TORONTO -- Knuckleballer Frank Viola III made his Minor League debut with the Blue Jays' organization by tossing four scoreless innings for Class A Lansing on Monday night and R.A. Dickey was eager to hear about the results.
Dickey was informed of the outing on Tuesday afternoon and had nothing but positive things to say about a player he helped mentor during the offseason. Viola spent two months in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this year and frequently worked with Dickey.
The two initially formed a bond when Dickey was with the Mets in 2012 and since that time, Viola has evolved into the type of knuckleballer that may have a chance to continue doing this for a living.
"I think potentially he could be a very good knuckleball pitcher," Dickey said. "So much has to happen to be able to hold that pitch in the right place. Mentally, you've got to be a certain way. You've got to have a certain type of personality. You have to be able to field your position well, hold runners well.
"I think that he has a good enough knuckleball to be able to pitch up here. Now the other stuff, we'll see. But I have a lot of hope that he can do it. His narrative is such that he's come from some darkness, and a lot of guys that do that have a way of holding the pitch in the right perspective. So we'll see."
The darkness Dickey is referring to came after Viola was selected by the White Sox in the 29th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. He got hurt within two years and eventually had to undergo Tommy John surgery before getting released by Chicago in 2007. He spent some time in independent baseball before eventually trying to reinvent himself as a knuckleballer.
The son of former Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola signed a Minor League deal with the Blue Jays during the offseason. That allowed him to be reunited with Dickey after a couple of years apart. The fraternity of knuckleballers is very small, but it's also tight and that's one reason why Dickey is more than willing to help in any way that he can.
"The very first time I played catch with him, I was a New York Met, and he came down to throw a bullpen and asked me to watch it," Dickey said. "I watched it, and at that point I wasn't as optimistic as I have become because he just wasn't in the same place.
"But the second time I saw him was when he came to Nashville to throw with me and we played catch together, and I was able to see first-hand that I thought he could repeat a delivery mechanically, and he could take spin off the baseball. And if you can do those two things, you've got a shot."
Bautista leads Blue Jays regardless of spotlight
TORONTO -- The value of leadership inside a baseball clubhouse is extremely hard to measure, but that hasn't stopped Jose Bautista from getting a lot of attention for his guidance of the Blue Jays this season.
Toronto's veteran outfielder has received a lot of praise from various media outlets for the impact he's had on players such as Kevin Pillar, Brett Lawrie and Drew Hutchison. There seems to be an insinuation that the clubhouse finally has the type of positive chemistry that was lacking a year ago.
The thing is Bautista was part of the 2013 season that quickly went off the rails. There were criticisms about the lack of leadership then, but now there's praise because the club is winning. According to Bautista, if anything, he's taken less of a leadership role this year.
"I think I'm doing less," Bautista said when asked if there was a difference in his approach. "There's more veterans, there's less people here that need guidance. But there's a few nonetheless that do. But because of that, and other reasons, I think I've been doing less. I don't know why it's getting noticed more now."
After Pillar hit a walk-off single in a 5-4 victory over the Twins on Monday night, he singled out Bautista for lending a helping hand. The two players talked in the batting cage prior to the game and Bautista helped shed some light on Pillar's current role in the organization.
Pillar has been a part-time player since he was called up from Triple-A Buffalo earlier this year. He typically only starts against left-handed pitchers and comes into games late as a defensive replacement. It's a difficult job to fill because playing time can be sporadic, which makes it more difficult to stay sharp.
Bautista can relate because he went through a similar experience when he played with the Pirates from 2004-08. That prompted the talk in which Bautista stressed the need for Pillar to remain aggressive whenever he's presented with an opportunity. It was an approach Pillar took into his ninth-inning at-bat when he singled to right field to score pinch-runner Erik Kratz for the game-winning run.
It was just the latest in a series of conversations that Bautista has received credit for. There were previous talks with Hutchison and Lawrie that also garnered a lot of attention.
Bautista quickly dismissed any notion that these types of conversations might have been less frequent in the past and instead wanted to focus on everyone having a better understanding of each other's roles now that almost everyone has been together for more than a year.
"I don't think comfort level has changed, but I think each person is more knowledgeable of others' capabilities, more realistic with the expectations," Bautista said. "I think last year, people didn't know what to expect exactly with other players. Expectations might have been a little unrealistic, sometimes on the higher end and sometimes on the lower end.
"Sometimes you might have expected more out of somebody and that might have been not right. Sometimes you expected less and the guys surprise you. So now I think everybody is more in tune with each other's capabilities."
Blue Jays drop scuffling Francisco to eighth in lineup
TORONTO -- Blue Jays third baseman Juan Francisco was dropped to No. 8 in the batting order for Tuesday night's game against the Twins at least partially because he has been slumping at the plate.
Francisco entered the game hitless in his previous 13 at-bats. Since May 21, he's hitting .159 (7-for-44) with a .229 on-base percentage, two homers and seven RBIs.
Opposing teams seem to be taking a different approach with him over the past couple of weeks. Francisco has been seeing a lot more offspeed pitches as pitchers tend to avoid challenging him with a fastball as much as possible.
"His game is power, that's who he is," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But he's just on one of those stretches right now, a lot of swing and miss. He had one of those earlier in the season too and he got out of it fairly quickly. You live and die with that, you know, because he catches one right, a guy or two on base, it makes a huge difference in the game."
Francisco began the season hitting .292 (26-for-89) with eight homers and 19 RBIs in 26 games. One of the main reasons for his surprise success was that he was taking a much more patient approach at the plate. At least on the surface, it doesn't appear as though plate discipline has been a major issue in his slump.
According to Fangraphs, Francisco swung at 29.4 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone during first 26 games. Since then, he is up slightly to 31.3 percent. On the season, he has swung at 30.4 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone compared to 36.6 percent in 2013 and 43.2 percent in 2012.