DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Toronto Blue Jays feel that right-hander Marcus Stroman will be part of their rotation in the future and that it is just a matter of when.
The future might have inched a little closer for him when the Blue Jays failed to sign free-agent right-hander Ervin Santana, who expressed a preference to go to the more pitcher friendly National League and signed with the Atlanta Braves.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos refused to say how close he felt he was to a Santana deal. He does feel that he has some young, talented arms on the team who might have been given more time to develop if a pitcher like Santana had been signed. Right-hander Drew Hutchison has been impressive so far, but Anthopoulos also likes what he sees in Stroman.
"I think Marcus is ready to be up here, stuff-wise," Anthopoulos said. "I mean, can he work on his changeup? Probably a little bit more, sure, but for the most part he's ready to be up here. Do we have a spot? Is he performing to the level? Is he performing better than some of the other options? Those are all things we're going to have to make a decision on."
Stroman who was 9-5 with a 3.30 ERA in 20 starts at Double-A New Hampshire in 2013 and likely will open the season at Triple-A Buffalo. But without added depth, it pushed Stroman's major league debut a little closer.
"I'm not even concerned about that at all," Stroman said after allowing five hits and three runs -- one on a mammoth home run to center by outfielder Jeremy Moore -- over four innings in a no-decision in the Blue Jays' 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on March 12. "I'm just trying to get ready for the season. I'm doing everything I can to get my pitches exactly where they need to be so that when opening day comes I'm ready to pitch wherever that may be. That's what I'm concerned about."
One of the pitches he is trying to perfect is changeup to complement his good fastball. He used his circle change several times against the Rays but also continues to work on a split-fingered change in bullpen sessions.
Anthopoulos hoped to add a veteran starter and there had been rumors on the weekend that Santana's signing with the Blue Jays was imminent. Then the process began to drag on as other teams were mentioned. Anthopoulos was asked if he felt used in the process.
"No. No," he said. "That's probably the only thing I'm going to say. No."
--CF Colby Rasmus (stiff neck) returned to action for the first time since Feb. 28 when he played on March 11 against Canada's national junior team. He went 0-for-2 with a strikeout in the Blue Jays' 12-2 win. The neck improved after he had a cortisone and Novocain shot March 5. "I haven't really done much swinging up to this point." He said. "I just kind of got thrown into the game, but I played and felt good, so we'll go from there." Rasmus was 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI on March 12 in a 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
--LHP Ricky Romero continued to make his case for a spot in the rotation when he allowed two hits, two walks and one run while striking out three in four innings during the Blue Jays' 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on March 12. "He's heading in the right direction," said manager John Gibbons, who sees a return to confidence in the former ace who spent most of last season in the minors. He has a 1.29 ERA over seven innings in three spring training outings. "All I can do is go out there and pitch and audition," Romero said. "I got into a little bit of trouble in my second and third innings but I think I did a good job the way I finished." He said he has made a minor adjustment in his delivery. "We just shortened up my arm coming out of my glove," he said. "I think it's worked perfectly. You can tell the stuff is just moving all over the place."
--LF Melky Cabrera played center field for most of the 3-2, 10-inning win over the Detroit Tigers on March 11 at Lakeland and made a good running catch. He has not played center field since 2011. "Say one day you want to give (CF) Colby Rasmus a day off against a tough lefty or something, you could put Melky out there," manager John Gibbons said. "We wanted to see that today."
--INF Dan Johnson hit a two-run home run off RHP Joba Chamberlain in a 3-2, 10-inning win over the Detroit Tigers on March 11, the third home run in 14 at-bats for the 34-year-old who is at camp on a minor league contract. "I don't know how it's going to break, but that's what you want out of a bench guy," manager John Gibbons said. "You want a guy you can throw up there to strike some fear into you."
--LHP J.A. Happ who was expected to be in the rotation has been given a rest after he was having back problems in his first two spring training starts. "We just want to let him get healed up," manager John Gibbons said. "It shouldn't be too long and hopefully nip it in the bud. Those kinds of things if you keep pushing and you aggravate it, the next things you know you're on the DL and you're not ready to start the season." Happ threw a side session on March 11 and Gibbons said "everything was good."
--RHP Casey Janssen had yet to pitch in a spring training game but resumed throwing in the bullpen again on March 12. "It went great," pitching coach Pete Walker said. No date has been set for his first game action.
--RHP R.A. Dickey expressed his hope that the Blue Jays could sign free-agent RHP Ervin Santana but was not devastated when he signed with the Atlanta Braves. Santana said that he preferred to pitch in the National League. "It was going to be a bonus," Dickey said. "I don't feel like it was a necessity ever. It was just something that was going to give us some more depth and get some guys maybe some more time to get over some of the stuff that had been ailing them. But as far as feeling deflated, I wouldn't describe it as that for me personally." Dickey won the NL Cy Young Award with the New York Mets in 2012. "Can I see his preference?" Dickey said. "I certainly understand it. You get to face a pitcher every night, you don't have the DH and then the games are quicker and all that stuff, park's a little bit bigger. So, it makes sense logically for him on a one-year deal in particular. Unless you're at the point in your career where you really are interested in just challenging yourself and going to the team that's got the real good chance to win, it makes sense. The decision makes sense for the pitcher to choose the National League, because it's an easier league to pitch in. Period."
--RHP Dustin McGowan missed a scheduled start when he came down with a flu virus. He is recovering but no date had been set for a return. It was a similar virus to the one that hit RHP Sergio Santos earlier in camp.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we'll show how good we are when we break. I think the guys that we have tremendous upside but we would have loved to add someone just to have depth. If that had meant you can take a guy like Drew (RHP Hutchison) and send him down to have options and be your sixth starter, seventh starter, you're just stronger from an organizational standpoint but we weren't going to force deals and do things we really didn't believe made sense just to make a splash." -- Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos on failing to sign free-agent RHP Ervin Santana.
RHP R.A. Dickey
RHP Brandon Morrow
LHP Mark Buehrle
LHP J.A. Happ
RHP Todd Redmond or RHP Esmil Rogers
General manager Alex Anthopoulos was still trying to add a significant starter, most likely through free agency, as spring training opened. One of the offseason goals was to improve a rotation that struggled last season. There is at least more depth within the organization this season with youngsters RHP Drew Hutchison and RHP Kyle Drabek returning late last season from Tommy John surgery and prospects like RHP Marcus Stroman and LHP Sean Nolin having had one more year of minor league seasoning.
It would help if Morrow could stay healthy for a full season. He was limited to 10 starts last season (entrapped radial nerve) and 21 starts in 2012 (oblique). He has the potential to put together a season worthy of a staff ace. Depending on additions to the staff, Redmond, Rogers or Happ could wind up pitching as long men from the bullpen. RHP Dustin McGowan, whose career was interrupted by several seasons because of injury, also could be considered for starting role. RHP Chad Jenkins did not look out of place when given the chance to start last season.
RHP Casey Janssen (closer)
RHP Sergio Santos
LHP Brett Cecil
RHP Steve Delabar
RHP Dustin McGowan
LHP Aaron Loup
RHP Neil Wagner
RHP Esmil Rogers or RHP Todd Redmond or RHP Jeremy Jeffress.
The bullpen was the strength of the Blue Jays in 2013 and there remains depth in power arms that might be used for a possible trade. After two seasons of battling injuries, former White Sox closer Santos made an impressive return for the final two months of the season in 2013. Delabar and Cecil were selected for the All-Star Game off impressive performances, and Janssen excelled in his first full season as closer and shows no inclination to give up the job.
Depending on what happens with the rotation, Rogers and Redmond could become candidates for the bullpen as well, and they are out of options as are McGowan, Jeffress and LHP Luis Perez. This could create a logjam and require some difficult decisions. Jeffress, who also has been mentioned as a possible starter, has electric stuff and could be on the verge of being ready to harness it. Perez is returning from Tommy John surgery and he was performing well before he was injured in 2011.
1. SS Jose Reyes
2. LF Melky Cabrera.
3. 1B Edwin Encarnacion
4. RF Jose Bautista
5. DH Adam Lind
6. 3B Brett Lawrie
7. CF Colby Rasmus
8. C Dioner Navarro
9. 2B Ryan Goins or Maicer Izturis
The potential for a potent offense is there, but the concern is health. Reyes (ankle sprain), Cabrera (spine tumor), Bautista (back, ankle, hip bone bruise), Rasmus (oblique, left eye contusion), INF Maicer Izturis (ankle sprain) and Lawrie (oblique) all were sidelined for significant periods of time last season. Encarnacion has emerged over the past two seasons as a force in the lineup. Last season, he hit 36 homers with 104 RBIs and a batting average of .272, an on-base percentage of .370 and an OPS of .904 with 82 walks against 62 strikeouts. He is the fourth player in franchise history to have back-to-back seasons of more than 35 homers and 100 RBIs.
Navarro should be able to provide better plate appearances than the departed C J.P. Arencibia did in 2013. While with the Chicago Cubs, Navarro batted .300 with a .365 on-base percentage with 13 homers and 34 RBIs in 89 games during 2013. Arencibia batted .194 with a .227 OBP and hit 21 homers with 55 RBIs while striking out 148 times.
Second base will remain a question until Goins proves that he can hit in the majors and Izturis shows he is better all-around than he was last year. 2B Chris Getz, who was signed as a minor league free agent, provides some insurance.
TOP ROOKIES: 2B Ryan Goins showed superb defense when he played 34 games as the regular second baseman to finish out the season. He committed only one error and also made some brilliant defensive plays. But his hitting needed work and he addressed that during the offseason with new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and how much that helped will be key. RHP Marcus Stroman (9-5, 3.30 last season at Double-A New Hampshire) showed he is ready for a chance in the majors. He is a long shot to break from spring training with the major league club and likely will open with Triple-A Buffalo, but he should earn a call-up sometime during the season. If he continues to improve, it could be sooner rather than later. LHP Sean Nolin is coming off a good season at Buffalo and New Hampshire. He made one poor start with Toronto. Nolin could earn another promotion, but for a longer period.
--LHP J.A. Happ (sore back) threw in the bullpen March 11, but no date was set for his return.
--RHP Casey Janssen (sore right shoulder) resumed throwing in the bullpen March 12, but no date was set for his first outing of spring training.
--RHP Dustin McGowan (virus) missed a start but was recovering in mid-March. There was no date set for his return.
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