Thursday, May 28, 2009 | 11:45 p.m.
- 51s pitcher Brett Cecil talks about his encounter on May 20 with the Boston Red Sox lineup at Fenway Park
- 51s pitcher Brett Cecil talks about what he hopes to focus on improving in his second Triple-A stint this season
- 51s pitcher Brett Cecil talks about taking pointers from catcher Michael Barrett and pitcher Roy Halladay in his time with the Blue Jays
After spending nearly three weeks as a full-fledged member of the Toronto Blue Jays, 22-year-old lefty Brett Cecil found a neat and tidy way to explain where he stands right now within the organization.
"I wouldn't consider myself a big league pitcher," Cecil said. "I'd say I've pitched in the big leagues, but I'm not a big league pitcher. But I think I can definitely have success up there."
Over the course of his first three starts in the major leagues, Cecil proved that he could succeed on a mound in the bigs. And in his fourth, the baby-faced Maryland product widely recognized as the organization's top pitching prospect learned that there's still plenty of work to be done.
Cecil was sent back down to Triple-A late last week, just two days after he was rocked by Boston in Fenway Park, surrendering eight earned runs off 11 hits and two walks in 4.2 innings. That forgettable night included four home runs allowed in the bottom of the fifth inning alone.
"Every five minutes you're gonna learn something different," Cecil said. "I sure learned a ton in that game."
In three starts before that -- a run in which he compiled a 2-0 record and a 1.80 ERA -- he allowed only 17 hits, four earned runs and struck out 15 batters in 20 innings thrown.
The success Cecil found early in his time in the Toronto rotation surprised most casual onlookers and fantasy stalwarts, who saw his 8.63 ERA over four starts with the 51s to start the season.
Cecil's call-up was made largely due to a rash of injuries on the Toronto staff, but he proved early that numbers don't tell the whole story.
"Everything felt good, I was just unlucky down here, I guess," he said. "I guess they had no choice, but I'm glad it was me that got called up."
Cecil's best of the four outings came in his second start, on a Sunday afternoon at Oakland. In that game, he threw eight shutout innings, allowing only five hits and two walks while recording six strikeouts.
It came on the heels of a stellar debut against Cleveland.
He attributed a couple of things to that early success -- a massive video library to delve into on opposing hitters before starts, plus getting the big league shock and awe out of the way early.
Cecil was called up a few days before his first start, which helped take off some of the edge.
"I've talked to tons of those guys during spring training, but it's a different atmosphere when you're actually up there during the season in the big leagues," he said. "I think it was (reliever) Jason Frasor who was saying 'I'm glad they got you up here a few days before the start just to get used to the atmosphere' and stuff like that.
"It didn't really dawn on me until he said something. I walked in the locker room, and I was like 'Holy crap.' The locker room is huge. I was definitely glad to get up there before and just get used to the atmosphere, how things go, what I should be doing at different times and stuff like that."
As for the preparation part of the experience, he said the ability to create a gameplan off video in the majors compared to the Triple-A level is key.
"Just having a gameplan out there instead of thinking 'Oh, I'll go out there for a couple of innings, see how the hitters hit,' and then you're down three runs," Cecil said.
Aside from pitcher's meetings, Cecil built immediate rapport with his catchers and felt as if he was taking the mound without blind spots.
He was also wise in sidling up to a couple of the Jays' more respected veterans to learn the ropes -- namely catcher Michael Barrett and ace pitcher Roy Halladay.
Cecil's conversation with Halladay, a two-time 20-game winner who is off to an 8-1 start this season, was in preparation for his start against AL East heavyweight Boston.
Together, they broke down the tendencies of several hitters in the vaunted Red Sox lineup.
"I asked him about (reigning AL MVP Dustin) Pedroia," he recalled. "I saw he was kind of diving over the plate, so I asked him if when he faced him, if he was diving out over the play. He said 'Yeah, maybe a little bit, but even though he does that, you're probably better going low and away.'
"And sure enough, one of the better pitches in the game, I think, was when I had (runners on) first and third, got a double play and got out of it. Sure enough, you hit your spots down and away, and you come in when you need to, you're gonna have success. It's just the coming inside part that I didn't do enough of."
It was Cecil's first experience throwing in a major league contest in one of the game's true historic cathedrals. Instead of running his pitches inside -- one of the key components of his game -- Cecil was leaving pitches hung outside.
"Maybe a little (intimidating)," he said. "That might have had something to do with not throwing inside, but you learn a lot up there."
Now, Cecil is back in Las Vegas, where his season began. But this time around, he's part of something rare -- a starting rotation that consists of nothing but lefthanders.
His first start back at Cashman Field came on Monday in a loss to New Orleans. Cecil was solid, though, allowing 3 earned runs on 6 hits through 6 innings.
"That's a good problem to have, to have five lefthanders in your rotation," 51s manager Mike Basso said. "They hold runners (on base) better, people don't really see a lot of lefthanders and we're throwing everything at them. For our division, with the Yankees and Red Sox and Rays, being lefthanded clubs, we need to have that ready for them."
And expect Cecil to more than likely get another crack at the AL East heavyweights at some point later in the season.
If Boston happens to be one of those clubs to cross his path, he won't anticipate intimidation playing a role.
"I'll throw inside a lot more, try to make them uncomfortable," he said. "I was throwing away a lot, and if I missed and they were comfortable, they were gonna hit them. If I miss inside a little bit, maybe up and under their hands a little bit, they're gonna be sitting back a little bit, not jumping out over the plate like they were, and that's my fault.
"I really hope to face them again and hopefully they see a different pitcher."