- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

Brett Cecil had big plans for his homecoming. So did his personal booster club - family, friends, former teammates and coaches all geared up to watch him pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays on Memorial Day at Baltimore’s Camden Yards.

Cecil grew up in Dunkirk, Md., about 30 miles from Baltimore. He graduated from DeMatha Catholic High School and starred at the University of Maryland. His fifth big league start since the Blue Jays called him up from the minors May 1 would take place practically in his backyard.

Baseball might be a funny game - but not always ha-ha funny.

Three days before his scheduled start against the Orioles, Toronto sent Cecil back to the minors. Instead of wearing the Blue Jays’ uniform and the red cap all major leaguers sported to honor the military, the left-hander took the mound about 2,000 miles away for Toronto’s Class AAA affiliate in Las Vegas.

“There were probably 150 people I knew who were coming to the [Orioles] game,” Cecil said the other day. “I had really good seats set up for my family by the third-base dugout. I would have been able to see my nieces and nephews and stuff. It was obviously disappointing.”

The 38th pick in the 2007 draft, Cecil joined the Blue Jays as an emergency replacement after a couple of pitchers got hurt. The move surprised Cecil - his ERA had swelled to 8.31 in Vegas - but he pitched well in his first three starts for Toronto, going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA. He credited the improvement to the “atmosphere” and preparation.

“I saw the tons of things starting pitchers do to get ready, how much they go over the hitters,” he said. “It boosted my confidence.”

After his third start, Cecil was penciled in to start against the Orioles. But pencils have erasers. Before Baltimore, he started against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. That’s a daunting task for most pitchers, much less a 22-year-old rookie. Cecil yielded two runs in his first four innings, but it all came apart in the fifth when he gave up four home runs, including slump-ridden David Ortiz’s first (and only) of the season. His pitching line read: 4 2/3 innings, eight runs, 11 hits. And five homers in all, which tied a club record.

Adding to Cecil’s troubles was a play in the third inning on which he dived for Jacoby Ellsbury’s airborne bunt. Not only did Cecil barely miss it, he smacked the turf with his nose. The turf won. He briefly lay on the field, eyes tearing, his wind briefly knocked out. When he got up, he felt pain in his midsection. Somehow his belt buckle jammed into his stomach.

None of that, he said, had anything to do with what happened later.

“The first couple of innings, I kept the ball down and I was getting ground balls and a couple of double plays,” he said. “As soon as I got those pitches up, it was batting practice.”

He also found himself pitching too quickly instead of “taking control of the game,” he said. “Take a deep breath and get back to work. I kind of let the game get out of hand.”

The next day, after running in the outfield at Fenway, Cecil approached Brad Penny, the veteran pitcher who started for the Red Sox against him. Penny dispensed some useful advice, telling Cecil he was relying too much on one pitch, his sinker.

“He said it happens to all of us when we get too confident in one pitch,” Cecil said. “We think we can throw it all the time.”

A few days later, Cecil said it dawned on him that not one time against the Red Sox did he pitch hard inside.

“It kind of made me mad at myself,” he said.

Cecil flew with the team from Boston to Atlanta. When the bus arrived at the hotel, an official told Cecil and Robert Ray, another rookie pitcher, that manager Cito Gaston and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg wanted to see them - even though it was 3 a.m. Uh oh. Pitchers Casey Janssen and Ricky Romero were healthy and ready to return. Two pitchers had to leave.

“They thanked us for what we had done,” Cecil said. “They said we had done very well. One thing [Arnsberg] said was, ‘You’re ready for the big leagues, but the big leagues aren’t ready for you.’ He said they had other guys who already deserved the position. As we were walking away, he said, ‘We’ll see you guys up here very soon.’ It was a good experience. It was good to get my feet wet.”

Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said even if Cecil pitched well against the Red Sox, the team likely would have sent him down.

“That outing did not dictate whether [Cecil] was gonna stay up or go down,” Ricciardi said. “We didn’t expect him to be up here that quickly. And he did a great job for us. But we have other guys who are more experienced at pitching at a higher level.”

Given Cecil’s age and relative inexperience, Ricciardi said he will continue to receive the “kid gloves” treatment.

“He’s kind of had a taste of the big leagues,” Ricciardi said. “It’s been kind of demystified for him. He’s pitched well, and he also realizes what it takes. He’s in a good spot. I think all this kind of came so fast for him. We have to make sure we’re tempering him. He’s not the one who asked to be pushed this fast. We’ve done it to him. You’ve got to keep in mind he was drafted only a couple of years ago. All this is new to him, and he’s handled it really well.”

Cecil’s father, Duane, noted that his son has dealt with setbacks before and will deal with this one. When Brett was 13, he broke a bone in his pitching arm and sat out a year. At Maryland, he had to adjust to converting from a starter to a reliever, and he suffered a torn hamstring that cost him part of his sophomore year.

“You can’t get too high or too low,” Duane Cecil said. “He’s been through a lot of stages, and every one is a new one. Things can change at any time, and you’ve got to be ready.”

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