At Winter Tour, Cecil says he's up to 'pen challenge
Thanks to a pair of high-profile offseason trades put together by general manager Alex Anthopoulos, moves that saw the Blue Jays bring three new starters (Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Miami Marlins and National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets) into the rotation, Cecil, a left-hander who made nine starts in 21 appearances in 2012, finds himself back in the bullpen on a permanent basis.
The club has told him he will be a reliever in 2013, though his role is still to be determined. That change in job description is actually a good thing, Cecil believes.
"I don't mind it, and that's the honest truth," he said as the annual Blue Jays Winter Tour, presented by TD, wrapped up a two-day visit in Winnipeg on Monday morning. "Most pitchers say they would rather start, and while I've said that in the past, I'm kind of leaning towards the bullpen. Ultimately, I just want to be in a spot where I can be successful and I can help the team be successful.
"There were too many times last year where I went home with a headache trying to figure out what the heck I was doing wrong."
The need for stability in Cecil's world comes following a rollercoaster 2012 campaign that saw the 26-year-old pitch for three clubs in the Blue Jays' system. Opening the season as a starter at Double-A New Hampshire, Cecil was summoned to the big league club in June. He made nine starts for the Blue Jays, posting a 2-4 record with a 5.72 ERA, before being sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas at the beginning of August.
A month later, the Blue Jays came calling again, only this time he was sent to the bullpen, where he went 0-0 with a 5.73 ERA to finish out the season.
After going 28-26 as a starter over four seasons, the 38th overall selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft enters Spring Training as a reliever.
"No question, last year was frustrating," the former University of Maryland closer said. "I pitched better than my numbers showed. I had two bad starts. I had three quality starts in a row that unfortunately we couldn't get a win out of. Those were tough games, but overall, I feel like [last year] was a step in the right direction for me, especially when I got back into the bullpen.
"I wouldn't say that I 'found myself' or anything like that -- it was only a month -- but I found something I can build off of, something that I think will bring success this year."
Whether by accident or through design, having Cecil in the bullpen provides the Blue Jays with a safety net of sorts heading into a year prefaced with excitement and lofty playoff expectations. Should an injury arise in the rotation in the early going, Cecil, who has 74 Major League starts, could be on the club's short list to fill that spot in the rotation.
While that sudden versatility on the resume makes him an attractive piece of the Toronto pitching puzzle, the conditions would have to be right for the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Cecil to switch back to starter mode.
"I could do that, of course, but I don't want to be flipped-flopped back and forth," said Cecil, who is under contract thru 2013. "If I'm in the 'pen and [an injury happens in the rotation before the season], God forbid, and they tell me they want me to start, that's fine. I just don't want to get into a situation where I'm constantly going back and forth.
"I'm not sure the arm would like that."
It wouldn't be great for his mental health, either, as the mindset of a reliever to a starter is that of a sprinter versus a marathon runner. When an outing didn't go his way last season, Cecil often spent the extended break between outings thinking about his previous start -- especially when things didn't go well. Coming out of the bullpen, he fed off the adrenaline rush and intensity of the moment.
"I had to really calm myself down a lot the first couple times coming out of the 'pen, but I got used to it and now I have a really good idea of what my routine is."
It sounds like stability was missing from Cecil's time on the mound last season. Now that it's back, his comfort should give the Blue Jays some relief heading into 2013.