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."
--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. Bautista 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." Bautista spent two months work out in Tampa with LF Melky Cabrera before arriving at spring training. They added some fun to their program by flipping tires, pushing cars and pulling sleds. "We had two workouts a day since Dec. 15," Bautista said. "One of the (workouts) was earlier in the day, and it was more functional stuff, more baseball-related strength and movement. Balancing our bodies and making sure we don't have any deficiencies in strength in one side of the body compared to the other. In baseball, every movement goes in one direction, so with so much repetitiveness you tend to get weaker on one side than the other. Then the other (workout), it was just pure strength and conditioning and speed and power. Working outdoors, doing more crazy weight-lifting and cross-fit-type workouts."
--OF 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 one-base-plus-slugging percentage 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."
--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 disabled list 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. I'm trying to find the balance between that and trying to slow everything down and not trying to press on it, it's tough. It starts to wear on your body a little differently. ... Once that starts, it makes my body just a little bit off. I've been working on a lot of flexibility and just trying to stay loose. That's the thing. My body's already wound tight enough as it is."
--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," Blue Jays 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.
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 Brett Cecil (sore left elbow) was sidelined in September due to a minor nerve issue. He is ready for spring training.
--1B Edwin Encarnacion (left wrist surgery in September 2013) had cartilage cleaned up. He is ready for spring training.
--LF Melky Cabrera (lower back surgery in September 2013) had a benign tumor removed from his spine. He is ready for spring training.
--RHP Brandon Morrow (entrapped radial nerve in right forearm) missed the final four months of the season. He resumed throwing in mid-October, and he arrived at spring training ready to go.
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- John Gibbons
- Edwin Encarnacion
- Melky Cabrera
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- Brett Lawrie
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