looked fantastic in a 6-4 win over the Yankees, throwing two clean innings with a pair of strikeouts on just 25 pitches.
Kay touched 96 mph a handful of times and topped out at 97 mph with his fastball, well north of his 93.6 mph average from 2020.
“I wouldn’t say I did anything extra, really, I just came to camp a little bit more prepared than in years past," Kay said. "I wasn’t out of shape [in the past], I just wasn’t at the point I’m at right now. This is probably the best I’ve felt coming into camp. I probably threw a couple more bullpens than I have in the past, so getting the arm moving a little bit more in the offseason helped.”
An interesting wrinkle on Sunday was Kay’s cutter, which he teased against the Yankees in 2020 but hopes to feature more after it was a focal point in the offseason. It’s an experiment that got its start last season when Kay was pitching to catcher Alejandro Kirk for the first time.
As Kay and Kirk went over his arsenal, the young left-hander mentioned that he’d been working on a cutter. Kirk threw down the sign a few times and Kay liked how it felt coming out of his hand, so you can expect to see more of this pitch as it develops.
In the bigger picture, Kay just wants to attack. When he first came up as a rookie late in 2019, pitching coach Pete Walker and manager Charlie Montoyo both noted his aggression on the mound as a positive first impression.
“Last year, I was getting behind a lot of guys and probably trying to do a little too much,” Kay said. “I only had a couple of innings to work with, so I felt like I could try to overpower everyone. I feel like, this year, I’m kind of just going right after guys. Doing a better job with that will help.”
Montoyo was impressed with the lefty and said after the game that Kay will be competing for a job this spring. Given his ability to start and pitch multiple innings of relief, the Blue Jays will need Kay for much of 2021, but he’ll make his case now for a more permanent role.
Getting Rowdy on Day 1
Rowdy Tellez opened the scoring when he turned on an inside fastball with the bases loaded and ripped a two-run double down the right-field line. Tellez later singled, making Sunday a fine start for the first baseman and DH.
The Blue Jays need Tellez to carry over his success from 2020 not just because of his power potential, but also because he’s one of the lineup’s only left-handed bats. This was the first game back in front of fans for the Blue Jays, as George M. Steinbrenner Field allowed fans at a limited capacity, and in classic Tellez fashion, he found an entertaining way to describe it.
“It’s a comforting feeling,” Tellez said, “like when you get to the holidays and you’ve got grandma’s mac and cheese and you’re like, ‘Yes, there it is. It’s back.’”
Bichette gets his money’s worth
Bo Bichette walked in both of his trips to the plate, seeing eight pitches in each plate appearance. The first was particularly impressive, as Bichette worked a 3-2 count, fouled off two pitches and then watched ball four go by on a high fastball.
This isn’t typically Bichette’s game. The free-swinging shortstop has walked just 19 times in 75 Major League games, and he is known far more for his aggression and big hacks at the plate than working deep counts. This doesn’t signal the dawn of an all-new plate approach for Bichette, but if he could increase his walk rate just a bit, that would be extremely valuable to the Blue Jays, especially with him hitting near the top of the lineup.
Blue Jays acquire Bergen; Murphy to IL
Following Sunday's game, the Blue Jays announced that they acquired left-hander Travis Bergen from the D-backs in exchange for cash considerations. The Blue Jays originally sent Bergen to the D-backs in exchange for Robbie Ray at the 2020 Trade Deadline, and the 27-year-old owns a 4.82 ERA over 28 career Major League innings.
The club also announced that right-hander Patrick Murphy has been placed on the 60-day injured list with a sprained right A/C joint (shoulder). Murphy came into camp with this injury and the Blue Jays don't expect it to be a long-term issue for him, but the club's No. 18 prospect will miss at least the first month of the season now.
• Vladimir Guerrero Jr. nearly sent a towering fly ball over the left-field wall in the fourth, but it fell just short. It was easy to see that “high finish” that Guerrero has been working to get back with his improved fitness, too. Launch angle is key for Guerrero after hitting far too many balls on the ground in ’19 and ’20. Results aside, any balls hit in the air by him this spring are a good sign.
• Blue Jays No. 28 prospect Joey Murray worked a clean inning on just 11 pitches and averaged 91.3 mph on his fastball, topping out at 93 mph, which is an uptick for him. The spin on Murray’s fastball is the main attraction, though. Murray’s four-seamer averaged 2,742 rpm on Sunday and maxed out at 2,973 rpm, well above the Major League average of 2,308 rpm. He’s a great bet to crack the Major League roster at some point this season.
• Former first-round Draft pick Logan Warmoth homered and doubled in his two plate appearances. Now 25, he’s expected to play in Triple-A Buffalo this season.
• Otto Lopez entered as a pinch-runner for Marcus Semien in the fourth inning and stole second, then scored on a headfirst slide into home when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. singled. Keep an eye on Lopez through camp. The Blue Jays’ No. 13 prospect has a 40-man roster spot, is plenty versatile and hit .324 with Class A Lansing in 2019.
• Prior to the game against the Yankees, the Blue Jays reinstated infielder Breyvic Valera from the restricted list. This returns Valera to the 40-man roster, bringing it to a full 40.