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A beginner’s guide to Blue Jays spring training

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With Blue Jays spring training just around the corner, we take a moment to look at what the coming weeks mean from the perspective of a newer baseball fan

For those of you who have never been to a spring training game, it is an amazing experience. Watching baseball in warmer weather while seeing top prospects play alongside today’s best, all in a small town stadium. Whether you are watching from the comfort of your own home, or actually at the park itself, these games are fun to watch. Even though the fan experience is wonderful, there is a reason they take this detour.

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The Blue Jays will soon make the trek south to Dunedin, Florida. This is where they will spend the next 5-6 weeks (depending on position) getting up to the level we see them at here in Toronto. Many players will be trying to get back into the groove through game situations after a long off-season of training in the cages and weight rooms. For some, this is the only chance they will get to prove they belong on a 25 man roster. This also happens to be one of the most hopeful times in baseball, as it marks the beginning of a new season, where every team is still in the running for a playoff spot.

Pitchers and catchers will report first, as they need the most time to get warm. You can expect this to happen February 21st this year. It is not uncommon to see other position players report at this time as well, as many have already been in the area for weeks or more, but it is not typically required.

February 25th is the day that position players have to report. Although there will be stories written and player interviewed, unfortunately, you will have to wait until March 4th for an actual game.

Spring training games are played a little bit differently than during the season. Although winning is great, it is not the only goal. Here are some general notes about the games, for those of you who are newer to following this portion of the Blue Jays calendar:

  • Pitch counts – You will find all pitchers (including starters) will pitch to a pitch count. These numbers are generally not made available, but managers will keep pitchers on light work loads, gradually increasing them as spring training continues. You may find pitchers taken out of a game mid inning just because of this philosophy, even if they’re performing well.
  • Innings – Tied in with pitch count, you will often hear a starter is scheduled to pitch three (or whichever number) innings. This means the starter will get pulled out regardless of performance after three innings, unless they reach their pitch count too quickly.
  • Lineups – Lineups are typically published the morning of the game. Note that it will generally be a mixed bag, with some regulars and some players being less talented than what you would normally see. Days off are common, but so is pinch hitting so there is no guarantee you will or will not see a player make an appearance. Generally in the beginning, you won’t see everyone playing full games, it is common to see a whole lineup replaced by their third or fourth at bat.
  • Split Squad –

    On March 9th you will see two games played at the same time by the Blue Jays. Not to worry, this is not a mistake! These games are known as “split squad” games. These spring training innings and at-bats are so valuable to teams that the league decided they will give them some games where they can split up their roster and get 18 innings instead of nine.

    Related Story: Blue Jays and the weak farm non-crisis

  • Injuries – Pitchers fielding practice or PFP is frequently done in Spring Training to get work in fielding bunts and covering bases, so that pitchers feel comfortable enough to do it in front of 40,000 people at Rogers Centre. Marcus Stroman went down with a torn ACL in one of these practices. That’s just a Blue Jays example. Combine guys who throw mid to high 90’s who haven’t worked with live batters in a while with batters and you will see many more players hit by pitches. Unfortunately, injuries are commonplace in spring training. Many fans will question the purpose of spring training when your ace gets hurt. It is important to remember that going from 0 to 100 pitches overnight in early April isn’t the answer, and would likely cause more injury.
  • Score – They tend to not play to the score, but in late spring training they sometimes will use these situations to see a younger player or potential closer perform in a “pressure” type situation.
  • Overall, these games may not have any real importance in terms of standings. But they are extremely important to showcase players for the 25 man roster, and to get players back into their 2015 form.

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