DUNEDIN, Fla. – Casey Janssen’s optimism stood in stark contrast to Brett Lawrie’s realism Monday, as the former found reason to believe he’ll be ready for Opening Day while the latter resigned himself to a stint on the disabled list to start the season.
“My command was really good today,” Janssen said after striking out the side during a crisp seventh in the Toronto Blue Jays’ 13-4 drubbing of the Philadelphia Phillies. “The command on my off-speed is important. I feel like, for the most part, my fastball command is always pretty good, but I’m not going to blow anybody away so I need to have everything working. The more I get on the mound, the more I challenge my arm.
“Opening Day is looking more and more realistic.”
The outing by Janssen, slated to be the club’s closer, was his second in a big-league game and both were sharp, helping to erase any lingering doubts.
“It’s definitely showing not only myself but the guys upstairs and (manager John Gibbons) that I’m close, if not ready,” said Janssen. “Whenever you put up a zero and come out of it pain-free, you’re in a good spot.”
Hours earlier, Lawrie conceded the DL made sense for him as he struggles to work his way back from the ribcage strain he suffered during a Mar. 6 exhibition game for Canada ahead of the World Baseball Classic.
The third baseman said while he feels no pain, and now has trouble locating the exact spot of the strain, his left side doesn’t feel as strong as his right side, and that time has run out to get himself up to game speed. The plan is for him to stay in Florida while scaling back his baseball activities to let the area fully heal.
“For the most part it just doesn’t feel like it should at 100 per cent and I feel like having to rush through so many at-bats and so many games in the next couple of days here, to do that is not it, because now you’re putting a month’s amount of pressure on that situation and that’s not what it needs,” said Lawrie, who seems to have learned caution from rushing a right oblique injury last year. “If anything, it just needs time and unfortunately time is not with us right now, we don’t have another two weeks to the season, I wish we did, because then we’d probably be all right. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing and give it time to do its thing.”
Lawrie said he had no timetable for a return to action, and wouldn’t rush things until his body was ready to play the hard and taxing style that is his trademark. He wants his mind free of doubt.
“Sure, you could go out there and suck it up for a few games but what happens when I have to go back to the manager and say yeah it’s sore and then I have to go through this whole process again,” he explained. “I’d rather get two birds with one stone, stay here, get this thing back to where it needs to be and then hopefully get back with my guys and get it going.”
The Blue Jays will go with a platoon of Maicer Izturis against right-handers and Mark DeRosa versus lefties at third base until Lawrie returns.
EE COMING ALONG: Edwin Encarnacion felt good after he resumed throwing and hit off a tee Monday, and is aiming for a return to action from a jammed right index finger after he takes batting practice Tuesday.
The Blue Jays first baseman hurt himself when he hit a ball off the end of the bat while playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic final against Puerto Rico, and it’s been steadily improving.
Though he feels ready to go after playing full games for the DR and locking in at the plate, he wants some more spring at-bats before the season starts, but not at the risk of suffering a setback.
“I just want to make sure I’ll be ready, I don’t want to start playing early and get worse,” he said. “I want to make sure that when I start playing, I want to be 100 per cent.”
JJ LOCKS IN: Josh Johnson was overpowering in his penultimate start of the spring, striking out eight batters while allowing just a walk and four hits in 5.1 shutout innings Monday.
More impressive was that he did it against a Phillies lineup featuring their regular season top five, including Ryan Howard, Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins.
“I threw a lot of good pitches out there today, just take that into the season,” said Johnson, who’s scheduled to start Saturday in Philadelphia. “Fastball location has been there pretty much the entire time, as long as you can do that, then you can start working on the other stuff, hone that in, sum everything up and get it going for the season.”
One point of progress for the right-hander has been with his new sinker, a pitch he employed “a lot” against the Phillies.
“It was good, threw them for strikes, threw a couple that ran off the plate and got a couple of swings,” said Johnson. “Hopefully I’ll get a lot of early outs and get deeper into games.”
JP MOVING ON UP: The absence of Brett Lawrie out of the gate means J.P. Arencibia will start higher up in the batting order, perhaps as high as fifth against left-handers and sixth against right-handers.
“I like him in the middle depending on righty/lefty on the mound, he might hit there behind Edwin (Encarnacion),” said Gibbons. “He’s always been an RBI guy, he seems to thrive with runners on, that’s when he’s at his best, he looks good there right now.”
Gibbons was particularly impressed with the way Arencibia used the whole field Monday, hitting home runs to dead centre and right-centre and a double to right, a couple of pitches after just missing another homer when he pulled a ball just left of the left-field foul pole.
“When I saw him early on, he was dead hook everything he was doing,” said Gibbons. “Every swing, he was trying to hit it a mile. Today, he got a couple of hits the other way, that’s what the good hitters do. You can’t be in hook mode all the time.
“But he’s got a lightning bat, he was drafted for that bat, he’s come a long way behind the plate, but he’s got a chance to be one of the best offensive catchers in the game. He’s already, in a lot of ways, at that point.”