While I was in Las Vegas for a few 51s games last week, I managed to talk to pitching coach Bob Stanley about a few of the club’s arms, including right-hander Jesse Chavez, the Blue Jays’ starter tonight against the Brewers.
After spending the bulk of his 2011 season at Triple-A Omaha in Kansas City’s minor league system, Chavez didn’t like the way he performed and went to winter ball, where he reverted back to a more normal arm slot and abandoned the sidearm angle that he threw from while with the Royals.
The Blue Jays claimed Chavez off waivers back in October and removed him from their 40-man roster in December. The initial plan with Chavez, a full-time reliever since 2005, was to have him serve as a bullpen long man, but according to Stanley, things changed after spring training.
“I think the theory on that was that Pete Walker and the pitching coach and myself, in spring training, [determined that] if he’s going to be a middle relief pitcher in the big leagues then we need to start him to build up his innings,” Stanley said. “And that was the theory, not knowing that he’d pitch so good as a starter.”
This season with the 51s, Chavez has compiled a 3.84 ERA in 70 1/3 innings (12 starts), with one complete game, 65 strikeouts, a career-low 1.9 BB/9 and a career-low 1.123 WHIP.
In addition to throwing a four-seam and two-seam fastballs, Chavez throws a power slider/cutter that’s around 89 or 90 mph, a changeup and an average curveball that Stanley said is made better by his other pitches. Now that he’s no longer throwing sidearm, Chavez is also starting to throw a splitter.
Repertoire aside, Stanley spoke very highly of the 28-year-old as a person.
“He’s a really big competitor, he’ll do whatever you ask,” Stanley said. “He’s a guy that’s on or around the plate; he’s not wild. He just doesn’t throw it down the middle. He’s a pitcher not a thrower.
“When he goes out there you know you’re going to get at least six, so it’s a good feeling for a pitching coach.”
About three weeks ago, it was reported in May that the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks from Japan tried to pry Chavez away from the Blue Jays with a two-year, $3 million contract, but Toronto rejected the deal. Now, with injuries to Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, keeping Chavez worked out for the Blue Jays, who have called on him to make the first major league start of his career tonight at Miller Park.