DUNEDIN, Fla. – One week into the spring training schedule, John Gibbons wants to see more before determining who will lead off for the Toronto Blue Jays. The manager continues weighing the speed of Kevin Pillar against the power of Michael Saunders.
“I like the thought of Kevin doing it, Pillar, we’ll see what he can do, but Michael’s still an option,” Gibbons said. “I wouldn’t over-read that.”
In fact, Gibbons doesn’t want to read too much into anything this time of year. There’s danger in evaluating established big leaguers on three or four-week samples against mixed competition.
“You’ve got to be careful with spring training. Some guys always have a good spring, some guys don’t,” Gibbons said. “It’s a different mentality. They’re more relaxed. Sometimes you have to base things off of spring training, but you’ve got to be careful with that, too.”
Pillar hit 12 home runs with 31 doubles and a .278 batting average last year, though his .314 on-base percentage was below the MLB average of .317. He wants to lead off and believes his aggressive approach would work since he’ll see plenty of strikes hitting in front of the Blue Jays’ power bats.
Meanwhile, Saunders has a career on-base percentage of .301, though he got on base at a .341 clip as recently as 2014. He says the knee that sidelined him in 2015 now feels 100 per cent and the results back that up. The left-handed hitter clubbed his third home run of the spring Monday.
“Hey, don’t use them all up,” Gibbons joked. “He’s confident. That’s big. He feels good and he’s got something to prove here. He wants to be a big part of this.”
No matter how the Blue Jays build their lineup, it will skew to the right. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki all bat right-handed, giving the Blue Jays at least four consecutive righties. Even if Saunders keeps hitting for power, he’s probably not going to break that group up.
As Gibbons points out, having a righty-heavy lineup wasn’t a problem when the Blue Jays outscored every team in baseball by 127 runs last year.
“Our righties can hit righties pretty good,” he said. “Occasionally you’ll run into a tough one that can shut us down and you’d like to have a lefty in there, maybe, but that’s not the way we’re built.”
BIAGINI ON THE RADAR:
Joe Biagini, a Rule 5 pick with a 95 mph fastball, has impressed early on.
“Good arm. Good curveball. I like everything I’ve seen,” Gibbons said. “He’s shown us a damned good arm.”
The Blue Jays have to keep Biagini on the roster or offer him back to the Giants. The way the right-hander’s been pitching so far, the Jays could be tempted to work out a deal to obtain him from San Francisco.
POWER BATS RETURN:
Jose Bautista will make his spring debut against the New York Yankees Thursday when he’s expected to DH.
Edwin Encarnacion took part in infield drills Tuesday and remains on track to debut by early next week.
“He’s proven in the past he doesn’t need a whole lot,” Gibbons said.
The Blue Jays delayed Bautista’s debut by choice, while Encarnacion had an abscessed tooth removed.
DICKEY FEELS GOOD:
Phil Niekro pitched 275 innings during his age-41 season and kept pitching until he was 48. The knuckleballer’s an inspiration for 41-year-old R.A. Dickey, but not necessarily a role model in terms of fitness.
“The only thing he did to stay in shape was play Ping-Pong,” Dickey joked. “We have a Ping-Pong table here, so maybe I’ll get after it.”
Dickey lost 12 pounds over the winter and says he feels better physically as a result.
GIBBONS ON TULOWITZKI:
“He’s a level-headed guy. I’ve said many times that he’s probably the most professional guy I’ve ever been around. He’s all business. He’s loosened up from when he first got here because he knows these guys. He’s all business when it starts. He’s a calming influence, he really is.”