It hasn’t been a great season for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the club keeps tantalizing fans with glimpses of the future promise. Sophomore southpaw Brett Cecil took a perfect game into the seventh inning last night against the Cleveland Indians. It was the fourth time this season (in 27 games) that a Toronto starter has taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning of a game; Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and Cecil have all flirted with brilliance this season, and Marcum is the oldest of the quartet at 28.
For Cecil, the perfect game ended in the seventh inning with one out. He experienced a rare lack of control and walked both Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo. He then retired Austin Kearns before giving up a single into left field off the bat of veteran Jhonny Peralta.
In just his third MLB start of the year, Cecil pitched eight innings, allowed one hit, walked two batters and struck out 10, which was a career high (in 21 MLB appearances). He mixed his four-pitch repertoire effectively and dials his fastball up to 93 mph, when needed.
On the season, he has positive pitch-type values on his slider, change-up, and curveball. He’s struggled with his fastball command in his previous two starts but it was much better on Monday night. The lefty struck out batters with the fastball (four), change-up (three), and slider (three). Veteran catcher John Buck was impressed with Cecil’s performance.
“The operative word here is ‘pitched,'” Buck said to MLB.com. “He was locating his fastball in and out. He was aggressive with a whole array of pitches, and makes it tough for hitters to sit on one pitch or on one location. He’s able to spread the plate.”
The 23-year-old pitcher was rushed to the Majors in ’09 when injuries depleted the Jays’ starting rotation and minor league depth. He made 17 starts and posted a 4.68 xFIP in 93.1 innings. Cecil was sent to triple-A to begin the 2010 season after he was slowed by a cut on his throwing hand in spring training.
An injury to veteran Brian Tallet brought him back up to the Majors in late April. Through three starts, he has a 3.30 xFIP, as well as a walk rate of 1.74 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 9.15 K/9. His MLB numbers don’t agree right now but Cecil is a solid ground-ball pitcher with a worm-burning rate in the minors just shy of 60%. Last night, he induced nine ground-ball outs compared to four fly-ball outs.
Perhaps due, in part, to his late start to the season, Cecil has tired early in games. According to the Sportsnet broadcast last night, he has allowed a .118 batting average during his first 75 pitches in each of his three starts but an average of more than .500 from pitch 76 and upward.
Cecil was a supplemental first round selection (38th overall) during the 2007 draft. The left-hander was a closer at the University of Maryland before he was moved to the starting rotation by the Jays organization. The club has also had success with converting college closers David Bush (now with Milwaukee) of Wake Forest University and Marcum of Southwest Missouri State U.
One thing Cecil might want to watch in future starts, though, is his work from the stretch. He pitched out of the stretch just once in the game – during the seventh inning – and his pitching grips were fully visible in his glove, which was open to the base runner at second base.