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Blue Jays LHP Brett Cecil hopes to keep improving after turnaround season

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DUNEDIN, Fla. - Brett Cecil walked into spring training last year with his career in limbo.

The Toronto left-hander seemed far removed from his breakout season of 2010, when he posted a team-high 15 wins despite not making the 25-man roster out of camp.

Instead, he was fresh off two years of disappointment. He'd bounced back and forth between the Blue Jays and Triple-A, going a combined 6-15 while getting demoted from the rotation.

Cecil knew that if he didn't show improvement, his days in Toronto would be numbered.

"There was a big discussion before the beginning of spring last year whether he was even going to make the team," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Saturday.

That doubt forced the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Cecil to make a change. He began throwing a weighted baseball during pitching drills to help strengthen his arm and build velocity.

It worked.

After several strong outings, Cecil was informed in the final days of camp that he'd made the final cut. As a reliever, in fact.

Cecil took advantage of that opportunity and went 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA and one save. He was also picked as an American League All-Star for the first time.

Cecil pitched in 60 games, striking out 70 in 60 2-3 innings. He signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract in the off-season.

The 27-year-old Cecil said last year's experience changed his mindset and made him appreciate what he has.

"Completely different," he said. "I'm fairly certain that I have a spot on the team. Obviously, I have to perform, but it's a little bit more pressure taken off not being on the bubble."

Though Cecil performed well early on in 2013, he began to wear down during the second half of the season.

Extra work with the weighted-ball routine and the added stress of having to continuously prove himself took a toll on his body.

In September, soreness developed in his shoulder and prematurely ended his season.

"I just needed rest," Cecil said. "It was a combination of a different role, different workload and overdoing the ball program a little bit."

Cecil said he is now completely healthy and understands where his limits are. He said it will be much easier to dial it back when he needs to instead of constantly going full-bore all the time.

"I just don't want any red flags to be thrown up, but I am going to be a lot smarter about the time I take throwing," Cecil said. "When I feel like I really need the work, if I feel like I need to take a day, I said I'm going to take a day."

"(During batting practice on Friday) they told me I had 25 pitches, and I said I don't need 25 pitches, I'll do 20. If I can throw 20, I'm sure I can get five more in a game down the road. I don't need that right now. I need 20 or so and that would be it. Right now, it's just saving as many bullets as I can for August, September and, hopefully, October."

Gibbons agreed and said it will take that approach from Cecil to help the bullpen succeed.

"He had a heck of a year," Gibbons said. "He's found a role, he likes that bullpen role and he's very good at it. The big thing is always going to be durability, because the good ones get used a lot. He's got to be conscious of that. He can be a hero, but he also has to understand that to be good in this business."

NOTES: Gibbons said LHP J.A. Happ will start the Blue Jays' exhibition opener on Wednesday in Clearwater against the Philadelphia Phillies. ... RHP Liam Hendriks, claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles on Friday, joined the team. ... Japanese-born SS Munenori Kawasaki said he will cheer for the Canadian men's hockey team during its Olympic gold-medal game against Sweden on Sunday. Kawasaki said he predicts a win for Canada, because his son, Issho, was born in Toronto last year. "I love Canada," Kawasaki said. "I think Canada wins 2-1. Yes, perfect. Sounds good. Let's go, Canada."

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