DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — George Springer played for the first time this year, Yusei Kikuchi made his Toronto debut, and the Blue Jays beat the New York Yankees in the initial exhibition matchup between the teams.
The mood for the day and the upcoming season matched the Florida weather: sunny and bright.
“It’s the first day, (for me) which is fun, it’s exciting,” Springer said Tuesday, “It’s a beautiful day. It’s awesome to be back out there.”
The Blue Jays, due to COVID-19 protocols, played home games in three different cities last year. They finished 91-71 and missed the postseason by one game.
Toronto is looking to build on its 38-23 run over the final two months of the season.
“We’ve learned what that felt like, and guys understand what that felt like and know what we have to do to not have that feeling again,” Springer said. “Again, every season is different. A lot has go right over the span of 162 (games) but guys have a different attitude coming up one game short. One game, it’s heartbreaking at times, and for us to go through that, especially the last day of the year, think it left a bad taste in our mouths.”
Springer hit .264 with 22 homers and 50 RBIs in 78 games in his first year with Toronto. He was slowed by injuries at the start of the season.
Kikuchi struck out four and walked one over two hitless innings in the 9-2 win.
“I was a bit nervous early in the game, that first inning,” Kikuchi said through a translator. “I was able to settle down. Overall in that second inning I was able to come back, got into a nice rhythm, and I think my control was pretty good for the most part.”
Toronto placed an emphasis on its rotation during the offseason, and it has the making of formidable unit to go along with a impressive offense in the tough AL East.
“It’s no messing around in this division,” Yankees ace Gerrit Cole said. “The Blue Jays are a damn good team.”
The Blue Jays agreed to terms with Matt Chapman on a $25 million, two-year contract. The third baseman was acquired from Oakland in a trade last week.
Toronto also agreed with the rest of its arbitration-eligible players: infielders Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ( $7.9 million) and Cavan Biggio ($2,112,500), outfielder Teoscar Hernández ($10.65 million), catcher Danny Jansen ($1.95 million), right-handers Adam Cimber ($1,575,000), Trevor Richards ( $1 million), Ross Stripling ($3.79 million) and Trent Thornton ($850,000), and left-handers Ryan Borucki ($825,000) and Tim Mayza ($1,25 million).
Cole looked strong in his second simulated game at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.
The session, facing some Yankees regulars like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and DJ LeMahieu, was broken into two parts.
Cole needed just 19 pitches to get five grounders and a strikeout in the first round.
“You want to be prepared when you go into that competition setting that you can push that to 20, 21, 22 or whatever you need to do to get out of the inning,” Cole said. “And take the seven-pitch, eight-pitch or whatever (inning) when you have it. That will put more gas in the tank when you’re built to always be prepared to do what you have to do to get out of the inning.”
Cole will start his first exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. He expects to be trending toward 80 pitches for his expected opening-day start April 7 against the Boston Red Sox.
New York closer Aroldis Chapman struggled with his control at times during a simulated game, throwing 13 of 26 pitches for strikes. The lefty walked one and allowed a hit while recording four outs, including three strikeouts.
Chapman’s second pitch was head-high and in on Joey Gallo, who left the batter’s box afterward. When his next at-bat came up, a smiling Gallo said “that’s all I needed.”
Toronto’s Matt Chapman left in the fourth inning after getting cut on the left forearm by Ender Inciarte’s spike during a stolen base attempt at third base. Manager Charlie Montoyo said Chapman didn’t need any stitches.
The Blue Jays utilized an audio system for part of the game that MLB is testing that allows catchers to communicate pitch selections to the pitcher. The hope is it could speed up games and eliminate sign-stealing.
“I think it’s fair to try it,” Montoyo said. “We’re open-minded. If it’s going to help us, we’ll use it. It’s the first time we used it, so you’ve got to be patient to see how pitchers like it, how catchers like it.”
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