Jays Notebook: Gibbons declares team ready

Dickey has clearly done his homework on his teammates, as he mentioned Mark Buehrle’s 12-year streak of at least 200 innings, Josh Johnson’s 2010 ERA title, and Brandon Morrow’s recent success. (CP/Chris Young)

Manager John Gibbons declared the Toronto Blue Jays ready for the 2013 season before a workout at Rogers Centre Monday. While third baseman Brett Lawrie continues to rehab from a rib cage injury, the 25 players assembled in Toronto are ready to get started in Gibbons’ estimation.

“It’s a good looking team,” he said, before Blue Jays participated in a variety of on-field drills. “They’re ready to go. They’re all in shape. It was such a long spring anyway and they’re all excited to get this thing going.”

Gibbons repeated that the Blue Jays expect to win in 2013, after an off-season of moves designed to build a team capable of contending now. He has told his team to focus on playing soundly and blocking out external expectations.

“I told them ‘Listen, we’ve got a good ballclub, there’s a lot expected out of us, don’t get caught up in all of the hype. Don’t get distracted by it is what I meant. We’ve still got to go out there and play baseball — play good baseball.”

Gibbons will call on R.A. Dickey to start Tuesday, when the Blue Jays begin their season against the Cleveland Indians. The knuckleballer said he’s pleased to get the nod for the opener — especially on such an accomplished staff.

“It’s a real honour obviously,” he said. “And it’s an honour for me because of the guys that we have on this staff.”

Dickey has clearly done his homework on his teammates, as he mentioned Mark Buehrle’s 12-year streak of at least 200 innings, Josh Johnson’s 2010 ERA title, and Brandon Morrow’s recent success. Morrow will start on Wednesday, followed by Buehrle, Johnson and fifth starter J.A. Happ.

Never one to deny his shortcomings, Dickey acknowledged that he has wondered if he’ll be able to replicate the season he had in 2012. He won the National League Cy Young Award a year ago, and will now attempt to match that success in the American League.

“You battle the demons that come with ‘can you do it again?’ and ‘is this who you really are?’” he said. “It’s the same demons that we all battle in our lives and in this particular sense I feel like I’ve grown into the place where I know what to expect out of myself.”

Adding another trophy to his collection isn’t his priority.

“I’m not going to say I’m going to win another Cy Young. The worst thing I could do is go out there and try to be a Cy Young Award winner every time. I just want to do the same thing that I’ve always done and that’s put up quality starts for 34 starts. Some are better than quality starts, and some are worse, but at the end of the year you look back and hopefully you had a season like I had last year.”

If Gibbons and the Blue Jays get their way, Dickey will deliver the first of those quality starts on Tuesday against the Indians.

LAWRIE TO PLAY CATCH: Lawrie, who sustained a rib cage injury preparing for the World Baseball Classic, was scheduled to start playing catch again Monday in Florida. Gibbons sounded cautiously optimistic that the third baseman could return to Toronto before long.

“He’s doing better,” Gibbons said. “Today he’s going to start throwing again down there, moving around a little bit. We just backed him off. He didn’t re-injure it at all but we thought we were rushing him too much.”

Gibbons said the Blue Jays hope to get Lawrie in a minor league game by the weekend. It’s possible he could return to the Blue Jays within a couple of weeks. However, the club won’t rush the 23-year-old back into action.

“We’re going to be smart with him,” Gibbons said.

HEALTHY BULLPEN: Casey Janssen is ready to go and will close tomorrow if the Blue Jays have a save opportunity, Gibbons said. The manager named Steve Delabar, Sergio Santos and Darren Oliver as late-inning alternatives on days when Janssen isn’t available.

“We could use any of them to be honest with you,” Gibbons said. “Sergio could do it. Delabar hasn’t done it but he’s a guy now and in the future who could fill in there and, of course, you can always rely on Oliver.”

Santos, who experienced some triceps soreness during the spring, said he feels good from a health standpoint — better than he did this time last year. The right-hander underwent shoulder surgery last April after pitching in six games and missed the remainder of the season.

MORROW LOOKS AHEAD: Morrow, the team’s No. 2 starter, said he’ll enjoy Tuesday’s opener without focusing too much on his upcoming start. Known for his analytical approach to pitching, Morrow said he’ll plan for Wednesday’s season debut by watching.

“I’ll just be doing my regular preparation,” he said. “I don’t really get into it that much as far as facing opposing batters and that sort of thing. Mainly I just go off of past experience, I won’t look at numbers too much at all.”

Morrow said he has faced most of the Indians’ lineup in past seasons. The right-hander sounded content to adapt on the fly against newcomers such as outfielder Michael Bourn and young players like second baseman Jason Kipnis.

LOFTY EXPECTATIONS: Gibbons has noticed that there’s additional attention on the Blue Jays this year. Heightened awareness surrounds the team heading into the 2013 season.

“I don’t want to say it’s out of control, but everywhere you go it’s pretty amazing,” he said.

Dickey said he’s excited to pitch in front of a large crowd at Rogers Centre on opening night. While he doesn’t expect to have trouble focusing on the task at hand, others could be surprised by the noise.

“I can imagine that the young ones would need earplugs from time to time,” he joked.

Morrow will pitch on the second night of the season in front of what will presumably be a smaller crowd. Nevertheless he’s looking forward to getting started.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “The pageantry and all the excitement that opening day and that first day brings. Finally seeing some fans in the stadium after spring training games and getting that extra bit of energy out of that.”

GIAMBI’S SCOUTING REPORT: The Blue Jays caught Jason Giambi’s attention during the off-season. The 42-year-old said Toronto made a definite push to be the best team in the American League East.

“That’s a great team. They really put together a powerhouse over there. It’ll be fun to see them,” Giambi said.

Giambi, who signed in Cleveland after three-plus seasons with the Colorado Rockies, endorsed Alex Anthopoulos’ winter work.

“Adding to Bautista and the rest of the guys — wow, it’s going to be exciting to watch,” he said.

ARENCIBIA’S DEFENCE: Though J.P. Arencibia has a reputation as an offence-first catcher, his manager repeated that he’s impressed with what he has seen from Arencibia on defence. Gibbons repeated that he’s “very comfortable” with Arencibia catching Dickey, and the knuckleballer seems equally comfortable with his new receiver. Dickey said he’s looking forward to throwing to Arencibia, especially after working together throughout the spring.

“If the W.B.C. hadn’t happened, J.P. would not be catching me,” Dickey said.

Gibbons offered some thoughts on Arencibia’s offence Monday, suggesting that he’d like to see the 27-year-old hit to all fields instead of pulling the ball.

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