Blue Jays’ Stroman trying to be ready for start of MLB season

Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker discusses the many names battling for the club's bullpen spots, a race that could get very interesting.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Early Saturday morning, on a Dunedin Stadium backfield, Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman took an important step in his pursuit to be ready for the beginning of the season.

After two consecutive days of catch, the right-hander played long toss on flat ground for the first time since he was shut down in late February, reporting no discomfort as he continues to recover from right shoulder inflammation.

“He felt great,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.

The next step for Stroman will be to throw off a mound in a bullpen session, something he and the club expects to happen early next week. If he clears that hurdle without issue, Stroman can progress to pitching in a game. His first appearance of spring will likely come on the minor-league side of camp.

Stroman’s goal remains to be ready for the beginning of the season, although the opening day start he would’ve made if healthy is almost certainly out of the question. The furthest the Blue Jays could push Stroman back as part of a five-man rotation at the start of the season is April 2, when the club needs a fifth starter as it begins its second series of the year versus the Chicago White Sox.

That’s only 23 days away. And considering that between now and then Stroman has to first throw a side session, and then deliberately build his pitch count up in games, it will be a challenge for him to reach his goal. Of course, he’s made a habit of beating rehab timelines over his career.

The Blue Jays will certainly be cautious with the 26-year-old, who has thrown 438.2 innings over the last two years, including spring training and playoffs. Joe Biagini is stretched out and pitching well this spring, which gives the club a fallback plan for its rotation if Stroman misses time at the beginning of the season.

“We’ve got to be smart. We need him for six months. He’s such an integral part of our team,” Gibbons said. “We’ll see how it all plays out.”

Blue Jays trim roster

The Blue Jays made the first cuts of spring Saturday, sending Sean Reid-Foley, Jon Harris, and Jordan Romano to minor-league camp, while optioning Rowdy Tellez to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons.

None of the three pitchers were in the running to make the Blue Jays opening day roster. As camp enters its latter stages, and starters get more stretched out, there simply isn’t enough innings to go around for pitchers destined for the minor leagues like Reid-Foley, Harris and Romano. They’ll have more opportunities to pitch in minor-league games.

Similarly, Tellez was on the outside looking in of Toronto’s roster and is in need of plate appearances after being away from the team for a stretch last week. Tellez went to California to be with his mother, Lori, who was diagnosed with melanoma last year. He recently returned, but was going to have a hard time finding his way into major-league spring training games with several veteran players ahead of him on the depth chart and needing plate appearances.

Tellez is coming off a difficult 2017 season in which he hit .222/.295/.333 over 501 plate appearances with Buffalo. He’ll turn 23 next week and start the season as the Bisons everyday first baseman, looking to rediscover the success he had in 2016, when he hit .297/.387/.530 with 23 home runs over 124 games at double-A.

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