PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Marco Estrada could make his spring debut within the week if he continues making progress from a stiff back.
Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said Wednesday that Estrada recently threw another side session and has tentative plans to face hitters in live batting practice Saturday. If all goes well, the right-hander could be pencilled in for a Grapefruit League start by Tuesday.
“Honestly in the last five to seven days it’s been much improved,” Walker said. “[Estrada] said he felt great after his side. The word [Wednesday] was that he felt great.”
If Estrada debuts next week, he’d have time to make four spring starts. Considering that the Blue Jays planned to ease the right-hander into spring training action even before his back stiffened up, the revised timetable could still work nicely.
“It all depends on how he’s feeling and throwing,” Walker said. "If everything progresses accordingly, he feels good, his arm feels great right now, so as long as he feels no ill effects from throwing, he’ll be out there.
“He’s very optimistic that he’s going to be able to break with us and he feels very good right now,” Walker continued.
Estrada pitched 181 innings last year, setting a career high. Including the playoffs, he surpassed the 200-inning threshold, so the Blue Jays intend to provide him with adequate rest leading into the season.
“He’ll be ready to get in a game before you know it,” manager John Gibbons said.
The Blue Jays’ fifth starter competition includes Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison, Jesse Chavez and Gavin Floyd. If Estrada’s progress continues, that group will continue battling for one rotation spot.
CECILIANI IN OUTFIELD MIX:
Outfielder Darrell Ceciliani was in the mix for the Blue Jays’ fourth outfield job before he hit a grand slam Tuesday, but the homer certainly didn’t hurt.
“He’s a hard-nosed kid, plays the game the right way, got some speed, a good outfielder and he swings the bat,” Gibbons said.
Acquired from the New York Mets over the winter, the left-handed hitting outfielder hopes to make the opening day roster, but if that’s not possible he wants to show Blue Jays decision makers he can contribute at some point in 2016.
“Obviously you want to break (camp with the team) and that’s the ultimate goal, but obviously that’s out of my control,” Ceciliani said. “To at least leave them feeling comfortable that I can fill in for somebody if something does happen in that role then I want to be ready to go do it.”
The Blue Jays are also considering Ezequiel Carrera, Domonic Brown and Junior Lake for the fourth outfield job.
GIRODO ON RADAR:
Left-hander Chad Girodo was on the Blue Jays’ radar as a potential call-up late last season, and has continued to pitch well this spring with another strikeout Tuesday. The Blue Jays are intrigued, especially with Aaron Loup unlikely to be ready for opening day.
“We’re looking for lefties,” Gibbons said. “He’s on the radar map. You’re always looking for lefties that get lefties out.”
Girodo was selected in the ninth round of the 2013 draft, two rounds after fellow pitching prospect Conner Greene. The Blue Jays did well late in that draft, selecting Matt Boyd in the sixth round and Kendall Graveman in the eighth round.
SUCCESS FOR HERNANDEZ:
Roberto Hernandez, a candidate to provide starting depth at triple-A, also pitched well Tuesday. The veteran right-hander logged two scoreless innings, striking out two batters thanks in part to a fastball in the 90-92 mph range. Alternatively, he has an opt-out date on March 28 and could explore free agency instead of accepting a minor league assignment.