Jays' Jeffress to the fore
Jeremy Jeffress pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton yesterday. He is looking to land a spot in the Jays’ bullpen. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)
The folks at Tees N Southfork are rooting for Jeremy Jeffress to make the Blue Jays bullpen.
So are Virginia golfers and fishermen.
And with a few more outings like Wednesday afternoon at McKechnie Field, Jeffress’ backers will get their wish and he will be on his way to the Rogers Centre.
Jeffress pitched 1.2 scoreless against the Pittsburgh Pirates, his fastball clocked at 97 miles per hour.
Tees N Southfork is a driving range Scottsburg, Va., (population 196), owned by his father, Freddie Jeffress, near the Staunton River State Park tourist area. Jeffress lives down the road a few miles in South Boston, Va., (pop. 8,126)
“We plan to expand the place once I get established,” said Jeffress. “Back in the woods we have a pond my father stocks with catfish every month or so. Some day I hope to build cabins around the pond.”
Every man has his dream.
Jeffress is a man with a plan and it sounds like he’s close to dialing a landscaper and a construction crew, going off what manager John Gibbons has to say.
“He always had a big arm when we were together in Kansas City,” said Gibbons, the former K.C. Royals bench coach. “Now, he has that dynamite change up. The thing is, he’s been getting out major-league hitters, not double-A guys.”
Jeffress picked up lefty Mark Buerhle in the fourth inning and walked Travis Snider before striking out Clint Barmes.
After striking out triple-A bound Tony Sanchez, he struck out lead-off man Sterling Marte, who earlier had tripled against Buerhle, allowed a single to Russell Martin and retired Andrew McCutchen on a ground ball.
Gaby Sanchez singled to open the next inning, then Pedro Alvarez flew out and Jeffress’ day was done.
Against Atlanta he struck out Justin Upton, got Jason Heyward and Blake DeWitt on ground balls as his fastball was clocked at 99 m.p.h. on Friday. He also retired triple-A players Ernesto Mejia and Joe Leonard via strike outs, Christian Bethancourt on a fly ball and minor-leaguer Elmer Reyes on a grounder.
So big-league hitters are a combined 2-for-9 against Jeffress in his past two outings.
A golf swing and a baseball swing go hand in hand with many established big leaguers, but not a whole lot of youngsters grow up with a love of a one game played in silence in a serene, pastoral setting and the other played on a symmetrically laid field where the goal is to reach a level where 50,000 fans scream for you to throw one to the backstop.
“Growing up the Atlanta Braves were my father’s team, my team too. We’d watch Skip Caray on TBS,” said Jeffress. “I pitched and played third, so Chipper Jones was my favourite.
“In golf, I wanted to be Tiger Woods. I’ve watched Arnold Palmer videos and player Tiger’s game systems.”
No Jones. No Woods ... unless you count his 3-wood.
Jeffress, shy about revealing his handicap, is asked who has the best swing in golf?
“Probably Zach Johnson, it’s so nice and smooth,” said Jeffress. “He hits the ball so far. Tiger has a violent swing.”
Going forward Jeffress has to be more like Johnson and less like Woods when on the mound.
“I get into trouble when I jump out during my delivery. My biggest problem is trying not to rush,” said Jeffress, who appeared in 13 games with the Royals last season. “I don’t know how many pitching coaches have told me to stay back, try not to rush things. I have anxiety trying to make the perfect pitches.
“I can’t reiterate my delivery as often as I should. Sometimes my fastball is flat.”
Flat translates to plenty of line drives and trips backing up third base.
Flat fastballs are not good.
Flat fastballs are akin to “ker-plunk” on the par-3 with the water hazard.
Besides the driving range, Tees N Southfork (“I have no idea where my father got the name,” he says) has a restaurant, where Staunton Park employees are regulars for breakfast and lunch.
Meals are prepared by his grandmother, Edith, along with his aunts Veler and Gloria.
“We’re known for southern cooking, they all can cook up a storm,” said Jeffress, who named their delicacies: Collard greens, yams, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, hush puppies, corn bread and catfish.
“There’s nothing better than fresh catfish,” said Jeffress.
Nearby, lefty reliever Aaron Loup’s ears perked up.
“Catfish?” asked Loup. “I’ll be there.”
Jeffress is out of options.
“This is it,” he says.
The way things are going Jeffress will be there ...
Standing along the third base line.
Opening night, April 2.
At the Rogers Centre.
MARTIN GETS AN EARFUL
There were some Team Canada fans amongst the crowd of 8,439 fans at McKechnie Field Wednesday afternoon as the Blue Jays took on the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Each time Pirates catcher Russell Martin was introduced into the batter’s box, his name was greeted by a smattering of boos. Nothing like a Boston Red Sox player at the New York Yankees spring home in Tampa, but boos nonetheless.
Martin had agreed to catch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in Phoenix and then eight days before said he’d only go if he could play shortstop because his body couldn’t take the pounding this early in the season.
Blue Jays second baseman Emilio Bonifacio stole second base in the first yesterday, beating Martin’s throw. And again in the third.
On the second successful steal, a fan yelled out, “Hey Martin! It’s an easier throw from shortstop!”
Martin, who singled and walked in three trips, was thrown out at the plate by left fielder Melky Cabrera to end the third.