Springer previews pop atop Blue Jays' lineup

March 11th, 2021

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When the Blue Jays handed  a six-year, $150 million deal, they envisioned him leading one of the American League’s best lineups while making a few plays in the field in between. Thursday offered a sneak peek of just that.

After making a running catch deep in the left-centre-field gap to end the first inning, Springer stepped up to the plate and got to work. It took eight pitches and four foul balls, but Springer finally found one he liked and launched it over the wall in left-centre for his first home run of the spring, the ball flying right over the spot he’d just made the catch.

This was one of four home runs hit by the Blue Jays in their 10-6 win over the Tigers, and with most of the regulars in the lineup, the new face of the franchise loved what he saw from one through nine.

“There were a ton of quality at-bats up and down the lineup all day,” Springer said. “Any time you can string together a bunch of quality at-bats, especially in a row, it’s awesome to see.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. launched his first home run of the spring in the third, a 412-foot rocket to center field, and was joined by Alejandro Kirk and Randal Grichuk with shots of their own. The lineup will have a slightly different look come Opening Day, of course, but the top four of Springer, Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández makes a lot of sense. Manager Charlie Montoyo loved the depth of his lineup, and also how it balanced out the free swingers with the more on-base-oriented bats throughout.

“We’re going to score some runs. That lineup today, I felt like it was pretty deep," Montoyo said. "The quality of the at-bats, that was the key today. Nobody tried to do too much. If they didn’t get the pitches, they walked and let the next guy do the damage.”

Springer has spent most of his career in the leadoff spot, starting 603 of his 795 Major League games there. He’s got the classic on-base tool you love to see in the No. 1 spot, with a .277 average and .366 on-base percentage in the role, but he also represents a more modern version of the leadoff man. Springer isn’t the small, quick guy. He’s big, strong and can kick things off with a home run like he did Thursday.

“I understand the traditional roles of a three hitter or a five hitter, but I think the game has evolved,” Springer said. “The game is changing to where you’re starting to see different types of hitters in different positions that you’re not accustomed to. The big thing is that every team is designing their lineups to complement the next guy. There may be a guy who’s hitting second as opposed to first or fifth as opposed to eighth, only because of the guys who are up behind him or in front of him. The game has evolved.”

Yates makes Grapefruit League debut

Kirby Yates pitched one inning Thursday, allowing a pair of singles. Neither was particularly hard hit and the second bounced out of the glove of a sliding Grichuk, but Yates got a double play and needed just nine pitches. His velocities were close enough to his 2019 and 2020 averages with his fastball sitting at 92.9 mph and his splitter sitting at 95.7 mph.

Yates is the clear favorite for the closer’s role and he’ll get regular work from here on out after building up in bullpens and side sessions. Keep an eye on that splitter, especially, and how often he’s able to get hitters to swing over the top of it.

Roark has high praise for Alejandro Kirk

Tanner Roark was excellent in his second outing of the spring, throwing three scoreless innings with three strikeouts and just one hit allowed. The veteran came away very impressed with Kirk behind the plate.

“Phenomenal,” Roark said. “He did a phenomenal job. What I was thinking, he put down for the most part. I think I only shook two or three times. When I have someone as a catcher who is thinking outside the box or thinking along and watching what the hitter is doing, and me and the catcher just have the same thoughts, it’s perfect. It gives me more confidence and excitement to throw that pitch.”

Extras from Dunedin…

• Stay hot, Tim Mayza. The lefty, who’s back from Tommy John surgery, worked another clean inning and struck out two, averaging 94.7 mph with plenty of movement on his two-seamer. He doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man roster, but he’s making a strong case for one eventually.

• Everything Rowdy Tellez has hit in camp has been hard. On Thursday, he pulled a single through a shifted right side of the infield at 106.5 mph.

• The double-play combo of Bichette and Semien continues to look natural after another smooth turn on Thursday. They’ll be tested through spring and into the season, of course, but the early returns have all been encouraging for a defense looking to improve. Shortstop and second are the two spots on the field where the Blue Jays should field the same players nearly every day. Beyond Springer in centre, most other defensive positions will be more flexible, but Bichette and Semien are locked in.