CLEARWATER, Fla. – If the baseball season is a marathon, it follows that pacing is essential for success.
The Chicago Cubs cut back on batting practice last year. The New York Yankees are now encouraging players to sleep in. And on a smaller scale, the Toronto Blue Jays are finding ways to ease their players into spring training action.
The day after announcing that Jose Bautista’s spring debut would be delayed by a week or ten days, manager John Gibbons explained the decision to start established stars off slowly. Talks with Bautista and the team’s newly added high-performance department led to the conclusion that less is more.
“It’s really perfect for him. He’s on board,” Gibbons said. “The key is we’ve just got to be able to get him enough at bats and we should be able to.”
Gibbons estimates that 60 at bats should be enough for Bautista to establish his timing. That gives the Blue Jays flexibility to rest their 35-year-old right fielder and prevent any aches and pains from arising prematurely. Even if Bautista makes his debut seven to ten days after his teammates, he'll still have plenty of time for spring games.
After speaking to Troy Tulowitzki about the spring routines he established as a member of the Colorado Rockies, the Blue Jays decided to delay his spring debut until Toronto’s fourth game.
In theory that logic could apply to other Blue Jays regulars, since the entire team played deep into October. But Josh Donaldson told the Blue Jays he’s ready to go and the Blue Jays aren’t as concerned about wear and tear for younger players like 27-year-old Kevin Pillar.
PLAYING TIME FOR POMPEY: Dalton Pompey can steal bases and provide above-average defence, but Gibbons doesn’t see him as a logical candidate for the Blue Jays’ bench.
“If he’s not an everyday player right now, especially at the beginning of the season, he needs to be playing,” Gibbons said. "Otherwise you stunt the growth a little bit, since he’s that young and he’s still polishing his game. That makes the most sense to me. He’s got a chance to be really good. He needs to be playing one way or the other.”
Between the minor and the big leagues Pompey picked up 546 plate appearances in 130 games last year, his first extended stint in the upper minors. As a player with minor league options remaining, the Blue Jays can shuttle Pompey back and forth between triple-A and the MLB level.
If healthy, Michael Saunders will start in left field for the Blue Jays, leaving one bench spot open for a group of outfielders including Pompey, Ezequiel Carrera, Junior Lake and Domonic Brown.
PITCHING SCHEDULE: R.A. Dickey will start the Blue Jays' spring home opener Wednesday followed by rotation candidates Aaron Sanchez and Jesse Chavez. Beyond that, Gavin Floyd, J.A. Happ and Drew Hutchison are the next scheduled starters for Toronto.
The Blue Jays haven't yet determined when Marco Estrada will make his spring debut, but he continues to make progress from back stiffness and threw off of flat ground Monday. Gibbons also expressed optimism that Aaron Loup’s forearm soreness will soon subside.
Marcus Stroman opened the Blue Jays' spring schedule Tuesday against the Philadelphia Phillies.