DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays intend to pair knuckleballer R.A. Dickey with a personal catcher this season and whomever it is will get the start on opening day, even if it’s not J.P. Arencibia.
Manager John Gibbons repeated his oft-stated mantra that a decision on whether Arencibia, the club’s starting catcher, will work with the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, when he said Wednesday that “we’re going to see how that goes.”
But then he added whomever catches Dickey must also catch his sides and that “they’ve got to spend a lot of time with Dickey because it’s an unusual and unique pitch, it’s a lot of work.”
“If there’s a pitcher on your staff that clearly works better with another catcher, you’d be stupid not to do it that way, you know?”
The candidates vying for the backup role, favourite Henry Blanco and Josh Thole, both have experience catching Dickey and both have had success with him. Dickey has a 2.52 ERA in seven games throwing to Blanco, and a 3.14 ERA in 66 games with Thole behind the dish.
Arencibia is expected to catch Dickey with the American team at the World Baseball Classic, but if the Blue Jays opt for one of the backups, Gibbons said he wouldn’t start Arencibia for opening day before switching off.
“No, no,” he said. “That is a big day and an exciting day, but if we’re better off with one of the other guys catching him, they’ll catch him. You’ve got to think about Dickey right there.”
Arencibia has been making a concerted effort to learn Dickey and his progress has opened some eyes, but said he would live with whatever decision the team made.
“You work hard, you want to be able to do it, but you have to understand, I’m not catching all 162 games,” he said. “If that’s the day I get off then that’s what happens. This year, and every year before, it’s about winning and as a competitor you want to be on the field, but also you have to understand as a man you can’t play every day and if that’s the way it goes and obviously they brought in some guys to catch and have experience with the knuckleball, then that’s OK.”
DICKEY’S DATE: R.A. Dickey is scheduled to throw two innings in his spring debut Monday when the Blue Jays host a Boston Red Sox split-squad at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
Josh Johnson is scheduled to follow him with two more frames, meaning a long afternoon is in store for the group the Red Sox send north from Fort Myers.
Ricky Romero starts the next day against Minnesota. Brandon Morrow pitches in Saturday’s Grapefruit League Opener against the Detroit Tigers at Lakeland, while Sunday Mark Buehrle starts at home against Baltimore and J.A. Happ leads a split-squad up to Tampa to face the Yankees.
TAKING IT SLOW: Casey Janssen threw another side session Wednesday as he continues to build up his shoulder following November surgery, with a progression to live hitters coming soon.
Pitching coach Pete Walker said the closer would need a couple of more side sessions before he starts throwing some live batting practice. The aim is to have him make his spring debut in mid-March to get him ready for the regular season.
“His schedule is subject to change at any time and we’re going to take it day by day, see how he’s feeling, our goal is to get him 100 per cent, whether it’s opening day, or seven days after that,” said Walker. “There’s going to be no rush to push him. If he’s going to be the closer in Toronto, we want him to be 100 per cent.”
Walker said the Blue Jays have prepared for the possibility that Janssen needs more time, with Sergio Santos a prime candidate to step into the role. The caution with Janssen is two-fold — they don’t want to risk a setback, but also, they don’t want to take any chances that his stuff isn’t fully back before using him when the game’s on the line.
“He needs to be able to go back-to-back days, he needs to be feeling great after those back-to-back days, because when we bring him up to Toronto and you’re pitching in front of 50,000 people, the expectations are high, the team’s ready to go, he wants to be 100 per cent,” said Walker. “We don’t want to put him in that situation where it’s a struggle the first week or two. We certainly wouldn’t do that to him. …
“He’s coming along at the pace doctors recommended and we’re going to stick to it. If there are any setbacks, we’ll go to Plan B. Right now he’s feeling good and he’s on schedule.”
SHORT HOPS: Expect Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to let his team run wild during Grapefruit League play in order to get a read on his players’ ability on the basepaths. “I’ve heard things, what happened last year, it’s got to be aggressive, everyone wants to be, but you’ve also got to be smart,” he explained. “You don’t want to run into outs, give up outs, we’ve got too good an offence to have to rely on just manufacturing runs. We’ve got guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark and drive the ball, we don’t want to end an inning with the wrong guy coming to the plate when we’ve got a chance to blow the game open with a stupid base-running play.” The Blue Jays made 65 outs on the bases (advancing on a fly ball, trying to take an extra base on a hit, getting doubled off on a line drive, or trying to advance on a wild pitch/passed ball), second most in the majors, and were caught stealing 41 times in 164 attempts (75 per cent) last season. They also made eight outs in 41 attempts in stealing third, tied with Baltimore for the big-league lead. “You should never get caught stealing third base with two outs, I don’t care who you are,” said Gibbons. “That should never happen.” … Brett Cecil is slated to throw two innings Sunday against the Yankees behind J.A. Happ because, “if he’s on the team it’s going to be in a longer role, probably,” said Gibbons. Happ is another possibility for that job. Aaron Loup isn’t seen as a candidate because he’s “primarily a situational type guy.” … Gibbons finally say Ricky Romero throw a bullpen Wednesday and came away impressed. “He looked really good today. He was in the strike zone, nice breaking ball and he felt good after it was all over. Last year is behind him, I think he’s going to have a great year, to be honest with you.”