Cecil ready to prove himself for closer's job
Veteran reliever will likely compete with right-hander Sanchez
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The departure of Casey Janssen this winter created an opening at the closer position, and on the first day of Spring Training, left-hander Brett Cecil made it clear that he wants the job.
Cecil enters as a possible favorite, but he is expected to receive some competition from right-hander Aaron Sanchez. Over the next six weeks, the Blue Jays will have to decide not only which pitcher is best suited for the job, but how it will impact the configuration of the bullpen.
Toronto lacks a reliable option from the right side in middle relief, which could force Sanchez into the role. That would open the door for Cecil, who says he is more than ready for the pressure-packed spot after spending the past two years as a setup man.
"Absolutely, I want it," Cecil said on Sunday afternoon after the Blue Jays pitchers and catchers reported for their physicals. "I don't think I necessarily have to prove anything. I can't go out there and tank Spring Training, but I think they know I can do it.
"It's just a matter of who they want to do it, and obviously that's not up to me. ... I'm not patting myself on the back, but I think I've proven over the last two years that I can handle it. It's just a matter of who they want."
In some ways, it's almost like Cecil has gone back in time this spring. He was a closer at the University of Maryland before entering Toronto's system as a starting pitcher. The 28-year-old remained in that role until he transitioned to the bullpen late in the 2012 season.
Cecil's original goal was to become a frontline starter pitcher, but once that plan was abandoned, he's been waiting for this kind of opportunity. He has six saves over the past two years as he occasionally filled in for Janssen, but this marks the first time Cecil has been a serious contender for the coveted job.
The track record seems to indicate that Cecil would transition well to ninth-inning duties. He was an All-Star in 2013, and despite a slow start to last year, he finished with an impressive 2.70 ERA in 53 1/3 innings.
There also isn't much truth to the notion that Cecil is strictly a left-handed specialist. Last year, he faced more right-handed batters than lefties and came away with strong numbers against both types of hitters. In 2014, righties hit .213 with a .569 OPS compared to a .247 average and a .714 OPS for lefties.
The splits throughout the course of his career aren't as kind, but a lot of that can be traced back to when he was a starting pitcher. Since then, Cecil has been able to increase the velocity on his fastball in shorter stints and no longer resembles the finesse lefty he had to be in the rotation.
"I'm going to go about my business the same way that I usually do," Cecil said. "It's just a different inning. I've done it before at this level, I've never been labeled with having the closer's role, solely having it, but having that label isn't going to change anything either."