The way Drew Hutchison was throwing in spring training, it certainly didn't seem it has been over 20 months since he pitched in the majors.
Coming off a solid spring that followed a lengthy rehab from Tommy John surgery, Hutchison takes the hill for the Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.Hutchison was called up from Double-A early in 2012 and went 5-3 with a 4.60 ERA over 11 starts before an elbow injury in June and subsequent surgery put the right-hander on the shelf for the rest of that season and all of 2013.The 23-year-old returned in fine fashion this spring, earning the second spot in the rotation behind knuckleballer R.A. Dickey with a fastball that topped out at 95-96 mph. He worked 15 innings during camp, striking out 19 while allowing only eight hits and four walks."I just think he looks stronger, his body's filled out even more," said Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker. "I think he's coming into his own ... he's more mature. I just can't get over how he carries himself. He's actually a young leader on this team."Toronto (0-1) is hoping for a solid outing from Hutchison after Dickey struggled in a 9-2 loss to the Rays (1-0) on Monday in the opener. The 39-year-old allowed six runs, five hits and walked six over five innings.In a matchup of former Cy Young Award winners, Dickey was outpitched by Rays ace David Price, who carried a shutout into the eighth inning. The left-hander allowed two runs and six hits over 7 1/3 innings with one walk and six strikeouts.Dickey's outing wasn't the only down note for Toronto, which lost shortstop Jose Reyes after his first at-bat because of tightness in his left hamstring. He was placed on the disabled list after the game and was scheduled to undergo an MRI.Reyes, who sat out several games during the final week of spring training with tightness in the same hamstring, led off the game and was robbed of a hit on a diving catch by Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings. He was replaced in the field by Ryan Goins.The former All-Star sat out 66 games in 2013 because of an injured left ankle and has missed a significant amount of time over the last few seasons with various injuries."Irritated the same spot, so that's a concern," manager John Gibbons said.Matt Joyce had a sacrifice fly and two-run double off Dickey, and Evan Longoria added an RBI single for the Rays.Taking the mound for Tampa Bay in the second game of this set will be right-hander Alex Cobb, who finished 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 2013 after he was part of arguably the scariest moment of the season in all of MLB.On June 15, Cobb was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Kansas City's Eric Hosmer and taken off the field on a stretcher. He suffered a concussion and had a cut on his right ear, and he didn't return for two months.The 26-year-old was stellar after coming back Aug. 15, going 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings in nine starts.Oddly enough, Cobb lost control of a curveball during his final spring outing and hit Baltimore's Nelson Cruz in the head. The Orioles DH walked away relatively unscathed.Cobb, who had the fourth-best ERA in the AL last season, struck out 12 in one of his spring outings."I'm certain other teams see our rotation come to town and they're not really pleased about it," manager Joe Maddon told MLB's official website.
Alex Cobb leaned on his curveball and changeup last season, throwing the highest combined percentage of the two pitches among pitchers with at least 20 starts (56 percent). As a team, Toronto hit .204 in at-bats ending in a curve or changeup from a righty, lowest in the AL. In particular, Jose Bautista hit .203 against those two pitches from righties.