Frasor providing long relief
Jason Frasor's gut-wrenching loss in Texas late last month was evidence of a rocky relationship the Blue Jays reliever has developed with Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
With the Jays up 7-6 in the bottom of the 13th inning, Elvis Andrus on second and Josh Hamilton coming up as the potential winning run, Frasor - who wasn't supposed to pitch that night - came in to relieve Ryota Igarashi. Hamilton promptly crushed the ball 424 feet for the walkoff home run.
It was Frasor's first blown save and his first loss of the season.
"Man, that happened quick. Very disappointing," Frasor said after the game.
Then, in a scene oddly reminiscent of Nuke Laloosh and Crash Davis in Bull Durham, he added: "Just looking back, you second-guess the pitch selection. I shook off the catcher and it wasn't a well-executed pitch. That's what makes is hard to sleep."
It wasn't the first time the nine-year veteran has been rocked in Texas. In 131/3 innings across 16 career games at Rangers Ballpark and its reputation as a hitter's park, Frasor has given up 16 runs, 21 hits and eight walks.
But when it comes to the teams he likes and dislikes facing, Frasor says it's more geographical than personal.
"I don't think it's teams, I think it's places," the right-hander said recently. "There are certain places that you kind of get the creeps when you walk in there. Places you have good luck (and others) you might feel fine there but you just have bad luck. Things just seem to go against you and bad things seem to happen. I've had trouble in Texas and Detroit. It's always in the back of your mind but sometimes it works out though."
He might want to add Miller Park in Milwaukee to his list after giving up a grand slam to the Brewers' Aramis Ramirez in the sixth inning on Tuesday night. It was his second blown save of the season, only this time the Jays rallied to win 10-9, taking Frasor off the hook for his second loss.
Overall, Frasor has been an effective major-league reliever during a nine-year career that, save for a two-month stint last season with the Chicago White Sox, has been spent entirely in a Blue Jays uniform. Heading into Wednesday afternoon's series finale in Milwaukee, he had a 25-31 record with a solid 3.77 ERA and 36 career saves, 17 of which came during his rookie season in 2004.
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It's New Year's Day 2012, and Frasor's phone rings. His agent is on the other line to deliver a deja-vu moment to the White Sox pitcher: He has been traded back to the Jays for a pair of minor-league pitchers.
It was only five months earlier - July 27, 2011 to be exact - that he was on his way to Chicago as part of a three-team, 11-player swap that would ultimately see the Jays wind up with centre fielder Colby Rasmus.
"I always make a point of saying Chicago was great. I pitched terribly my two months there - I really stunk up the joint," Frasor said. "But as far as 25 guys in the organization, it was as enjoyable as I've ever been a part of. I was actually looking forward to going back because I wanted to redeem myself, I really did. I wanted to do better, kind of justify that trade. Then I get the call that I'm coming back and that was great too."
Chicago is Frasor's hometown, but it was his return to Toronto that felt like the true homecoming for the 34-year-old. His wife, Laura Schmidt, is from the Toronto area and his son, Jackson, was born in the city two years ago.
"No one was happier than my wife. She was pumped," he said. "We spend a lot of time here. I think we know the ins and outs. But this is our ninth year, so we should feel comfortable by now."
Frasor had a couple of other reasons, more work-related, to be excited about the return to the Jays. One was the team.
"I saw how these guys played at the end of the year," he said. "All these young guys and it appeared things were looking up for the organization."
The other, as odd as it seems, was the new uniforms.
"Last year, when I was traded, at first I was a little disappointed that I wasn't going to put on the new uniforms," he said. "It's not that important in the big picture but I was kind of looking forward to it."
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The longest-serving current Blue Jay - he set the team record for most appearances by a pitcher (455) last year - Frasor describes himself as the silent mentoring type, hoping the younger players take note.
"I try and lead by example but I'm not the kind of guy that's going to jump down someone's throat or get in someone's face," he said. "I try and do the right thing and I hope other people and the younger players see that and learn from that.
With the Jays pitchers' average age sitting at 26.6, there's still much to learn. Frasor remembers vividly what it was like to get his start in the major leagues.
"Besides the debut - I think everybody says that - I think the day that they told me that I was going to close in 2004, my rookie year," Frasor says when asked about a special moment to begin his career. "That was really surreal. It was great and I was honoured but it was just like, wow, now I'm one of 30 major-league players to have that job and it's a great job."
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"We're right there. We're right in the middle of the stink," Frasor said of the Jays' chase for that elusive post-season berth in the ultra-tough American League East. "The division isn't a surprise to us. Everybody is very, very good and it just feels like no one is going to run away with it."
Though Toronto has been a .500 team for much of the season, Frasor remains as confident as he was in spring training. It's not about specific games at this point, he points out. The picture is still broad.
"We try and win series. We try and win two out of three," he said. "You win every series, you're going to the playoffs."
One of the keys to making that happen, he reckons, is how the rotation - ravaged recently by injuries - and the bullpen respond the rest of the way.
"Our starting pitching is so young, it'll be interesting to see how they go through this division one time around," he said.
"We also need to clean up in the bullpen a little bit because you go into Yankee Stadium, you go into Fenway Park ... these starters, it's impossible to go nine (innings), they just wear you down.
"The bullpen is going to be used. The game is going to be on the line. We need to be on our game, especially in those environments."
Time will tell if his teammates are taking note.