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Notes: Shoemaker sharp; Kay impressing

@KeeganMatheson
March 2, 2020

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Matt Shoemaker is back. The Blue Jays’ right-hander made his first Grapefruit League start in Monday’s 4-0 win over the Pirates and picked up right where he left off in early 2019, before he lost the rest of his season to a torn ACL.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Matt Shoemaker is back.

The Blue Jays’ right-hander made his first Grapefruit League start in Monday’s 4-0 win over the Pirates and picked up right where he left off in early 2019, before he lost the rest of his season to a torn ACL.

Shoemaker threw 2 2/3 innings of shutout ball on 32 pitches with five strikeouts and just one hit allowed. That one hit, a single to open the third inning, was immediately wiped out when Shoemaker made a quick turn and picked off Jason Martin at first.

“Overall, it felt very normal, which is really good,” Shoemaker said after the start. “Obviously, the excitement’s there and I was very excited leading up to this, but overall, it’s normal. I’m excited any time I get to go out and pitch.”

Shoemaker threw over the offseason and was confident in his pitches, but he really started to feel comfortable at the beginning of camp when his first live BP session went well. That feedback from hitters showed the veteran that he was back to his old self, and that old self could be a significant piece for the Blue Jays.

In five starts last season before going down with the knee injury, Shoemaker posted a 1.57 ERA. If he’s able to even approach his career ERA of 3.81 while giving the Blue Jays 25-plus starts, he’ll help to solidify a rotation that’s desperately in need of it after a long, hard 2019 season.

Through the long days of rehab when Shoemaker couldn’t be on the mound, he worked on the rest of his body. He naturally got in plenty of lower-body work while rehabbing the knee, but the time he had to focus on his overall health has put Shoemaker in a place where he feels in sync.

“That’s what’s cool about spring, is getting everything on time. For me, I’m a big timing guy,” Shoemaker said. “All pitchers are, but when you’re on time as a pitcher with the upper half, lower half, your arms, and you’re square to the catcher and drive through the catcher, that’s when stuff does what it’s supposed to.”

Atkins impressed by Kay

General manager Ross Atkins likes what he’s seen from Trent Thornton in the battle for the No. 5 rotation job, and spoke about the challenges Shun Yamaguchi is overcoming as he transitions to the MLB, but he’s also been impressed with Anthony Kay, who could play a role at some point in 2020.

"The thing that stood out the most and it was something that our pro scouts identified was his competitiveness and his lack of fear,” Atkins said of Kay. “I think we all know that fear is a normal thing to have. But he seems to tap into it, embrace it, his ability to pitch, the development of his breaking ball seems to be coming. He has been very encouraging for us.”

Extras

Danny Jansen launched his second home run of the spring, another no-doubt shot pulled down the left-field line. The Blue Jays are optimistic that his offence will take a significant jump in 2020.

• Reliever Rafael Dolis pitched another scoreless inning to close out the game and struck out two. Anthony Bass’ name is often mentioned as a back-end option, but Dolis is emerging as a legitimate contender for the eighth inning.

Up next
Kay's third Grapefruit League start comes on Wednesday when the Blue Jays hit the road to face the Rays at 1:05 p.m. ET. In the left-hander's last outing, his aggression paired well with a sharp changeup. Kay worked much quicker than he did in his first outing, which he hopes to continue as spring rolls on.

Also, on Wednesday, Hyun-Jin Ryu is scheduled to throw a simulated game back at TD Ballpark in Dunedin. He preferred this option to work more specifically on a couple of pitches, and will see his next game action on March 9.

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