Solid string of outings keeps Hutchison in mix

Solid string of outings keeps Hutchison in mix

TAMPA, Fla. -- Drew Hutchison arrived at Spring Training last month without any guarantees, and despite a solid several weeks of Grapefruit League action, that's still the position he finds himself in.

Hutchison -- who took the loss on Wednesday after the Blue Jays fell to the Yanks, 2-1 -- technically is competing for the final spot in the rotation, but all along he has faced an uphill battle. The list of candidates for that job is deep, and Hutchison is just one name in a group that includes Aaron Sanchez, Gavin Floyd and, to a lesser extent, Jesse Chavez.

For his part, Hutchison has done all he can to impress the Blue Jays, with a solid string of four outings, allowing five earned runs over 11 2/3 innings. More important, he has looked better each time out, with Wednesday's start easily his best yet, despite the final result.

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"Circumstances around you may change, but the process doesn't," Hutchison said of the competition. "All of that is irrelevant, and I just go out there and try to handle my business. ... I think I've been throwing the ball well. I've accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish, building up and getting ready for the season."

Hutchison, like most pitchers, is at his best when his pitches are down in the zone. Command was an issue at times during last year's disappointing season, which saw him post a 5.57 ERA in 30 appearances, but it was right where he wanted it to be on Wednesday night.

Hutchison consistently located his sinker in the bottom half of the strike zone, and as a result, he got eight of his 14 outs on the ground. He recorded three strikeouts, and the fact that he limited three of his outs to fly balls has to be considered a positive sign for a pitcher who wants to forget all about the results from 2015.

He wasn't perfect; a two-run homer by Starlin Castro in the second inning came on a sinker that remained up in the zone. That's where he can run into problems, but the fact that he had to pay for it just once against a Yankees lineup that featured most of its regulars is something to build on.

"I was just executing pitches and putting quality pitch after quality pitch, pounding the zone," Hutchison said. "Tonight we were working on the front-door slider to righties. I threw what I thought were good ones, had some good results with it. Just continuing to add and execute pitches."

Choate easing in: Veteran lefty Randy Choate made his spring debut in a Minor League game on Wednesday afternoon. Choate signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training last week and is competing for the second lefty spot in the bullpen after Aaron Loup sustained a strained elbow early in camp.

"He looked pretty good," manager John Gibbons said of Choate, who is vying with Chad Girodo and Pat Venditte. "I think he threw about 25 pitches. I liked the way it looked. He just faced left-handed hitters, that's what he does, but we'll see where that goes."

Status quo for Encarnacion: The Blue Jays don't anticipate having any major updates on the status of injured designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion until later in the week. Encarnacion was shut down for a week on Tuesday morning after he strained an oblique muscle.

"He's feeling better, but they always say that," Gibbons said with a smile.

The Blue Jays remain optimistic that Encarnacion will be ready for Opening Day, but he'll have to avoid any possible setbacks in order for that to happen.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.