Notes: League headed to Syracuse
Reliever needs more time to regain fastball's velocity
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Brandon League will have plenty of time to find his missing velocity -- it just won't be in the big leagues. On Sunday, Toronto optioned League to Triple-A Syracuse, creating an unknown timeline for a return to the Blue Jays."It's always disappointing when you set a goal and you don't reach it," said League, who entered Spring Training tabbed as Toronto's setup man. This spring, League has experienced a significant reduction in the speed of his once-dominant fastball -- a pitch that used to occasionally top 100 mph. The Jays have said a lower release point is to blame. League claims his entire throwing motion is at fault. In reality, both theories are correct, and League believes the issue began nearly six months ago. In mid-October, the Jays had the reliever undergo an MRI exam back home in Hawaii. A doctor informed Toronto's medical staff that he discovered a slight muscle tear in League's right rotator cuff. "I guess he was feeling something, but it came back with no surprises," said Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi, downplaying the results of the exam. "If you take my MRI, I've got a partial tear, too. You take MRIs of guys' elbows and shoulders, you're going to find things." After consulting with the Jays, League decided to abandon his usual offseason throwing program in favor of resting his arm for eight weeks -- an extra month off. The pitcher continued to lift weights, though, and he believes that may have led to tightness around his shoulder, which negatively affected his mechanics. "I've been analyzing it the whole spring," League said. "With me just lifting and doing my arm strengthening program, my shoulder was getting stronger and not loosened up by my throwing. It was just getting tighter and tighter." Early in Spring Training, League underwent a second, more in-depth MRI, and Toronto didn't find anything wrong in the pitcher's shoulder. The Blue Jays described his injury as an "overdeveloped right lat muscle," and shut him down for the following 10 days. Toronto originally had planned on placing League on the 15-day disabled list to begin the season, but the club chose instead to option him to Triple-A. The Jays aren't sure whether or not League will start the year with Syracuse or remain in Florida, where he can pitch in warmer weather with Class A Dunedin.
League, who had a 2.53 ERA for Toronto last year, has been back on a mound for the last three weeks and appeared in a few Minor League games. His velocity remains between 88-91 mph, though, and the Jays now have him working with a long-toss program. On Sunday, League didn't sound too confident that he'd be able to sling 95-97 mph fastballs regularly in the near future."I don't know if I want to say that," said League, "but I'm sure I will be throwing hard." Back on the hill: One more outing is apparently all B.J. Ryan needs. After witnessing Ryan's strong bullpen session on Sunday, Jays manager John Gibbons said the closer will make his next Grapefruit League appearance in Toronto's last game of the spring on Saturday "He threw very, very good," Gibbons said. "He'll pitch that final game here, and then he'll be ready to go. [Closers] generally don't get a lot of innings in [the spring] anyway. You try to save those guys. They're established guys, and it doesn't take them long." Ryan, who hasn't pitched in a game since March 11 due to a sore lower back, will take the day off from throwing on Monday. The left-hander will pitch in a second bullpen session on Tuesday, followed by an appearance in a Minor League game on Thursday. Gibbons said Ryan, who had 38 saves for the Jays in 2006, threw mainly fastballs but also "spun a few sliders" in the mound session on Sunday. Gibbons has expressed no concern about Ryan's availability for Opening Day. Contingency plan: With League officially out of the picture, the Blue Jays aren't sure who will be their eighth-inning setup man. Ricciardi named pitchers Jason Frasor, Scott Downs and Shaun Marcum as potential late-inning options. Toronto's GM added that Casey Janssen was also in the mix for a job. "I don't think it's that big of a setback," Ricciardi said. "We saw [that League wasn't right] on the first day, so we've been preparing for this." Gonzalez to start Right-hander Geremi Gonzalez is scheduled to start against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, and will probably pitch three or four innings. Toronto ace Roy Halladay would've made that start, but he'll pitch in a Minor League game because he's set to face the Devil Rays on April 7 -- his second start of the regular season. Missing persons: Blue Jays bench coach Ernie Whitt has been at his home in Michigan for the past few days to be with his wife, Chris, who recently had surgery. Gibbons said Whitt should be back with the team on Monday. ... Right fielder Alex Rios, who went home to Puerto Rico to be with his family at the funeral for his grandfather, is expected to rejoin the Jays in Florida on Monday, too. Quotable: "We've been trying to do the same thing for the past four years -- trying to continue it this spring, trying to refresh my memory and refresh my body mechanics." -- League, on trying to pitch from a higher arm slot Coming up: Toronto right-hander Josh Towers (1-0, 4.61 ERA) is scheduled to start when the Blue Jays take on the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.