Blue Jays set Opening Day roster
Richmond nabs final rotation spot, Barrett wins backup catcher job
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Brad Mills knew what he was going to hear when he was summoned to the office of Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston on Wednesday morning. The young pitcher came close to grabbing a job in the rotation this spring, but Toronto is going to move in a different direction.
The last vacancy within the Blue Jays' starting staff has been handed to Scott Richmond, and Mills has been returned to Minor League camp, with a trip to Triple-A Las Vegas coming soon. Mills, who was frustrated with his performance on Tuesday night against the Phillies, took the news as well as he could.
"I told Cito in there, I don't want to go up there and not have success," Mills said. "I don't think, based on yesterday and the last couple outings, I haven't been at my top game. So it's like, what's the point going up there if I'm not going to have success? I trust that when it happens, the timing will be right and I'm fine with it."
Beyond the decision to send Mills back to the Minor Leagues, the Blue Jays also made a pair of moves that finalized the Opening Day roster. Toronto returned veteran catcher Raul Chavez to Minor League camp, opting to give the backup catching job to Michael Barrett. The Jays also optioned utility man Joe Inglett to Triple-A.
Informing Richmond that he will be the team's fifth starter to open the season takes some pressure off the right-hander. On Thursday, Richmond is scheduled to start against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., and now he can take the mound knowing that he has a spot on the team. Richmond and Ricky Romero give Toronto two rookies in its rotation on Opening Day for the first time in team history.
"I can breathe a little easier now," Richmond said. "It'll feel good knowing that it's not a decision-making start and all that -- it helps. I'm still going to go out there and try to execute every pitch I can and obviously do my thing. I plan on ending spring with a good start and go on up to Toronto with a good one under my belt. That's my objective.
"I'll just be breathing a little easier in the dugout and afterwards."
It hasn't been a given that Richmond -- a rookie at 29 years old -- was going to earn a spot on the club. He missed time this spring to take part in the World Baseball Classic, but didn't start in the tournament due to Team Canada being eliminated after two games. In the Grapefruit League, Richmond has posted a 5.54 ERA, allowing 10 runs (eight earned) on 17 hits over 13 innings.
When camp opened, Richmond and Mills were among a handful of arms vying for spots on the pitching staff.
Casey Janssen, who was a front-runner for one of the two open jobs when Spring Training started, suffered a right shoulder injury and is likely out of the picture until May. Left-handed prospect Brett Cecil was sent back to Triple-A for more seasoning and veteran Matt Clement, returning from right shoulder issues, will also be in the Minor Leagues.
That left Richmond, Mills and Romero to fight it out for the two available rotation jobs. Romero made some mechanical adjustments midway through the spring and impressed the club enough to earn the fourth starter's role earlier this week. On Tuesday, Mills allowed seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Phillies, helping Toronto's decision for the fifth spot.
Still, Richmond never felt he was a lock for a job.
"I definitely wasn't certain, that's for sure," Richmond said. "I did the [Classic], came back, and I was behind in innings. I don't think it helped, that's for sure, even though they didn't say it hurt me because I came back so quick. It feels good -- it definitely does. I've worked hard and I'm ready to do this. I feel strong, I'm getting stronger with time."
Richmond was signed as a non-drafted free agent two winters ago after spending the three previous pitching in the independent Golden Baseball League with the Edmonton Cracker Cats. Last year, he opened at Double-A New Hampshire and quickly rose to Triple-A and later to Toronto. Richmond made five starts for the Jays last season, posting a 4.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts and two walks over 27 innings.
Richmond took a unique path to the big leagues and he constantly reminds himself of how fortunate he is to have reached the point he is at now.
"My friends always tell me, 'Hey, where were you a year ago?'" Richmond said. "They just bring me back down to earth. ... 'No matter what happens -- Triple A, right on the verge again, or breaking with the team -- where were you a year ago?' And I just won't forget that. I look back to my roots, family and friends, and the guys here are so supportive.
"I'm just thankful for my opportunity and I plan on taking full advantage of it."
The 24-year-old Mills understands that he has more work to do. On Tuesday night, he logged 102 pitches and only 57 strikes in his start against Philadelphia. Mills worked with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg on Wednesday morning, making some slight adjustments to his delivery -- changes he plans to practice in the coming months in the Minors.
Mills wanted to make the Blue Jays' roster, but he also knows that getting to the Majors is a process. The lefty was selected in the fourth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft and still does not have any professional innings at Triple-A under his belt. That being the case, Mills was thrilled to remain in big league camp as long as he did.
"When I first got drafted, I told myself, 'One year at each level and that's quick enough for me,'" said Mills, who posted a 5.54 ERA over 26 Grapefruit League innings this spring. "I look at it, man, I'm way ahead of that curve right now, so I'm not going to push it. I'm going to trust the process, and when it happens, it will be at the right time.
"[I've learned] that my stuff is good enough to get big league hitters out. I'm never going to question my stuff or be scared of getting hit or, 'Man, these guys are better than me,' or whatever. I trust that and now it's just a matter of taking care of the command."
Bird feed: Closer B.J. Ryan, whose pitch velocity has been a topic of concern throughout this spring, turned in one shutout inning against the Nationals on Wednesday. Ryan induced two groundouts and one flyout to the only three batters he faced, finishing with 16 pitches, eight for strikes. The left-hander also hit 86 and 87 mph on the radar gun. ... Toronto released Minor League pitcher Matt Bush on Wednesday. A team official said Bush -- the first overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft -- did not comply with team guidelines and the organization has a zero-tolerance policy. No other information was provided. The Jays acquired Bush from the Padres in exchange for a player to be named or cash on Feb. 10.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.