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Muckdog
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Sportsline.com article.

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Blue Jays' turnaround is steady as she goes?
May 11, 2003
By Scott Miller
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Rebuilding is never easy, and as Toronto manager Carlos Tosca stood on the field in Anaheim the other day and discussed his ascending Blue Jays, he could have no way of knowing the wreckage in South Florida was going to get even uglier in just a few hours. A manager's head would roll, ugly accusations of exactly how a young pitcher's elbow turned into spaghetti would deepen and an already chaotic organization would sink deeper into the abyss.

"Based on how we finished last year and how we've played at times this year, I think we're a little ahead of where we thought we'd be right now," said Tosca, whose Blue Jays won for the eighth time in 10 games Sunday -- including a three-game sweep of the world champion Angels last weekend and winning two of three at Anaheim this weekend.

Make no mistake, the Blue Jays aren't perched on the precipice of any divisional title anytime soon. For one thing, in a division colored by the green of the New York Yankees and Boston, residing in the AL East sometimes is like an Oldsmobile parking in a lot filled with Corvettes and Porsches. For another, talented kids such as second baseman Orlando Hudson, rookie of the year third baseman Eric Hinske, emerging superstar Vernon Wells and catcher Josh Phelps need time to continue their development.

But the Blue Jays have been getting better pitching lately, particularly in the bullpen, thanks in no small part to relievers such as Aguilino Lopez and Doug Creek.

And in the wake of the Marlins allowing A.J. Burnett to throw what certainly appears to be a dangerously high number of pitches at such a tender young age -- manager Jeff Torborg was whacked late Saturday night -- the way the Jays have handled Roy Halladay is worth a look.

Halladay will turn 26 on Wednesday; Burnett turned 26 in January.

Halladay won 19 games last year for a Blue Jays team that went 78-84. In doing so, Halladay averaged 103 pitches per start and 132.3 pitches per nine innings. Among pitchers with 20 or more starts in 2002, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Halladay's 132.3 pitches per nine innings ranked 112th in baseball. (Halladay only threw two complete games, so remember, the 132.3 figure is just an average over nine innings, not an average for each outing).

Burnett, meanwhile, ranked second in the majors by averaging 111 pitches per start, and he threw more than 120 pitches in a stunning 20 games. Burnett, according to Elias, averaged 143.9 pitches per nine innings -- 61st in the majors.

No player is more important to a team than a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, which is why most organizations proceed with caution whenever a No. 1 feels a twinge in his arm. Not only did Burnett pitch with bone spurs in his elbow last August and September, after he started the season on the disabled list this year, the right-hander went 113, 108 and 111 pitches in his second, third and fourth outings in 2003.

Halladay started slowly this season before winning his third consecutive decision on Sunday. In nine starts this season, he has been allowed to throw more than 106 pitches only once.

Because of his slow start, the Blue Jays are watching him carefully. Tosca said he didn't see the stuff he normally expects to see from Halladay for the entire month of April, and part of him wondered if it was because Halladay has been throwing since January.

"He went through spring training without giving up a run until his next-to-last outing," Tosca said. "I saw the same stuff in spring training that I saw last year. Since the season started, I haven't seen it. To his credit, he's battling.

"He's such a workaholic that next year, maybe we need to look at a little different routine when he comes to spring training."

Tosca said he and pitching coach Gil Patterson are watching Halladay closely because of this workaholic nature, though the manager said how they handle him this year "is going to be more of a feel thing" than strictly a pitch-count thing.

In developing Halladay, a first-round pick in 1995, the Blue Jays also moved under new general manager J.P. Ricciardi last year to work with the mental side of his game.

It started when Halladay's wife happened upon the book The Mental Game of Baseball two winters ago by author Harvey Dorfman, a sports psychologist who has worked with former closer Dennis Eckersley and the Oakland Athletics, among other players and teams.

"It was just sitting there, it wasn't even in the right section," said Halladay, who said the first chapter "fit me to a tee" and caused him to read it immediately.

Thanks to Ricciardi's familiarity with Dorfman through the Oakland organization, Halladay was able to meet Dorfman in Florida a short while later. And now, Halladay said, when he sees Dorfman, "I'll try to corner him and get as much out of him as I can."

Mostly, Halladay said, the knowledge has helped him to concentrate on each pitch individually in a game, rather than taking larger, more unmanageable chunks and attempting to digest them at once.

His 19 wins last year were the most by a Toronto pitcher since David Wells in 2000, and the most by a Toronto right-hander since Roger Clemens in 1998.

"I can only speak to the period of time since I've been here," said Tosca, who was named Toronto manager last June 3. "I don't know if he was ever made aware of those things before. I know I was in Florida's organization (as a minor-league manager from 1992-1997) when I was first made aware of Harvey, and a whole new world opens when you realize how to do it.

"When you get to this level, that's where your edge is. You have to have talent to get here, and the thing that separates good teams and players is the mental part of it."

In more ways than one.
 

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