TORONTO — Randal Grichuk’s throw came in from right field as JaCoby Jones was going first-to-third on a base hit, it caught a piece of the Detroit Tigers outfielder and all Cavan Biggio wanted to do was keep the play in front of him.
The ball deflected and struck his right pinkie, bending it “in a way it shouldn’t have been,” the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman explained. A blood blister developed on the tip, he was sore the rest of Monday’s contest but got through it, and the next day he woke up stiff.
When things didn’t get any better Wednesday, concern grew, he went for an X-Ray and held his breath.
A sigh of relief followed when the results showed no fracture, and Biggio was right back at it Thursday night, going 1-for-3 while logging seven innings of work on the hot corner in a 3-3 tie with Tigers. He was no worse for the wear afterwards, grateful to have avoided the attrition to have struck the club this week.
“Absolutely,” he said. “You never want to have a fracture or anything like that, especially this close to opening day. Spring was going well and something like that would have sucked for sure. But back out there, felt good, a little sore, but nothing that I haven’t dealt with before.”
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Biggio looked more than OK during a 12-pitch duel with Casey Mize in the first, fouling off six pitches after falling behind 0-2, all but one 96 m.p.h. or harder, before ripping a 96.9 m.p.h. heater to right field for a single.
The at-bat highlighted a revised two-strike approach in which he’s trying to do something with borderline pitches rather than taking all the time — pitches 10 and especially 11 were coin-flip calls — helped along with a Bo-Bichette-like quieted front foot.
“I was very happy with that just because it’s something that I’ve been working on a lot this off-season and this spring training,” said Biggio. “It’s really trying to expand the zone a little bit on those balls that I’ve been rung up on before, or have been a little bit too passive on. To have an at-bat like that, against a solid pitcher with some really good stuff, I felt pretty good.
“I like where I’m at with two strikes right now and it’s paying off.”
Given that Biggio was the most disciplined hitter in the majors last year with a chase rate of only 16.3 per cent — ahead of Mike Trout’s 17.4 per cent — abandoning a strength may seem illogical.
He acknowledges that, but says “I’m just trying to do that right now in spring training, just trying to see what it does for me. I’m not really saying that’s what I’m going to do early in the season, but just kind of working on some stuff and trying to hit some pitches that have been difficult for me to hit, just whether it’s being out of the zone or whatnot, just with two strikes.
“The no-stride has helped me a lot with that and also with seeing the ball a lot longer with less movement.”
MATZ’S SPRING FINALE: Steven Matz wrapped up an auspicious spring of rebound by logging 5.1 innings of two-run ball and getting himself up to 81 pitches — 55 of them strikes. He carried a fastball that averaged out at 94 m.p.h. into the sixth, walking two and striking out three on a night when he didn’t feel “as crisp as you would like.”
“Those are the days that you go out and battle,” he said. “I felt like I got that working, too. Had a lot of traffic and that’s important, pitching around traffic, pitching out of the stretch with guys in scoring position. Definitely got some good work in today. I’m happy with it.”
Matz’s next day to pitch would be next Tuesday and if he stays on schedule, the Blue Jays wouldn’t confirm that, it will presumably take place in a simulated game.
That would set him up to pitch Sunday in the season-opening series versus the Yankees. In past seasons, he’s tapered down the workload in the final tuneup of camp and he’ll discuss doing so again with pitching coach Pete Walker.
Either way, he feels camp has provided him with a strong springboard into the new season.
“I definitely think I set myself up well,” he said. “I took a few things working with Pete (Walker, the pitching coach, related to his cues on the mound) and implemented it into the game, and I feel like it really translated. So I’m really happy with where my delivery is at, where my pitches are at, where my mindset is — it’s the pitcher I am and how to attack hitters.
“I felt like I definitely learned a lot this spring. I’m excited for the season and ready to play some meaningful games now.”
PITCHING IN PRIVATE: Rafael Dolis and Ryan Borucki haven’t appeared in a Grapefruit League game since March 13, but the two relievers have been busy on the backfields.
Dolis threw a side session Thursday and is slated to pitch in one of the spring’s four remaining games, while Borucki threw in simulated games on the 16th, 19th and Wednesday, logging two innings, with two walks and a strikeout.
The Blue Jays have spent much of the spring hiding certain pitchers from the Yankees, and with a game against them every three days due to COVID risk mitigation, that’s led them to liberally use the backfields. It’s unclear if that’s what was driving the decisions with Dolis and Borucki.
SHORT HOPS: Infielder Joe Panik and left-hander Tommy Milone both had outs in their minor-league deals that expired midnight Thursday. The Blue Jays were expected to give both clarity on whether they would make the team or not. Lefty Francisco Liriano has an out this weekend. … The Blue Jays said closer Kirby Yates underwent Tommy John surgery, as expected, on Wednesday. His season is over. … Alek Manoah was at it again Thursday, striking out four batters in two shutout innings versus the Tigers. In three appearances so far, he’s struck out 15 batters in seven frames.