Omar Vizquel is barely six weeks shy of his 45th birthday, and still trying to prove he belongs in the major leagues.
He already has spent 23 seasons in the big leagues, and if he shows the Toronto Blue Jays enough this spring, Vizquel will be back for another year.
For now, Vizquel is a non-roster invitee to camp. With a stellar performance at third base and at the plate on Monday in the Blue Jays’ 4-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, he is taking steps toward winning a job as a utility infielder.
Vizquel made two dazzling plays at third base, a less familiar position for him than shortstop, where he forged a Hall of Fame-type career, and had a two-run, two-out single.
The hit was barely a footnote after the game for Toronto manage John Farrell. Vizquel has played 132 career games at third base and 2,699 at shortstop.
“His internal clock is what allows him to make up for any deficiencies in arm strength,” Farrell said, “how quickly he gets rid of the ball and his understanding and knowledge of the hitters and the speed of the hitters.
“Whether he gets them by a half-step or a quarter-step or two steps, they’re an out. It’s impressive to watch his instincts really come out, particularly in the plays today.”
Vizquel barehanded Scott Beerer’s high chopper just off the third base line and threw him out at first. Two innings later, Vizquel backhanded Jai Miller’s bouncer a few steps onto the outfield grass and sailed a rainbow throw that beat Miller by two steps.
“The long throw was more impressive,” Vizquel said. “It was (a backhanded catch) I don’t do very often, and still make the long throw. People are questioning if I still have the ability to make a good throw to first base with power. The barehand play, I used to do that quite a few times.”
His two-run single followed three walks and Travis Snider’s RBI single.
“Two strikes,” Vizquel said. “Some kind of a changeup or split-finger that didn’t really break much, stayed up in the strike zone, and I was able to hit it up the middle.”
Brandon Morrow gave up one hit in three scoreless innings, and struck out two for Toronto. Morrow threw 27 of 33 pitches, including eight of 11 first-pitch strikes.
Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen went three innings, struck out two and gave up two hits, including Colby Rasmus’ RBI double.
“So many different things he’s been exposed to,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Chen, who is in his first major league camp after spending the past four years pitching in Japan. “Now he’s pitched on the road.
“We had a choice to make about (having him pitch a simulated game).I think it’s more important with his development, just everything that he can get exposed to that he’s going to be challenged with. Just trying to keep all that in mind. So far, so good. I’m pleased with him.”