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Jays rookie Anthony Kay has to change his stripes as he prepares to face the Yankees

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2019-09-13 Laura Armstrong - Staff Reporter
a baseball player is getting ready to pitch the ball: Anthony Kay has a plan to get a family of Yankees fans to cheer for his big-league team. “I think I’m going to have to buy them some Blue Jays gear.” © ALLIE GOULDING Anthony Kay has a plan to get a family of Yankees fans to cheer for his big-league team. “I think I’m going to have to buy them some Blue Jays gear.”

Anthony Kay doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t a New York Yankees fan.

Until about six weeks ago, when he was traded to the divisional rival Blue Jays.

“I was born into it,” the native of Stony Brook, N.Y., said. “Straight out of the womb. My dad’s always been a Yankees fan, my whole family, pretty much my whole life.”

The fandom didn’t start great for Kay — “I think my first memory was (Arizona’s) Luis Gonzalez hitting the walk-off (homer) in the (2001) World Series, so that one crushed me a little bit” — but there have been better days since. The Yankees’ 2009 World Series win, Kay’s favourite moment as a fan. An American League Division Series game at Yankee Stadium in 2017. The AL wild-card game against Oakland last year, which he watched from the back row in the Bronx.

And the one coming Friday, when the 24-year-old makes his Rogers Centre debut against the team he has long idolized.

“It’ll be really cool,” Kay said Thursday. “I’m going to have to get used to it if I want to pitch for the Blue Jays. I’ll face them a lot.”

Kay impressed Jays manager Charlie Montoyo in first major-league game against Tampa Bay last weekend, giving up two runs, four hits and three walks in 52/3 innings.

“I can’t wait to see Kay, honestly, against the Yankees,” Montoyo said.

It’s the 94.1 miles per hour fastball that Kay threw in his first outing that has Montoyo’s interest piqued. “I love good arms … A lot of the time you can struggle and not command but you still throw 95 and you get away with a lot of stuff. If you’re 90, 91, 89, if you don’t have command, you’re not going to get away with much.”

The velocity has always been there for Kay, and he believes he is throwing harder since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017. But it is his curveball, which he used just over 17.4 per cent of the time in his first start, that has been improving recently. Kay had a 6.61 ERA in seven starts for Syracuse when he was first promoted to triple-A, and a 2.50 ERA in seven starts with Buffalo after he was traded to Toronto in the Marcus Stroman deal. Kay attributes the change, in part, to his breaking pitch.

“For the most part it was ... just getting comfortable with triple-A and the hitters. You’ve got to adjust to them,” Kay said. “Doug Mathis, the triple-A pitching coach, he helped me work on my curveball a little bit, helping me get it up and down a little bit more rather than side to side.”

He hopes that pitch will help earn him more time in the big leagues beyond this month. “I just want to go out there and prove to everyone that I can pitch at this level and that I belong.”

If Toronto is where Kay ends up, he may have to do to some convincing to get his family on board. Kay’s brother, Bobby, has already tweeted that Friday will be the first time in his life that he will be cheering against the Yankees. The left-hander is happy to sweeten the deal to get his loved ones on his side, if need be.

“I think I’m going to have to buy them some Blue Jays gear,” Kay said.

The only thing that might be better than pitching against the Yankees at Rogers Centre? Doing so on hallowed ground at Yankee Stadium. The Jays are there next weekend but the visit won’t coincide with Kay’s turn in the rotation. He might have to wait until next year.

“I think it’ll be really fun going back there, actually playing there rather than going there and being a fan,” Kay said. “It’ll be a lot of fun.”

Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy

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