Notes: Ray rolls; Pearson's recovery

Kirk keeps hitting; Biggio's 1st spring HR

March 13th, 2021

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays need to find some upside in their rotation behind , and is looking like their best available bet at the midway point of Grapefruit League play.

Ray cruised through the Orioles’ lineup in Saturday’s 5-0 win, allowing just two walks and striking out three over four hitless innings. His first three innings were especially quick, a byproduct of the left-hander reading the game’s flow in front of him.

“This is a younger team. They’re going to be super aggressive,” Ray said. “I think I only threw five pitches in the first inning. After that, I knew they were going to continue to be aggressive, so I just tried to use that against them.”

Ray’s fastball averaged 95.8 mph and reached as high as 97.3 mph, a comfortable bump up from his 2020 average of 93.9. Ray worked on his changeup Saturday and tried to get some curveballs across for strikes, and he still felt like he could have gone another inning after throwing 52 pitches over four.

“Even the walks that I’ve had, the ball has been right around the zone,” Ray said. “As far as command, I feel really good about where my pitches are at. I’m around the zone and my misfires aren’t far off. I feel like I’m in a really good spot.”

Ray’s target by the end of camp is to get up to that 90-pitch range, which he’s on track for. Control will be the key for Ray, and even staying around the zone with his misses will help, compared to some of the wide misses he routinely had last summer. The Blue Jays know that the upside is there, stretching back to Ray’s 2017 and ‘18 seasons with the D-backs, and even a step in that direction would be a major boost for this rotation.

Pearson throws bullpen session
No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson threw a bullpen on Saturday and came out of it feeling good, manager Charlie Montoyo said. Pearson is working back from a right groin strain.

From here, the Blue Jays will have Pearson throw another bullpen session at some point in the coming week. The club will have a clearer timeline for his return to game action at that point, but it’s clear this will get in the way of Pearson being 100 percent in time for Opening Day.

Kirk keeps hitting
The Blue Jays have long said that they love it when a prospect makes a decision for them, forcing the issue with their strong play. With another pair of singles on Saturday, including one with a 110.3 mph exit velocity back up the middle, Alejandro Kirk is making a fine case for a spot on the Opening Day roster. He’s competing with Reese McGuire, who is out of options.

“There are some things you can’t control,” Kirk said through translator Hector Lebron. “I know there is a competition here for a spot with the rest of the catchers, and I have a great relationship with them. We all talk, and we learn from each other. We help each other. At the end of the day, it’s about results. I’m very confident in myself and feeling very good about the way I’m playing right now. We’ll see what happens in the end, and hopefully, I’m there.”

Kirk, the Blue Jays’ No. 6 prospect, is now 5-for-10 with a home run and a walk in Spring Training. A sample size of 10 at-bats doesn’t matter all that much in mid-March, but Kirk’s offensive profile backs it up. Having Danny Jansen as the starter with Kirk backing him up while still developing at the Major League level makes a lot of sense for this roster.

Extras from Dunedin
• Cavan Biggio launched his first home run of the spring in the fifth, a towering, 424-foot shot to center field off a changeup. He'll move around the lineup this season, but if he is in the bottom third like he was Saturday, Biggio can use that great on-base tool to set the table for the hitters behind him who, in a deep lineup like this, will still be threats.

• No. 8 prospect Gabriel Moreno has been making some louder contact stretching back to the alternate training site in 2020, and he ripped a 107.7-mph grounder that one-hopped in front of the shortstop Saturday. He’ll see some more action this spring and has plenty of fans within the organization.

• How about that bullpen? Francisco Liriano walked a pair, but struck out two over his scoreless inning before Rafael Dolis struck out two in a clean frame of his own. On the back end, Jordan Romano recorded all three of his outs via the strikeout, and Ryan Borucki did the same. Romano and Borucki looked especially impressive, pumping heavy fastballs and attacking hitters early.