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Merryweather reads the signs with Blue Jays

The quip rolls off Julian Merryweather’s tongue so easily that it’s clear he has been asked countless times about what it’s like to have been traded for Josh Donaldson.

“I guess it’s MVP or bust for me,” Merryweather joked. “That’s kind of what I’m up against this year.”

New Jay Julian Merryweather split 2017 between Double-A and Triple-A before Tommy John surgery last March.
New Jay Julian Merryweather split 2017 between Double-A and Triple-A before Tommy John surgery last March.  (Ric Tapia / GETTY IMAGES file photo)

The 27-year-old Blue Jays right-hander knows there’s no escaping the fact that he was the return, the mystery player to be named later, in the deal that ended a drawn-out, injury-plagued saga with 2015 American League most valuable player, sending Donaldson to the Cleveland Indians at the end of August.

The slugger, now an Atlanta Brave, will be remembered by Jays fans as a major part of the team that ended a long playoff drought with back-to-back post-season appearances in 2015 and 2016. Those are some big shoes to fill, but Merryweather seems to be taking it in stride.

Drafted in the fifth round in 2014, when Jays president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins were still in Cleveland, Merryweather was nearly six months into rehab following Tommy John surgery when he learned he would likely be the player sent to Toronto. The five weeks between the deal and the formal announcement of the player to be named later were awkward, but his biggest concern was keeping his recovery on track.

“My first thought was: How is this going to work now?” he said Friday, before the Jays’ weekend Winter Fest at the Rogers Centre. “The way they handled it — being able to get on conference calls with the Blue Jays guy and the Indians guys and kind of compare and contrast what we’re doing in the weight room, what we’re doing in the training room, and just being on the same page as soon as I got here to finish up (rehab) — it made it really easy.”

Before the surgery in March, Merryweather was considered a contender to make an impact at the major-league level for Cleveland in 2018. He split 2017 between the Double-A Akron RubberDucks (3.38 ERA, 0.93 WHIP in nine starts) and Triple-A Columbus Clippers (6.58 ERA, 1.67 WHIP in 16 starts).

Ten months later, he says he’s still feeling out his recovery day-to-day, slowly ramping up his workload with no target date to return to the mound.

Having been in Cleveland while Shapiro and Atkins helped build a contender, though, he has an idea of what lies ahead.

“Seeing what the Indians were able to build with their homegrown rotation, and seeing the kind of guys we have in this room, it’s really exciting,” the six-foot-four Merryweather said in the Rogers Centre clubhouse after the Jays’ development camp last week. “I see a lot of the same aspects.”

The righty developed a four-pitch mix in the Cleveland system.

“I like to work up in the zone with the fastball, curveball down in the dirt.” Merryweather said. “Changeup to keep ’em honest and slider whenever I need it.”

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

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