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Blue Jays' lineup looks similar to 2013

The SportsXchange

Not only does the cast remain pretty much the same, so does the way it will be arranged.

The lineup that opened the spring training season for the Toronto Blue Jays looked much like the one manager John Gibbons used to open the 2013 season.

Gibbons tipped his hand with the lineup that he sent out for Wednesday's opener of the Grapefruit League schedule against the Philadelphia Phillies, a 4-3 rain-shortened win.

The changes this year come in the bottom two spots in the order in which Dioner Navarro takes over at catcher from J.P. Arencibia and Ryan Goins moves into second base for Maicer Izturis.

"We could always adjust some things but it's basically what we looked at last year, other than Navarro's in there," Gibbons said.

Based on the lineup that was used in the first game of spring training, the Blue Jays should have Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus in the first seven spots when they open the season March 31 at Tampa Bay. But in 2013, injuries throughout the season forced frequent alterations to the lineup.

With R.A. Dickey slated to be the opening-day starter, it is likely that either Josh Thole or Erik Kratz who are competing to be the personal catcher for the knuckleball pitcher will be behind the plate instead of Navarro.

A key could be Cabrera who had a subpar season that is being blamed on a benign tumor on his spine that required season-ending surgery in August. Gibbons likes him batting second.

"The only real downfall is that he does hit a lot of ground balls," Gibbons said. "But take away last year and he's been one of the better hitters in baseball. We like guys there that can get a lot of hits."

Cabrera felt pain in both legs as a result of the tumor and his range in the outfield became minimal.

"He's a switch-hitter, he can manipulate the bat a little bit," Gibbons said. "He knows how to do those things. Ideally if he's the player we expect him to be, then he'd be a good guy for (the No. 2) spot. We need him to be good and we need him to be able to move, that's for sure."

NOTES, QUOTES

--RF Jose Bautista started out the Grapefruit League season with a bang, hitting a mammoth home run in the first inning against Roberto Hernandez that literally left the park in left field at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., in a 4-3 rain-shortened win over the Philadelphia Phillies. "It felt pretty good, I can't deny that," Bautista said. "More important, I felt like I was seeing the ball great."

--OF Moises Sierra Moises Sierra has been fielding ground balls at first base to prepare for the possibility of a bench spot. It's something he began working on during the winter. He is out of options. "We wanted to look at it a little bit," manager John Gibbons said. "If we got in a pinch, could he do it? How much he'll play? I wouldn't anticipate seeing a whole lot of it, but we're looking at it. He doesn't look too bad out there, but that's practice. Normally, everyone looks good in practice. When the game speeds up, it's a different story." The 25-year-old was solid with Toronto last year. After starting 0-for-13 after being called up from Triple-A Buffalo, he went on to hit .330 for the rest of the season, finishing at .290 with one homer, 13 RBIs and an OPS of .827 in 35 games.

--LHP Brett Cecil found a niche in the bullpen last season and took full advantage of it, going 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA and one save in 60 games and went to the All-Star Game for the first time. The 27-year-old completed his 2013 season a little early when he had shoulder soreness in September. "I just needed rest," Cecil said. "It was a combination of a different role, different workload and overdoing the (weighted) ball program a little bit." He returns for 2014 fully recovered and a little bit wiser. "I just don't want any red flags to be thrown up," he said, "but I am going to be a lot smarter about the time I take throwing. 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." Manager John Gibbons understands. "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."

--1B Edwin Encarnacion had season-ending surgery to clean out the cartilage on his left wrist last Sept. 19 said he does not expect it to be an issue in 2014. "I feel ready and ready to go," Encarnacion said. "It took almost seven weeks to be 100 percent. I didn't want to hurry my plan to recover, so I took my time to make sure it would be ready." He has had previous problems with the wrist and after the 2009 season had a large bone spur shaved off his hamate bone. He missed two months during the season with a fractured left wrist. "This time it (wasn't) a big surgery," Encarnacion said. "It was something for clean up, so I know I'm going to be all right. I knew before I came here, I knew I was ready to go, because I was hitting batting practice in the Dominican. I hit a couple of live BPs and my swing looked great. I'm not worried. I know I'm going to be all right."

--RF Jose Bautista has had his past two seasons end prematurely because of injury. In 2012 it was a tendon injury to his left wrist on a swing at the plate and in 2013 it was a bone bruise in his hip while crossing home plate. "I know that both injuries I had, the ones that actually took me out of the lineup for an extended period of time, were from impact plays or a freak accident with the wrist," he said. "It's not because I was neglecting my training regime or anything like that, but it is disappointing, and it is upsetting that I didn't get to go out there and finish the season with the team or finish strong. That has been the case in the last two years, so hopefully it doesn't happen again."

--3B Brett Lawrie worked on his flexibility during the winter in the hopes that hot yoga and hip stretching will help him get through 2014 without injury. The 24-year-old started 2013 on the disabled with a strained right oblique suffered during in an exhibition game with Team Canada to prepare for the World Baseball Classic. Next he went on the DL with a sprained left ankle. Lawrie is an all-out player but that can take a toll playing on the artificial turf at Rogers Centre and it might have hampered his return to form from injury. "That was tough for me," he said. "I'm trying to find a way to get it done, trying to help my teammates. But at the same time, I know I'm not at the top of my game where I need to be."

--INF Munenori Kawasaki, who is on a minor-league contract, spent some time in left field during an intrasquad game and he likely will see some more time there during spring training to increase his versatility. "If he can do it, it just makes his opportunities better on the team," manager John Gibbons said. "He's a good athlete, he can play out there. You'll see him out there a bit. How often? I'm not sure."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It'll be a tough decision for the coaching staff and front office to see how they do it. We were going down the list the other day and we're like ... him and him and this guy and that guy. It's crazy how it always seems to shake out but we've got all spring to see how things go." -- RHP Casey Janssen, the Blue Jays' closer on the depth of the bullpen entering spring training.
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