LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t the worst night in Brett Cecil’s life, but it certainly was not an evening the young pitcher wants to remember.
“There’s nothing you can really do but laugh your ass off honestly. I’ve never given up that many runs in my life,” said Cecil of his first start after being sent down to the Las Vegas 51s, Toronto’s triple-A affiliate — a brutal 17-3 loss to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in which Cecil gave up 11 runs in 4 1/3 innings of work. “Not a very good place to start my confidence-building back at.”
Cecil who could only shake his head when he recounted the April 26 outing that saw him throw 99 pitches, three of which ended up over the fence as home runs.
At the end of that cold, windy night in Colorado, Toronto’s top pitcher from a year ago had an earned-run average of 20.77, had given up 10 earned runs and 13 hits with only two strikeouts.
Really the only thing the Blue Jays’ first-round pick from 2007 could do was to make light of the situation, so the 24-year-old from Dunkirk, Md., native took to Twitter.
“It’s like a bad bruise for me right now … it’s gonna get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better!” Cecil wrote that night.
This week in Las Vegas, Cecil clarified that his tweet wasn’t written out of frustration, more of a joke. Nonetheless, few would blame the six-foot-one, 235-pound left-hander for letting down his guard for a moment.
After all, Cecil, who led Toronto with 15 wins last season, has had a tough start to his 2011 campaign.
It all started with some arm struggles in spring training, which Cecil attributed to beginning arm exercises a month earlier than last year. Those woes carried into the regular season as Cecil posted a 1-2 record and 6.86 ERA in four starts, where he gave up 24 hits and 11 walks in 21 innings.
“I wouldn’t put much stock in that first outing,” 51s pitching coach Tom Signore said of the Colorado game, which came only hours after Cecil checked in again with the minor league team he started the 2010 season with.
“The conditions were absolutely miserable. It was really cold, 40 degrees (4 Celsius), the wind was gusting out. All you had to do was make contact and it was gone. It was just a difficult night.”
Cecil obviously didn’t let his first start linger either, bouncing back with a strong victory this past Sunday as Las Vegas defeated Sacramento 9-3 at Cashman Field.
He wasn’t perfect as he gave up two home runs, but he did string together 6 2/3 solid innings with five strikeouts.
“I felt great. I kept the ball down for the most part,” Cecil said. “I’m still toying with my velocity a little bit. I think I was averaging 87-88, hit 92-93 (m.p.h) a couple of times. I know the speed is there, it’s just a matter of hitting it consistently and getting my arm back to feeling really loose and letting the ball fly.”
Cecil, who denied rumours of any kind of arm injury, admitted naturally he was a little upset when he learned of his demotion to Las Vegas. But after those initial thoughts, and his last performance against Sacramento and subsequent bullpen sessions, believes the organization made the best move for him.
“I may have figured it out up there, but maybe not,” said Cecil, who is set to start his third game Friday night when the 51s travel to Tacoma, Wash. “If I kept pitching that way and getting beat around like that, it could have killed my mental game. It wasn’t doing anything for me, and it wasn’t helping the team.
“Down here I can relax a little. There are no cameras in my face after the game asking me what’s wrong this time. Stuff like that, which frustrates you even more. So it’s probably best that we went the safer route and try to figure it out here.”
Cecil, who says he thinks he could be back with the Blue Jays after two more quality starts, has also been giving his arm plenty of rest.
“I don’t think I lost any strength in my arm, I actually think it might need a little rest. When I got down here, I said the day after I pitch I don’t want to throw the next day and then will do some light throwing the day after.”
Signore agreed and says a tad more velocity and Cecil will be right back on top of his game.
“It’s not like Brett Cecil is not Brett Cecil anymore. He just needs to build up some arm strength. His work sessions have been good,” Signore said.
“I think he’s being a little careful at times with his pitches. I think he’ll start letting things go again, and he’ll find the same form that made him successful last season.”
While that is Cecil’s dream scenario, even if he has to grind out a few extra minor league outings, he still believes he can have a productive season for the Blue Jays.
“Some people on Twitter told me not to worry that both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee had to go through the same scenarios,” Cecil said with a slight smile. “Obviously at this point in my career I’m nowhere near the kind of pitchers those two are, but it does give me a little extra shot of confidence I guess.
“I have no problem with grinding it out this year. Most of the guys in the bigs have had a season or two where they’ve had to grind through stuff like this. Then again it would be awesome if things turned right around and start back up like the way things ended last year.”