Blue Jays top contender Ricky Tiedemann dominates spring debut

As announced, Ricky Tiedemann made his spring training debut for the Blue Jays. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

As announced, Ricky Tiedemann made his spring training debut for the Blue Jays. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Left-hander Ricky Tiedemann’s spring training debut with the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday was delightful.

A 2021 third-round pick, Tiedemann had already attracted a lot of attention from his teammates and coaches at camp this spring, with everyone keeping a close eye on the franchise’s top contender. And who could blame them?

The 20-year-old has drawn large crowds whenever he’s climbed the hill as a pro, first getting his hype train during his outstanding – albeit short – stint at Low-A Dunedin (1.80 ERA over six starts) in the 2022 gained momentum That excitement continued as he rose to High-A Vancouver before ending the year at Double-A New Hampshire.

In an effort to handle Tiedemann’s workload, Toronto’s minor league development team shut down the 6-foot-4 starter after his August 26 start, where he allowed two walks and one hit-by-pitch while recording a pair of strikeouts three innings. However, he continued pitching at the Player Development Complex in Florida after being moved to the development list.

When Tiedemann returned to TD Ballpark on Tuesday, it was the first time he had encountered a live game setting in almost six months, prompting plenty of excitement from the fan base. While his outing only lasted an inning, he certainly made the most of it.

Tiedemann came on in the top part of the sixth inning and jogged out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen behind the wall in right field. His first up was Javier Báez, which was no small feat, but he quickly made work with the two-time All-Star.

The Blue Jays left-hander missed with his first pitch, a 98.1-mile sinker, high above the batting zone, only to hammer the inner half of the plate with a 97.4-mile stoker to bring the count down to 1- 1 to balance. Then, after Báez fouled a poorly positioned switch, the top young hurler blew him away with a 99.4-mile sinker for a sweeping strikeout.

Tiedemann continued to flash his suddenly explosive fastball, which averaged 98.3 mph on his outing — significantly higher than last season’s average — and threw a pair of high-90s stokers to Austin Meadows, who hit Luis in three fields De Los Santos touched down.

Then, before heading out for the afternoon, the talented left-hander recorded his second sweeping punchout of the competition, this time against Matt Vierling.

After taking a 0-1 lead with a pusher on the outside corner, Tiedemann spent three straight 98-mile sinkers before enticing Vierling to offer down and away for the third shot on a beautifully situated switch. Like the sinker he ended Báez with, it featured a 16-inch horizontal break.

Of the 12 pitches Tiedemann threw, eight were sinkers, with six clocked at 98 mph or higher. It’s a tiny sample size, but the Blue Jays couldn’t have asked for a better building block from their prized possession.

Among the highlights that stood out was the left-hander’s repeatable performance — a sentiment that has resonated throughout the Toronto organization, especially among the big league hurlers. With a healthy arm slit like his, it’s easy to see how he’s been so dominant up to this point.

As a starter, Tiedemann has to reserve his energy through several innings rather than draining the tank for just three batsmen. So you probably won’t see him hit 98 or 99 mph regularly during the season.

As for the remainder of spring training, there’s also a strong chance that Tiedemann’s fastball speed will drop back to his usual range of 95-96 mph, especially considering he probably picked up a bit of adrenaline on his first outing in 2023 .

In any case, Tiedemann’s spring has got off to a strong start, which he wants to build on in the next four weeks. Regardless of his performance, the top pitcher is likely to return to Double A New Hampshire early in the regular season.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that he only put together 11 innings with the Fisher Cats in 2022 before being shut down for the remainder of the season. And as someone who won’t turn 21 until August, there’s no need to push them into the majors, at least not yet.

Four of the five spots in Toronto’s starting rotation are filled by Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt – who also made his debut on Tuesday – and José Berríos, while Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White fight for the last position. But neither of them was successful as a starter last season.

Kikuchi struggled a lot with rotation, posting a 5.25 ERA and 5.94 FIP in 20 starts before being placed in the bullpen. However, the 31-year-old has made some mechanical adjustments and appears to be benefiting from the new pitch clock this spring, making his fall look encouraging.

White, on the other hand, is behind the eight after his offseason shooting program was delayed by a right shoulder impact. At this rate, with the right-hander still building up, there’s a good chance he’ll start the year as a helper.

The Blue Jays will be in a difficult position if Kikuchi’s troubles return, at least early on, as several internal options – including Tiedemann and colleague Yosver Zulueta – could emerge as the season progresses. Finally, Hyun Jin Ryu, recovering from Tommy John surgery, could also be part of the equation.

But now Kikuchi gets another chance to prove himself to the Blue Jays. And so far so good. The real test, however, will be delivering outings of consistent quality – or at least respectable ones – in the future.

Because if the veteran left-hander struggles, Tiedemann is already ranting about enjoying a fast road to the top leagues, similar to Manoah from 2021. Blue Jays top contender Ricky Tiedemann dominates spring debut

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