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Notes: Merryweather's debut; Rowdy rakes

@KeeganMatheson
February 25, 2020

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- On Tuesday, Julian Merryweather stood where he’d expected to be two years ago, atop a mound in Major League Spring Training. Merryweather underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018, starting a long road of recovery that saw him pitch a combined 12 innings between the Minors and the

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- On Tuesday, Julian Merryweather stood where he’d expected to be two years ago, atop a mound in Major League Spring Training.

Merryweather underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018, starting a long road of recovery that saw him pitch a combined 12 innings between the Minors and the Arizona Fall League last season. Given that he came over from Cleveland in the Josh Donaldson deal, though, his name has stayed on Blue Jays fans' minds.

The 28-year-old right-hander found some trouble late in his lone inning of work in the Blue Jays’ 4-1 loss to the Yankees, allowing one run on two hits, but he opened things up with two strikeouts and was touching 96 mph on radar guns in the stadium.

“That sounds good to me," Merryweather said. “That’s definitely a good first check-in with the velo. I’m glad it’s in a good spot, and hopefully I can keep building off of it.”

The next steps for Merryweather depend on how his body responds to ramping back up not just this spring, but over the course of a full season. There’s obviously some workload to be built back up, but he hasn’t mapped that out with the Blue Jays yet. If he’s able to handle the starter’s workload in Triple-A Buffalo, he’ll be an exciting project for the player development staff, but there’s evidently plenty of potential there for a bullpen role, too.

When Merryweather couldn’t get physical reps, he got mental ones. He admired Corey Kluber’s steady nature on the mound as he came up with Cleveland and is now surrounded by veterans in the rotation with Toronto.

“I’m not taking any experience for granted,” he said. “Obviously, the big goal is to get to the big leagues, and that’s what I’m building towards. Results right now are great, but it’s more about getting ready for a possible debut."

Split decision

Tuesday was a split-squad day for Toronto, with the Blue Jays’ other half beating the Phillies, 13-6, in Clearwater. Notable performers included Billy McKinney, who went 3-for-4 with a double and a home run, and Rowdy Tellez, who finished the day 2-for-3 with a double and a three-run homer.

Switch in role suiting Pannone

Lefty Thomas Pannone has made the full-time transition from starting to relieving, a switch that seems to be suiting him well early. Even as a pitcher known more for his feel and pitch mix coming up as a prospect, Pannone had made himself a more natural fit by tacking on some velocity, touching 93-94 mph recently.

“I think it’s easier for him this year, because now he knows what he’s going to do,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “Last year he went from starting to relieving. Sometimes that can be tough for guys. This year he knows he’s competing for a job in the bullpen, so that’s going to be a lot easier for him to deal with.”

Some starters can be hesitant to make the move to the bullpen, but that’s changed a bit in recent years as relievers have taken on more prominent roles. These decisions are often made in cooperation with the player, which is where preference and personality come in.

“Everybody wants to be in the big leagues,” Montoyo said. “We’ve got good kids, so whatever they can do to help the team, they’re willing to do it. Pannone is one of those guys.”

Extras

• Ryan Borucki played catch for the second consecutive day. An update is expected on Wednesday.

• Matt Shoemaker will throw a simulated game on Wednesday and is scheduled to get up and down twice.

• Tanner Roark is expected to throw a simulated game next, with a time TBD.

• Reliever Rafael Dolis threw a live batting practice session on Tuesday morning. The Blue Jays are intrigued by the right-hander’s upside with him returning from Japan. He’ll be competing for high-leverage bullpen innings in front of Ken Giles.

Up next

On Wednesday the Blue Jays welcome the Tigers to TD Ballpark at 1:07 p.m. ET. Trent Thornton is scheduled to make his second start of the spring after throwing two hitless innings with one walk on Saturday against the Yankees.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.