LAKELAND, Fla. -- Danny Barnes knows his spot on the Blue Jays' roster is secure, so he's spending some of his time this spring trying to master the slider.For the first time in his career, Barnes can take some solace in the fact he doesn't have to compete for a
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Danny Barnes knows his spot on the Blue Jays' roster is secure, so he's spending some of his time this spring trying to master the slider.
For the first time in his career, Barnes can take some solace in the fact he doesn't have to compete for a job. Regardless of what happens this spring, he'll open the year as a primary setup man for Roberto Osuna. Instead of needing to impress from Week 1, Barnes can ease into his routine a little bit more and focus on long-term goals.
One of those goals is refining his slider. The offspeed pitch has been in his repertoire for the last couple of years, but he's never been able to rely on it. Barnes threw the slider 47 times in 2017, which accounted for approximately 4 percent of his pitches. He wants to use it more this season, but the work this spring will dictate whether that's possible.
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"It has been going really well," Barnes said, after tossing a scoreless inning in Toronto's 5-4 loss to the Tigers on Saturday. "The bullpens leading up to today, the live batting practice I threw, [they were] really good. I was able to throw two today. The first one, I yanked. But the second one was a comebacker to the mound with good action on it. It still wasn't where I wanted it to be, or where I want it [to be] by the end of [Spring Training], but it was effective."
The most difficult part of mastering the pitch for Barnes comes down to location. He typically gets the movement he's looking for, but sometimes has a tendency to hang it up in the zone. Whenever that happens with that type of pitch, it usually leads to trouble.
"I really just need to be able to bury it," said Barnes, who posted a 3.55 ERA over 66 innings last season. "Just throw it in the dirt in front of home plate. It seems simple, but it's really hard to do because you really have to stay on top of it. If you hang a slider, it's like a home run. That's going to be my goal. Hopefully get that going in the next couple of weeks, feel comfortable with it leading into the season."
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Early success for Morales
Kendrys Morales was one of the few veterans on the Blue Jays' roster to make the hour-plus drive to Joker Marchant Stadium on Saturday morning. But it's a good thing he did, because the veteran slugger ended up with two hits.
Morales doubled in the first inning off Tigers righty Jordan Zimmermann and singled in the fourth before he was lifted for a pinch-runner. The 34-year-old was the only projected Toronto starter who made the trip. But that should hardly come as a surprise, because he seems to enjoy the long bus rides.
The native of Cuba frequently volunteers for spring games on the road because he wants as many at-bats as possible. Morales dropped 12 pounds over the offseason, as he looks to make amends for a disappointing first year in Toronto. Hopefully, some of these early reps in the Grapefruit League will help.
"He doesn't mind at all," said Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale. "There are going to be trips that some of the veterans have to make during the spring. Spring Training is a little bit shorter this season. You look up and see [February] 24, [the season is] not too far away. He likes to play, and we do get his thoughts. But ultimately we have to prepare and get these guys at-bats."
It was like Christmas morning all over again for select members of the Blue Jays on Saturday, as representatives from Wilson were on hand to pass out new custom baseball gloves to some of their clients.
Steve Pearce, Lourdes Gurriel, Richard Urena, Matt Dermody, Aaron Loup, Luke Maile, Teoscar Hernandez and Barnes were among the Blue Jays players who received custom gloves. Every year, Wilson's team arrives at Spring Training to deliver gloves to Major League players on all 30 teams for the upcoming season.
Barnes has two brand-new gloves waiting for him at Dunedin Stadium. But unlike a lot of players, he doesn't want to break in his new equipment all that much.
"I like my glove to be a little stiff," Barnes said. "The one I'm using today is kind of like my catch glove, so it gets beat up a little bit. I like a stiff glove, it's pretty big, because you don't want to see your fingers wiggle in it.
"Honestly, I just try not to abuse it. Some guys like a floppy glove. They'll play catch with it. They'll go into games, catch long toss, flat ground, everything with one glove. That softens it up, so I like to have a glove that I just use for games. That keeps it in the shape that I want."
Up next: Left-hander J.A. Happ will take the mound for the first time this spring when the Blue Jays host the Tigers on Sunday afternoon at Dunedin Stadium on MLB.TV. First pitch is scheduled for 1:07 p.m. ET and Happ is tentatively scheduled for two innings of work. Second baseman Devon Travis is also set to make his spring debut following last year's right knee surgery.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.