Jays put ailing Lilly on DL
Shaky rotation takes another hit
DUNEDIN, Fla.—A compelling storyline of the spring for the Blue Jays involves the evolution of a paper-thin pitching rotation that got even thinner yesterday when No. 2 starter Ted Lilly was placed on the disabled list. He will miss at least his first scheduled start on April 5.
The 29-year-old southpaw had shown up at training camp nursing an ailing left shoulder and his workouts were slowed to a crawl at the recommendation of orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, in Dunedin for the Jays' physical exams. The Jays have since been very careful with their only all-star from a year ago.
Lilly has thrown twice off a mound all spring. It is expected that he will throw a simulated game tomorrow, before making three minor league starts, working on endurance.
He then will be activated and is slated to pitch in a major-league game on April 10 against the Red Sox.
"I expect to go out there and be ready to go," a stoic Lilly said prior to yesterday's 6-5 Jays win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. "By my first start, my pitch count will be up near 100. It was tough. I thought things were going well."
The Jays have logic and history behind them in not wanting to rush Lilly back. Recall Joey Hamilton and Erik Hanson.
Despite protestations that he has never experienced anything like this before, the facts of Lilly's career say otherwise.
Three previous times in nine pro seasons, Lilly has been DL'd. All three times, the reason was listed as "left shoulder." What is most disconcerting for the Jays is the total days he missed with each injury.
In '99, he was DL'd by the Expos for 100 days. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a slightly torn labrum. In 2000, he missed 52 days with the Yankees, going to Triple-A Columbus on a rehab assignment in May, getting shut down after two appearances and finishing up the assignment two weeks later. In '02, in Oakland, an inflamed shoulder put him out for 50 days.
"Unfortunately, if I look at it, I'm the one who came into spring training not 100 per cent," Lilly said of the unexpected DL news, delivered by manager John Gibbons yesterday.
"If I showed up here without anything going on, I'm going to be ready to pitch at the beginning of the year. But I put myself in this predicament," Lilly said.
The Jays rotation looks far different than it was originally projected during the winter, when GM J.P. Ricciardi was confidently chasing free-agent Matt Clement to flesh out a solid starting corps. Clement spurned Toronto to sign with the Boston Red Sox. Ten days ago, Miguel Batista was moved back to the closer's role.
That left Roy Halladay, followed by Gustavo Chacin, Josh Towers and David Bush. The quartet won a combined 23 major league games last year.
Lilly is slated to pitch from a mound just four more times before being counted on to throw 100 pitches against the Red Sox in the season's sixth game. That's a lot to ask. He throws a simulated game tomorrow at Knology Park, followed by three more stints at minor-league camp between March 27 and April 5.
"There's no question that I'm a little behind and I'm going to have to work harder to catch up," Lilly said.
"I'm not there right now. The last time I threw in the bullpen a couple of days ago was 40 pitches, pretty good, but, still, I'm going to need to stretch it out to go in any game. This does give me more time to be able to do that."
Not to put a damper on anyone's enthusiasm, but if spring training could actually be condensed into the time frame Lilly is expected to prepare for April 10, someone would have tried it a long time ago.
The 15 days Lilly's on the disabled list is a minimum period a player must remain inactive.
Everyone in camp is hoping Lilly will be ready, but given his history with left shoulder injuries, which have cost him an average of 67 days out of the lineup, look for Pete Walker or someone else to draw the Red Sox start at the ballpark formerly known as SkyDome.