League is out of whack
Jays hoping to correct righty's velocity problem in camp
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The scoreboard in Oakland wasn't malfunctioning. On July 29, 2006, three digits on the board flashed repeatedly, because Blue Jays reliever Brandon League had just fired a third straight 100-mph fastball against the Athletics.
Eight months later, Toronto wishes its radar guns were on the fritz. This spring, League hasn't been able to reach his usual velocity with his fastball, topping out at between 88-91 mph in his past three Minor League appearances.
The 24-year-old reliever was slowed at the onset of Spring Training by a strained right lat muscle, but he's been back on a mound for the past three weeks. As Opening Day approaches, League is trying as fast as he can to find out what he can do to reverse the significant drop in his velocity.
"I don't know," said League, sitting in front of his locker at Knology Park on Friday morning. "We're trying to find that out right now. We're trying to find out what we can do gain velocity."
"We're concerned," Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "I think we're doing everything we can possibly do. I don't think there's anything more we can do."
The Jays do have one more thing they're going to try, though. The next step for League, who typically reaches between 96-97 mph on his fastball, is an increased long-toss program, which he said was suggested by both Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and team trainer George Poulis.
This spring, League's arm slot has been lower than it was last season -- possibly a result of the overdeveloped lat muscle. Working more with long toss could potentially help League get his arm slot higher, which in turn could help add velocity.
"For other pitchers, that's what they live and die by," said League, referring to the long-toss sessions. "So, we'll see how that goes and see how that works. It's something we're going to try.
"We're hoping this is it. I don't think we're looking past, 'If this doesn't work,'" he added. "We've tried a lot of stuff this spring, and I'm banking on this one."
Even if the program works, League appears destined to begin this season on the 15-day disabled list, and the timetable for his return to Toronto's bullpen is unknown. That's a big loss for the Blue Jays, who thought League could replace veteran reliever Justin Speier -- now with the Angels -- as the setup man for closer B.J. Ryan.
With League likely out of the picture for Opening Day, right-hander Jason Frasor appears to be the top choice for the setup job. Ryan's status for the season opener is also questionable as he continues to battle a sore lower back.
On Thursday, League threw 30 pitches and gave up two runs on two hits with a walk in one inning of a Triple-A game. In his previous two Minor League outings, League needed fewer than 20 pitches combined over two innings of work.
If there's any consolation for Toronto, it's that League's velocity issue isn't related to injury. Ricciardi believes the problem simply stems from the lower release point.
"I think it's a direct correlation as to why everything else isn't in line," Ricciardi said. "He's been checked by our doctors, and physically he's fine. All the tests we've done on him say he's fine. It's just a matter of getting him back in his arm slot. That's up to him."
"I'm trying to stay positive," League said. "I know if I think negatively, it's only going to make things worse."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.