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Without added depth, Jays forced to rush Stroman

The SportsXchange

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."

NOTES, QUOTES

--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.
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