March 2008

Rolen, Ryan won't break with Jays

SARASOTA, Fla. – Blue Jays manager John Gibbons confirmed this evening that closer B.J. Ryan and third baseman Scott Rolen will not break camp with the team. Rolen is out for at least a couple weeks and Ryan won’t be available until at least mid April.

Rolen suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right middle finger during a fielding drill on Sunday and had surgery to insert a pin in the finger. Rolen also lost the finger nail, so he can’t throw a baseball for the time being. After two weeks, Rolen will have the pin removed, but it’ll take more time for him to come back.

Ryan will remain in Florida and build up to the point where he can at least pitch every other day. Gibbons said the Jays would consider bringing him up before he could go on consecutive days. For now, Scott Downs is the primary setup man. Looks like both Rolen and Ryan are headed to the disabled list.

Some other little notes: Shaun Marcum is appearing second today for the Jays. LHP Jesse Carlson, who is in the mix for a bullpen job, is starting so he can face Cincy’s A hitters. … With Rolen out, Gibbons said OF Buck Coats could snag the last roster spot for Toronto. … C Gregg Zaun didn’t make the trip, because there’s no DH for today’s game. Catching prospect Brian Jeroloman is behind the dish.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (9-14) at CINCINNATI (12-14-1)
at 7:05 p.m. ET at Ed Smith Stadium

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Buck Coats, LF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Vernon Wells, CF
Marco Scutaro, 3B
Matt Watson, RF
Chip Cannon, 1B
Brian Jeroloman, C
Jesse Carlson, P

REDS
Corey Patterson, CF
Jeff Keppinger, SS
Ken Griffey Jr., RF
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Adam Dunn, LF
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
Scott Hatteberg, 1B
Chris Kroski, C
Homer Bailey, P

Johnson released

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Only a few items remained in the near-empty locker that sat behind where Reed Johnson stood. The outfielder spent Sunday morning packing up his belongings at Knology Park after learning that he had been released by the Blue Jays.

The news didn’t come as a shock for Johnson, who had prepped himself for a change of scenery every since Toronto brought veteran outfielder Shannon Stewart into camp on a Minor League contract in February. There wasn’t going to be room on the roster for both players, so Johnson understood the odds.

"I prepared myself for it," Johnson said. "In my mind, I’ve been released a couple times already. Once we signed Stew, it was one of those situations where the two of us, I think, we’re prepared for either a release or a trade."

Since Johnson was given his unconditional release, the Blue Jays are only responsible for roughly $500,000 of the $3.275 million he was scheduled to make in 2008. When Stewart is transferred to Toronto’s 25-man roster, his salary will rise to $1.5 million, with the potential to earn another $250,000 in performance bonuses this season.

Check bluejays.com for more in a bit. Heading back down to the clubhouse…

Today’s lineups:

PHILADELPHIA (10-13-1) at TORONTO (9-13)
at 1:05 p.m. ET at Knology Park

PHILLIES
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Shane Victorino, CF
Chase Utley, 2B
Ryan Howard, DH
Chris Snelling, LF
Geoff Jenkins, RF
Pedro Feliz, 3B
Eric Bruntlett, 1B
Carlos Ruiz, C

PITCHING: LHP Cole Hamels

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Aaron Hill, 2B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Marco Scutaro, 3B
Rod Barajas, C

PITCHING: RHP A.J. Burnett

Happy Easter everyone.

UPDATE: From talking with GM J.P. Ricciardi this morning, it was clear that the Jays tried and would’ve preferred to trade Reed Johnson rather than just release him. The problem was, teams still had concerns about Johnson’s health. … Ricciardi also came as close as he was willing to come to saying Randy Wells was on the roster. Ricciardi said the Jays didn’t want to risk losing guys (meaning via Rule 5 rules, option issues, waivers), so based on that, it looks like the bullpen on Opening Day will include: Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, Brandon League, Brian Tallet, Jason Frasor, Brian Wolfe and Randy Wells.

The Thomas Situation

Dsc01611_1TAMPA – Blue Jays manager John Gibbons doesn’t worry about his players’ contracts or what is or is not included in them. As far as Gibbons is concerned, he’s responsible for the daily lineup card and general manager J.P. Ricciardi can handle the paperwork.

"That’s his department. I don’t get involved in that contract stuff. I don’t want to know about any of that stuff," Gibbons said.

When it comes to veteran slugger Frank Thomas’ situation, though, Gibbons may have to start taking contract issues into consideration this year. When asked if he wanted to know how many plate appearances Thomas needed to kick in a guaranteed $10 million salary for 2009, Gibbons laughed and replied, "No."

Well, the Big Hurt needs just 376 plate appearances this year to secure that double-digit salary for ’09. His contract included a vesting option for the $10 mil that kicks in if Thomas reaches 1,000 PAs between 2007-08. He had 624 PAs last year — his first with the Jays.

If Thomas has another slow start to the season, the Blue Jays may want to consider how close they want him to come to guaranteeing a third year in Toronto. Now, we’re kind of getting ahead of ourselves here by even bringing the topic up, but it is something to at least keep in the back of our minds.

Gibbons isn’t too worried about it right now.

"First of all, we expect him to hit," Gibbons said on Saturday. "That’s the thing. I can’t comment on it other than that. He’s here to be our DH."

Gibbons wasn’t shy about saying that Thomas hasn’t had a good spring, though.

"No, he hasn’t," Gibbons said. "His timing is off and he’s a little off-balance at the plate, but from everything I’ve understood, from talking to other people, too, he never really has. Spring Training has never been his thing."

This spring, he’s managed a .088 average, .118 slugging and .088 on-base for the Jays. Last season, Thomas hit .217 in the season’s first 55 games, but he turned it on over the final 100, batting .308 over that span and winding up with a .277 mark with 26 homers and 95 RBIs when it was all said and done.

"We expect him to be in there every day producing. That’s all I can bank on," Gibbons said.

This isn’t really much of a story at this point, considering it’s still Spring Training and we have yet to see what kind of start Thomas has in the season. Now, if Thomas’ offense is struggling come May, that’s when this plate appearances/$10 million 2009 salary thing will be more of an issue.

Hey, an injury could even stop Thomas from reaching that 376 figure — who knows? Maybe we should just take it from Hurt himself. He’s had slow starts throughout his career, so this spring slump is really nothing new. A slow April wouldn’t be anything unfamiliar, either.

Even with all the slow starts, he’s still a .300 career hitter.

"Things will take off," Thomas said recently. "Me? I’m not going to worry about anything, because I’m more of a timing guy. Once my timing is set, I’m set for the rest of the year. That’s just the way I am. It just takes time to get going, but once it gets going it stays. It’s been like that my whole career."

ON ANOTHER NOTE: Game here in Tampa today was canceled due to rain. Awh, maaaaan, now I HAVE to leave the ballpark and sit around and watch college basketball. Randy Wells had a solid, though brief, outing. Gibbons said the righty will probably pitch again on Monday. The relievers that didn’t get into today’s game — John Parrish, Mike Gosling, Shawn Camp — will have to get their work in a Minors game tomorrow. McGowan’s line today: 6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 8 K, 1 BB vs. Triple-A Lehigh Valley (Phillies).

Decisions looming

TAMPA – Just got back from a pregame chat with Jays manager John Gibbons — OK, I’m lying, I JUST got back from lunch, but we did talk with Gibby about a few items this morning.

Of note is the fact that Gibbons said the Jays should have their roster set before the team heads to Philadelphia for a pair of exhibition games (March 28-29). Gibbons added that a decision on whether to keep Shannon Stewart or Reed Johnson on the roster will probably be made in the next few days.

Gibbons said that a few teams had contacted the Jays about possible trade scenarios for either Johnson or Stewart, so that’s one possibile way that the situation will be resolved. Toronto’s manager said he felt it would be best for the two players to come to a decision soon.

Gibbons also said that he heard catcher Sal Fasano’s comments about being unwilling to accept a Minor League assignment: "I heard that he said he wouldn’t go to Triple-A. I can’t blame him. I really couldn’t. I mean, there’s no playing time for him down there anyway. I’d love to see him get an opportunity somewhere else."

While the Jays are in Philly, Gibbons said pitchers A.J. Burnett and Shaun Marcum will remain in Florida to get some work in. Dustin McGowan pitched in a Minors game this morning, but there’s still no word on how he did just yet. It’s been sprinkling here, so we’ll see how much of this game is squeezed in between the rain drops.

More later…

The Three Stooges

TAMPA – So Ruts, Griff and I are the first three Toronto scribes to arrive here at Legends Field this morning. Actually, we’re the only three guys sitting in the pressbox at the moment.

So, with plenty of seats open and available at this early hour, where do us three plop down? How about bunched together in a row, right behind a big section of wall divider between the pressbox windows. So I’m keeping an eye on the right side of the field, while Griff can keep an eye on the left side of the field. I’m not sure Ruts can see any of the diamond — like he’d be watching anyway.

What a bunch of idiots we are.

"I have a perfect view of the first and third base coaches," Ruts just informed me.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (9-13) at NEW YORK (12-7-2)
at 1:15 p.m. ET at Legends Field

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Frank Thomas, DH
Aaron Hill, 2B
Shannon Stewart, LF
Marco Scutaro, 1B
Rod Barajas, C

PITCHING: RHP Randy Wells, others

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Jason Giambi, 1B
Jorge Posada, C
Hideki Matsui, DH
Shelley Duncan, LF
Chris Woodward, 2B

PITCHING: RHP Jonathan Albaladejo, others

Dustin McGowan is pitching in a Minor League game today, furthering Toronto’s efforts to hide their starters from the Yanks. New York is following suit, having Andy Pettitte pitch in a Minors game, too.

Word is that tomorrow’s Jays’ starter A.J. Burnett finally has that fake nail on his index finger. So we might get to see some curveballs in his outing against the Phillies on Sunday.

Don’t foget to tune in tonight to cheer on my Michigan State Spartans against Pitt at 9:10 p.m. ET. I have a bad feeling that this could be the end of the road for the boys in green…let’s hope not.

Tiger Town

LAKELAND, Fla. – Back here at lovely Joker Marchant Stadium for the final time this spring. Hard to believe wer’e in the home stretch here. At least on my end, this spring has flown by. Can’t believe I board a plane outta Florida in one week.

This is where Spring Training began for Jesse Litsch, who was roughed up in his Grapefruit League debut here back in February. Litsch takes the hill here again, now as the clear favorite for the fifth starter’s job. Still no official word, of course, but Litsch appears to be the guy.

Before I head down to look around for some pregame notes, here are…

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (8-13) at DETROIT (11-11-2)
at 1:05 p.m. ET at Joker Marchant Stadium

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, CF
Shannon Stewart, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Rod Barajas, 1B
Matt Watson, DH
John McDonald, SS
Hector Luna, 3B
Sal Fasano, C
Ryan Klosterman, 2B

PITCHING: RHP Jesse Litsch

TIGERS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Gary Sheffield, DH
Magglio Ordonez, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Carlos Guillen, 1B
Jacque Jones, LF
Ryan Raburn, 2B
Brandon Inge, SS

PITCHING: LHP Dontrelle Willis

Anybody’s brackets jacked up after Day 1 of the tourney? I had USC and Georgia at least through to the second round — ah, well. At least my Michigan State Spartans took down Temple! Pitt’s going to be a tough second-round matchup, though. Go Green.

UPDATE — 6:39 pm: Gonna admit, I’m not feeling a whole postgame blog post here today — sorry guys. There’s a long drive ahead and tourney basketball at the end of the rainbow. I will say that Reed Johnson and Shannon Stewart had some good things to say today about their left-field battle and Sal Fasano talked some about his situation. B.J. Ryan threw on a mound as well and Litsch looked great — sans two mistakes — against the Tiggers. For all the info, check bluejays.com in a bit for the stories I just filed. Catch you tomorrow from Tampa…

Ryan in holding pattern

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Blue Jays have decided to hold closer B.J. Ryan out of spring games for the time being. Ryan experienced some minor soress — nothing more than normal fatigue, according to GM J.P. Ricciardi — after his last outing and Toronto wants to take a cautious approach with his comeback.

Ricciardi said Ryan will continue to throw on flat ground, but there’s no indication as to when he might appear in another spring game. With less than two weeks remaining in camp, it’s looking more and more doubtful that Ryan is going to break with the team.

"We’re not going to take him unless he can be B.J.," Ricciardi said, "where we use him three or four times a week. If he can’t do that, then we’ll just let him stay down here, let him keep pitching and eventually he’ll be ready at some point. When he’s ready, we’ll take him."

"For us to sit here and say he was going to be here on Opening Day," he added later, "we never threw that date out there and I don’t think it was fair to him to throw that date out there. I think it’s important that he just keeps getting better and he feels good."

Talked to Ryan and he indicated that the soreness was in his left forearm and biceps — not near where he had surgery. He also said that he felt it’d be "selfish" to rejoin the bullpen if he couldn’t pitch at least every other day. I say he doesn’t leave Florida with the team. We’ll see what happens.

Today’s lineups:

NEW YORK (10-7-2) at TORONTO (8-12)
at 1:05 p.m. ET at Knology Park

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, LF
Melky Cabrera, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Hideki Matsui, DH
Shelley Duncan, RF
Wilson Betemit, 1B
Cody Ransom, SS
Jose Molina, C
Nick Green, 3B

PITCHING: RHP Ian Kennedy

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Frank Thomas, DH
Matt Stairs, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Gregg Zaun, C

PITCHING: RHP Kane Davis, LHP Brett Cecil, RHP Brandon League, RHP Jeremy Accardo, RHP Jason Frasor, RHP Brian Wolfe

CONGRATS: Former Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar was elevated to the club’s Level of Excellence on Thursday and, in a conference call with the media, Alomar said, should he be voted into the Hall of Fame, he’d want to go in with a Toronto hat on his plaque.

Four Locked In

TalletFORT MYERS, Fla. – For those keeping track at home, Jays manager John Gibbons has now issued two official votes of confidence for relievers this spring. Of course, it’s all talk until that final Opening Day roster is announced.

Much like he did a couple weeks ago for RHP Jason Frasor, though, Gibbons declared that LHP Brian Tallet’s place in Toronto’s bullpen was secure. Counting shoo-ins RHP Jeremy Accardo and LHP Scott Downs, that narrows the race down to three vacant slots.

I say three because, while I’m assuming RHP Brandon League is a lock, especially now that RHP Casey Janssen is done for the year, I won’t consider him thus until the Blue Jays say so. I’m also sticking with three because, while LHP B.J. Ryan has stormed back in his attempt to return from an elbow injury in time for Opening Day, I’m not buying it 100 percent that he does in fact break with the team.

So, that’s three spots in a seven-man bullpen — both Gibbons and GM J.P. Ricciardi have indicated that’s the makeup — up for grabs between Ryan, League, LHP John Parrish, RHP Randy Wells, RHP Brian Wolfe, and RHP Armando Benitez. So let’s get right to it.

The Jays have been high on Parrish all spring, even considering him as a starter briefly not long ago. Now, the Jays like him as a long man, or a guy who can come in and go after lefties. Basically, Parrish could help out in case Downs has to pitch more in the eighth on days Accardo fills in as the closer (Gibby insists Ryan won’t go back-to-back in the first month).

From talking with Gibbons, if Ryan doesn’t make the cut, it almost seems a given that Parrish makes it. If Ryan does, Gibbons said he still likes the idea of having four lefties in the ‘pen to help out against the tough lefty hitters in the American League — East especially.

Among the righties, Wolfe hasn’t been discussed too much, so I’m not sure how high he is on the list of candidates. Right now, just simply from names being tossed around, I’d say the Jays are leaning more toward League and Wells. Remember, Wells is a Rule 5 pick, and would be likely be lost to the Cubs if he doesn’t make the Jays.

There’s also Benitez, who Frank Thomas says "is ready! wow!" Thomas’ opinion aside, Benitez doesn’t have a proper work visa yet and there’s no indication about when he might appear in his first Grapefruit League game. That being the case, I just don’t know how realistic it is — with less than two weeks left in the spring slate — for him to break with the club.

If the Jays open the year without Ryan in the fold, they could afford to take a chance with Wells, because Wolfe has options and can be sent down. If Ryan is in the bullpen come Opening Day, I don’t see how Wells or Wolfe make the cut.

So here’s my thoughts on it right now:

WITHOUT RYAN:

Accardo, Downs, Tallet, Frasor, League, Parrish, Wells

WITH RYAN:

Ryan, Accardo, Downs, Tallet, Frasor, League, Parrish

ON ANOTHER NOTE: Gibbons had a great quote about the pregame standoff between the Red Sox players, the MLB Players’ Association and MLB. Gibbons said he was actually happy to see players stand up for their coaches — that the minor "strike" could only be beneficial in the long run:

"You don’t expect to see that, but I was kind of glad it happened and I was kind of impressed with those guys. Not only are they a very talented team, they’ve got something special over there. That’s a team. They stuck their necks out for the coaching staff — those guys they admire and stand by — and that helps us all. There’s only two teams that can get away with that: Boston and New York. That’s good to see."

Taking a stand

FORT MYERS, Fla. – No word on whether this game between the Red Sox and Jays is going to actually be played. Word quickly swept through the park that Boston’s players were going to boycott the game — possibly the trip to Japan even — after word that the coaches and staff members weren’t being given shares for the journey overseas.

The players from the Red Sox and A’s are receiving $40K each for the Japan tour, but apparently the coaches are not getting any flow. That wasn’t the case in 2004, when the Yankees and Devil Rays had Opening Day in Japan. Prior to the game, Jays team rep Vernon Wells met with Boston’s Kevin Youkilis to talk about the matter.

"They’re looking out for their coaches and the staff and the manager," Wells said. "That’s part of baseball, looking out for each other. When the Yankees and Devil Rays took their trip, everybody got their share and everybody was happy. You just have to treat everybody the same no matter what your label is.

"With the World Series shares, everybody gets the same thing. This should be no different. Obviously, they’re trying to take a stand and they’re going to make it known that it’s not fair to those guys. We’ll see what happens."

At exactly 12:08 p.m. ET, the PA announcer here at City of Palms Park had this to say: "The game today is delayed because of a dispute between the Boston Red Sox players and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association and Major League Baseball…" At that, the fans here erupted in a hearty chorus of boos.

If the issue isn’t resolved by 12:30, the Red Sox said they’d come out and sign autographs for fans down both the first- and third-base lines. From my seat in the pressbox, I can see Wells in the dugout without a uniform on yet. He’s the third guy due up. Hmmmm.

Stay tuned for more…

UPDATE — 12:51: First pitch has been scheduled 1:10 and the Red Sox starter will be David Aardsma. Dice-K has moved over to the Minor League complex and will make his start there. No word on what kind of resolution was made here, but looks like it’s game on.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (7-12) at BOSTON (7-12)
at 1:10 p.m. ET at City of Palms Park

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Shannon Stewart, DH
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Gregg Zaun, C
Reed Johnson, LF

PITCHING: LHP Brian Tallet, LHP John Parrish, RHP Randy Wells, others

RED SOX
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
David Ortiz, DH
Jacoby Ellsbury, LF
Mike Lowell, 3B
J.D. Drew, RF
Kevin Cash, C
Coco Crisp, CF
Julio Lugo, SS

PITCHING: RHP David Aardsma

NOTES: Reports are that LHP B.J. Ryan felt fine during his normal throwing routine (flat ground, long toss) on Tuesday and felt fine today. Still, manager John Gibbons and bullpen coach Bruce Walton couldn’t confirm if Ryan was scheduled to pitch as scheduled on Thursday. … RHP Armando Benitez is barred from pitching in a Grapefruit League game until he obtains a proper working visa. No word on when that might be. … RHP Casey Janssen underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder on Tuesday and a team spokesman said the operation was a success.

QUOTABLE: During the lengthy delay during the little labor dispute this morning/afternoon, and no word if there was going to be a game or not, Red Sox staffers began tossing out foam fingers to appease the fans. "They’re giving the fans the finger," quipped Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star.

Shameless Plug

Dicek_1FORT MYERS, Fla. – I’m currently watching the sun rise over the right-field bleachers here at lovely City of Palms Park. It’s a little before 8 a.m. and I’m one of the only dedicated scribes in the pressbox — the only Jays writer here at the moment.

Normally, I wouldn’t be at the yard until around 9 or 10ish for a noon spring game like this, but I had to act as chauffeur for MLB.com’s Red Sox beat guy Ian Browne, since he has some flight to Japan or something after the game and had to turn in his rental car yesterday.

Since he had to be here at around 7:30 this morning, I volunteered to give him a ride and now I’m just killing time in the pressbox. I crashed at Brownie’s pad last night after dining with the enemy. Some Boston writers, myself, Brownie and MLB.com’s Kelly Thesier (Twins writer and member of the Michigan State Mafia — a former classmate of mine, at that) got together at a killer Mexican joint in town.

My "shameless plug" is for Brownie’s new book: Dice-K — The First Season of the Red Sox $100 Million Man. Why the plug? Well, because if it’s written by Browne, it’s sure to be a good read, and because the man was kind enough to present me with my very own autographed copy when I arrived at his place last night.

First and foremost, though, I think it’s only fair for me to point out that his introduction in the book, detailing Matsuzaka’s reaction after a poor showing in an October 15 outing against the Indians in the ALCS last year, was based around the hard work of yours truly, who was down in the trenches of the Jacobs Field clubhouse that night.

When I flipped open to the dedication page, I was hoping for a "To Jordan Bastian. Without his intrepid reporting during the 2007 playoffs, this book would not have been possible." Alas, no such luck. Ah, well. I mean, Brownie WAS there that night at Fenway and DID sort of do some of his own legwork for the book. Maybe next time…

The Jays haven’t arrived here yet and probably won’t for another hour or so. So no lineups just yet. Casey Janssen was set to undergo surgery on his right shoulder either today or yesterday — we’ll find out about that today. Most of the "A" squad should be here for today’s game, but Shaun Marcum will be back in Dunedin starting in a Minor League tilt. Gotta keep him hidden.

More later…

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