As the baseball season edges ever closer with the start of spring training, the Toronto Blue Jays' pitching rotation appears set at the top, with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil slated for the top three spots.
It’s the other two places that raise the most intrigue, with a myriad of options available to round out the rotation.
Kyle Drabek and Jesse Litsch appear to have the inside track at this stage. Marc Rzepczynsi is another option and if Dustin McGowan can ever fully recover from his ongoing shoulder issues, some people feel he would also be a capable starter, pointing to his play during 2007 as evidence.
However, another possibility currently flying under the radar is Canadian Scott Richmond, who has been with the organisation since he signed a minor-league contract in 2008.
After impressing the organisation with 21 starts in Double-A and Triple-A, he was called up to the majors during the same season and made his first start on July 30th, 2008, against the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, Richmond lost 3-2 and he went on to lose two of his three starts with one no-decision.
However, after being demoted back to Triple-A, he received another call-up and finally won his first game against Baltimore in September to finish 1-3 with a 4.00 ERA. While the British Columbia native enjoyed the experience, his call-up stopped him from playing for Team Canada in the Beijing Olympics.
It was a testament to Richmond’s talents that he was selected as the starting pitcher for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic in 2009. Unfortunately, he again did not participate, as he was embarking on his first full season as a regular starter with the number five spot in the Jays' rotation.
Initially, it looked like Richmond, 31, had made the right decision as he came flying out of the gate. April ended with a 3-0 record and a 2.70 ERA as he went on to be named the American League Rookie of the Month.
It helped that he was confident in his abilities: “I feel I can keep my team in it even if I struggle a little bit. I can still buckle down and keep my team close and give the offence and defence a chance to win.”
Having Roy "Doc" Halladay around was another positive: “Just watching him go about his business, he’s the best in the game. As a pitcher still learning the game, it was great to watch and just try and build off the stuff that he did. But also seeing how he approached games and different teams, so I could go out and try and do the same.”
However, as the season progressed, injuries started to decimate the Blue Jays' pitching rotation and towards the end of June, Richmond was the only pitcher who had continually been in the rotation since the start of the regular season.
As a result, perhaps inevitably, Richmond’s statistics started to dip after his hot start.
However, he remained philosophical even when things weren’t going well: “My old man was panicking and I just said to relax. I’ve had bad starts at every level. You’re out there all the time and some days you’re just not going to have your best stuff, plain and simple. Some days you’re going to get away with it and other days you’re not.”
Finally, the injury curse caught up with him and “the Spider” was put on the disabled list in July with shoulder tendinitis, but not before he enjoyed the best night of his major league career to date. In a 7-1 victory against the reigning World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, Richmond had a career-high 11 strikeouts in eight innings. He finished the 2009 season with an 8-11 record and an ERA of 5.52.
With high hopes for the future, disaster struck in 2010 as the right-handed pitcher suffered a shoulder injury while preparing for spring training and found himself on the 60-day disabled list. This put him on the shelf for the start of the regular season and he never managed to recover, resulting in no action during 2010.
Today, with the 2011 season looming, Richmond has declared his right shoulder fully recovered and he is now ready to fight it out for a place in the back-end of the starting rotation.
Discussing his aims looking forward, he remains cautiously optimistic: “My goal is to get off to a good start and show them early that I can contribute to this team and then from there build on each outing and try and get better because [even now] I’m still relatively new to this league.”
When asked about throwing in the majors, Richmond gives an interesting insight into the mindset of what it takes to be a pitcher: “Some days you’re not going to locate it and you’ll get away with it and some days you’re not going to locate as good and you won’t get away with it. And some days you are going to locate really well and they aren’t going to hit you. It’s just different every day.”
“And that’s just like the fastball,” he continues. “You talk about your changeup, curveball, and slider, starters usually don’t go out there with all four of their best pitches. They’ve got a couple of good ones and they work on another one and they’ve got to see if they’re working that day and take it from there. Every day it’s like ‘well, what’s working for me today?’ and you’ll stick with that and you kind of grow as a pitcher throughout and see how that game goes.”
Whatever happens this season, Richmond knows that the organisation will be supportive and give everyone a fair opportunity to compete for playing time: “You just need to go out there and keep the team in the ball game whether it’s a 5-4 or a 2-1 ballgame. Just keep it close and give us a chance to win.
“They’re not expecting shutouts from us. I mean if you can do that, fantastic [because] we have the ability. We’ve been doing this our whole lives; when you make it to the big leagues you’ve been doing this 10-15 years. The only difference is the adjustments have to be made quicker and things like that, but you just try your best to go out there and start quick and go from there.”
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