Springer's spring Blue Jays debut a 'hit'

Matz also impresses in his first appearance with Toronto

March 2nd, 2021

DUNEDIN --  wasted no time in his first game action with the Blue Jays.

Batting leadoff in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Phillies at TD Ballpark, Springer took the second pitch he saw and ripped it back up the middle for a single. We’re still a long way from Opening Day, but for eager Blue Jays fans, it was a glimpse of what’s to come.

Springer was the designated hitter on Tuesday, but he is expected to see time in center field soon, though his approach at the plate will slowly ramp up with the natural progression of Spring Training.

“I generally just see the ball and hit the ball,” Springer said, not complicating things early. “As Spring Training goes along, you’re not facing a new guy every inning, you’re starting to face the same guy over and over again. Sequences are starting to change, the game plans are starting to change, so as the spring progresses, it becomes more of a season-like feel.”

With Marcus Semien batting behind Springer, the lineup then rolled into that young core of Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio. This was an early snapshot of the Blue Jays’ foundation and the top-end pieces that have been brought in to complement them.

“A lot of people will say that they’re young, but I think they’re advanced for their age,” Springer said. “I was having a conversation and you just kind of realize the talent it takes to play at this level at age 21, 22. It’s beyond impressive to be in the big leagues that young and to do the things all these guys can do.”

One of the only real lineup questions the Blue Jays face -- beyond how they’ll spread out the reps among their four outfielders -- is who their leadoff man will be. Biggio is certainly capable with one of the most advanced plate approaches in the organization and Bichette can attack pitchers from the top of the lineup, but Springer knows that spot well, too.

Following the game, manager Charlie Montoyo said Tuesday could be “a hint” of things to come.

“I like when he leads off like we did today. I like that,” Montoyo said. “But we’ll see.”

Matz looks sharp on the mound, in the field

Left-hander Steven Matz pitched two scoreless innings off the top and took care of all six outs himself. He struck out three and ended both innings with a defensive play in the field, including a double play to end the first. Fielding a sharp comebacker off the bat of Alec Bohm, Matz reached high above his head to make the stab on the one-hopper, then turned and threw to second to start the double play.

“It’s always good to get some [pitcher's fielding practice] out of the way,” Matz said. “Especially when you’ve got that adrenaline, sometimes those throws are tough to make. Those are important throws, right there with that double play, so it was good to get those comebacks off the bat and work on those."

There were no radar-gun readings available for Matz, but he pounded the zone, throwing 15 of his 21 pitches for strikes.

“For this early in spring, I feel really comfortable on the mound,” Matz said. “Command is a big thing early on, and having a feel for your pitches, so it was good to get that feel.”

First-hand observations from Dunedin

• Gurriel opened the scoring for the Blue Jays with a laser to left field for a solo home run. Gurriel is noticeably stronger in his upper body this spring, and it showed on that swing.

• Biggio had a clean steal of second in the bottom of the second inning. He’d been jumping out to some big leads at first after working a leadoff walk and Phillies catcher Jeff Mathis tried to throw behind Biggio at one point, but he picked his spot well. The throw skipped in accurately, but it wasn’t close. Biggio is 20-for-20 in stolen base attempts as a professional. He doesn’t have burner speed, but he picks his spots very well.

• The defensive play of the game? Forrest Wall in left field. Tracking a high fly ball back into the corner off the bat of Mickey Moniak, Wall made a leaping catch at the peak of his jump while crashing into the wall, robbing an extra-base hit.

No. 2 prospect Austin Martin subbed in as a center fielder mid-game, which you’ll see more of as Spring Training goes on. Martin played shortstop on Monday, but the Blue Jays will encourage his versatility as he develops, and Martin embraces that.

• Tim Mayza made his return to the mound for his first game action since his 2019 Tommy John surgery, and he looked like his old self, averaging 94.2 mph with his two-seam fastball, which is right in line with his '19 average. Mayza ripped off a couple of sliders, too, and while he still has a hill to climb to get back to the active roster, Tuesday was a great step.

• Tyler Chatwood needed a moment to find the zone, as five of his first six pitches were balls -- including a hit batter -- but he locked it down from there. Chatwood sat at 93-94 mph, but his best pitch of the day was a curveball that got Moniak way out in front for a swinging third strike.

No. 7 prospect Orelvis Martinez is a name you’ll be hearing a lot more of in 2021. He put together a great at-bat on Tuesday, staying back on a slider from Damon Jones and launching a hard line drive into right field that had an exit velocity of 105.3 mph.

• Right-hander A.J. Cole was hit hard and didn’t have his best command, either. Cole hit a batter, walked another and allowed a loud double to right-center that scored a pair. It’s still early and Cole remains part of that competition for the final bullpen spot.

• Young right-hander Ty Tice pitched a scoreless inning to close things out, allowing one hit. His fastball averaged 95.2 mph. Tice has a spot on the 40-man roster, so he’ll have a shot to pitch his way into an opportunity this season.

• Toronto's winning run crossed when catching prospect Riley Adams was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Philip Clarke then walked, bringing in another, and the game was called at 4-2. Joe Carter’s World Series walk-off lives to see another day as the greatest finish in Blue Jays history.